Dinah Washington, Gerry Mulligan, Sonny Rollins, and Maynard Ferguson start a one week run at the Apollo, produced by legendary DJ and promoter Symphony Sid.
An ad for the show from the New York Amsterdam News
An announcement for the show, also in the New York Amsterdam News
Washington, in the midst of a fairly brutal stretch of touring (”Dinah Has Busy Schedule,” read one contemporary headline), came down with a sore throat in the middle of the week — she tapped Ernestine Anderson to finish the run. That was fodder for gossip columns, as was her personal life; during the Apollo gig, a Pittsburgh columnist reported that she had both “acquired a special ‘man’ to carry and protect her cerulean mink coat” and “finally admitted a two-year romance with ‘Curly’ of 128th Street” — it was unclear whether they were the same person.
Here she is, live around 1959.
Booker Little and Max Roach in the studio to record The Many Sides of Max, 1959 (Chuck Stewart)
Max Roach rounded out a busy month in the studio with this session, at Fine Recording, Inc. (56th Street between 6th and 7th Avenues), which eventually turned into 1964′s The Many Sides of Max. The studio was inside the Great Northern Hotel; the Hotel had converted its ballroom and kitchen into recording space.
He was joined by Booker Little, Julian Priester, George Coleman, and Art Davis to perform a somewhat unorthodox array of songs. Muhal Richard Abrams, still in the early days of his career, wrote “Lepa” — Abrams had performed with Roach when he toured in Chicago. Consuela Lee, a jazz pianist and composer, wrote “Prelude” and “Connie’s Bounce”; she might be best known now, though, as Spike Lee’s aunt. Her only available solo recording is here.
Max Roach at Fine Recording, 1959 (Chuck Stewart)
Teddy Wilson in the January 22, 1959 issue of Downbeat
On this day in 1959, Teddy Wilson completed his Columbia trio record Mr. Wilson and Mr. Gershwin with Al Lucas and Bert Dahlander. The record sounds live, because there’s applause — but according to the liner notes, it was overdubbed from when they played the record for the Columbia staff for the first time.
Wilson was featured in Downbeat’s January 22 issue in an article called, “The Impeccable Teddy Wilson.” Read it in its entirety here; the first page is pictured below.
It was a fruitful few days at Riverside — following the Chet Baker/Bill Evans sessions, Orrin Keepnews brought in Kenny Dorham to start recording his septet record Blue Spring, featuring an already (four years into his New York career) ascendant Cannonball Adderley.
Along with David Amram, Cecil Payne and Cedar Walton, the previous day’s rhythm section — Paul Chambers and Philly Joe Jones — hung around. They recorded “Spring Cannon” (a tribute to…Cannonball) and “Passion Spring.”
Bill Evans in the studio, 1959 (Steve Schapiro)
On Monday, January 19, 1959, Bill Evans, Paul Chambers, and Philly Joe Jones pitched a doubleheader. They were already at Reeves Sound Studio (44th Street and 2nd Avenue) to complete Chet Baker’s 1959 Riverside release Chet, and producer Orrin Keepnews had them stay after the session to record a few sides as a trio. “I can’t recall ever having done such a thing before or after,” he wrote later in the liner notes. “Usually, one job at a time in the studio is enough to tire everyone out. Perhaps we hadn’t accomplished that much and still had energy to burn; perhaps I was afraid of possibly another two-year time lag between [Evans] albums.”
They had previously been bandmates in Miles Davis’ sextet; basically, Baker was trying to ride the same wave.
Undated photo of the Reeves Sound Studios facade (Library of Congress)
The session was probably at night; as Keepnews explained later, the studio did mostly commercial work, so he’d been able to negotiate a long term deal provided all the recording work was done after hours.
Once they wrapped Baker’s laconic ballads, the three artists were able to (sort of) do their own thing: they recorded “You and the Night and the Music” about twice as fast as they just had with Baker, and experimented with classic Gillespie tune “Woody‘N You.”
The most relevant tune, though, was what would become the titular one.
In 1959, “On Green Dolphin Street” wasn’t yet really considered a standard. Composed in 1947 for the film Green Dolphin Street (which has…not had the same shelf life as the song), the tune was originally tapped for jazz by Ahmad Jamal, whose arrangement was predictably impeccable.
Miles Davis was the one who would turn it into standard jazz repertoire, though (apparently at Cannonball Adderley’s behest); his 1958 recording of the song set the bar, in part thanks to its lush, transformative introduction from Bill Evans. In the studio, Evans had been coached to alter the original composition with a pedal bass note by Davis — Evans replicated that arrangement on the 1959 recording.
These trio recordings weren’t ultimately released until 1977, under the title On Green Dolphin Street.
An undated publicity photo of Jackie McLean
Jackie McLean recorded his first sides for Blue Note as a bandleader on this day in 1959, at (naturally) Rudy Van Gelder’s studio (otherwise known as the living room of his parents’ house) in Hackensack, New Jersey. The record, entitled Jackie’s Bag, ultimately featured two different ensembles: tracks 1 through 3 were recorded at this session, with Donald Byrd, Sonny Clark, Paul Chambers, and Philly Joe Jones.
The album wasn’t ultimately released until 1960, and so the liner notes link his sound here to his star turn in the controversial 1959 play The Connection (we’ll get there!).
Ahmad Jamal, 1959 (CBS Photo Archive)
In January 1959, Ahmad Jamal was riding the wave of his 1958 release At the Pershing: But Not for Me, one of the moment’s most successful albums. It was the best-selling jazz album of 1958 according to Downbeat, and stayed on Billboard’s charts for 107 weeks — even as it was occasionally derided as “cocktail music.”
There’s no question that the release is well-suited to setting a mood, but the reason it’s endured is because of the seamless alchemy between Jamal, bassist Israel Crosby, and drummer Vernel Fournier. "One thing is for certain,” wrote Bob Snead in a 1959 profile of Jamal that appeared in the Cleveland Call and Post. “Regardless of whether he plays the flighty cocktail style or whether he is an improvisational wizard, Jamal has created more new listeners for jazz than any artist playing today.”
“Several retail record store owners have put it this way,” he continued. “They’ll come in and ask for Jamal, then look around awhile, then come back to the counter and ask about other jazz LPs.”
On January 17, 1959, Jamal played Town Hall (43rd Street and 6th Avenue) alongside Horace Silver, Donald Byrd, Sam Most, and Carmen McRae.
An ad from the New York Amsterdam News, 1959
“He is highly selective and has a shrewd ear for the dramatic merits of silence,” wrote John S. Wilson in his New York Times review of the show. “His is an insinuating style, based more on the implications of a melody than the melody itself. It is given both form and suspense by his skillful patience in constructing an idea.” “But Not For Me” was the encore.
Here’s the trio in a live performance from 1959.
Between sets at the Five Spot, where he’d continued his residency after New Year’s, Mingus and his band walked over to the Nonagon Art Gallery (6th Street and 2nd Avenue) to perform an 8:30 p.m. set as part of the gallery’s “Jazz Profiles” series. Previous editions had featured the Modern Jazz Quartet and Tony Scott.
The show was promoted in the New York Times and New York Herald Tribune alongside classical shows, which was unusual for any jazz concert at the time.
The Nonagon Gallery itself was something of an anomaly — it was started in 1957 by two women, performance artist Dorothy Podber (whose claim to fame is shooting Andy Warhol’s Marilyns, a performance that has aged well) and Eunice “Skid” Shality. They’re pictured below, in a late 1958 New York Herald Tribune feature on the gallery. Artist Alison Knowles is in the lefthand picture, shown at her own exhibition at the gallery.
As the article explains, the gallery — “an ambitious art project started by two girls” — was home “not just to painting and sculpture, but to all the arts.” One weekend a month was devoted to concerts; the gallery also showed handicrafts, and anticipated presenting poetry readings.
Here’s Aaron Copland in conversation at the gallery, from the same article.
This wasn’t taken at the concert, but gives some sense of what the space looked like.
Nonagon Gallery, 1959 (Fred W. McDarrah)
As the New Yorker’s Whitney Balleitt noted, it was a “long, narrow, second-floor room whose fireplace, brooding beams, heavy chandeliers and dark woodwork…give it the air of a Hohenzollern hunting lodge.” On the night Mingus played, admission was $2. The program explained the premise: “Specific works and order are contingent on the rapport between performers and audience and are thus not listed in advance. Both performers and audience will help shape the evening.”
The band was John Handy, Booker Ervin, Richard Wyands, and Dannie Richmond; the set was recorded for Mingus’ sole set with United Artists, originally released in September 1959 under the title Jazz Portraits and subsequently under the title Wonderland (now it’s known as Jazz Portraits: Mingus In Wonderland). Here’s the Billboard review:
They performed “Nostalgia In Times Square” and “Alice’s Wonderland,” two of the tunes Mingus had composed for Cassevetes’ Shadows — on the former, he quotes “Dixie” during his solo. Also on the bill were the standard “I Can’t Get Started” and a spontaneous blues invention, the “No Private Income Blues.” As Mingus told Max Harrison for the liner notes — which are worth reading in full — the idea was “to get a tighter and tighter feeling in a piece before squeezing something and breaking it.”
Unrecorded were “Take the A Train,” “Jelly Roll Jollies,” “Billie’s Bounce,” and “Wednesday Night Prayer Meeting” — a tune that would be the centerpiece of one of his best-known 1959 recordings, Blues & Roots. “You know, I think maybe I’m finally composing,” he told Harrison.
“He’s developed various raucous, rasping contrapuntal ensemble methods that, by persistently running its melody the wrong way, fill the cheeks of the palest tune with color,” wrote Balliett of Mingus in his New Yorker review of the show. “Mingus gives the impression of accomplishing on his bass what the instrument was never intended for, and yet it is not his virtuosity that one is hypnotized by but the daring melodic and rhythmic content that is the result of it.” If you subscribe to the New Yorker, you can read the full article (which is defiantly ambivalent in assessing the show) here — it’s called “Mingus Among the Unicorns.”
John Coltrane and Milt Jackson, 1960 (Lee Friedlander)
The day after Coltrane finished his two weeks with Miles Davis at Birdland, he had his first recording date for Atlantic. He joined star vibraphonist Milt Jackson — one of the label’s more popular jazz artists — at Atlantic Studios (56th Street between Broadway and 8th Avenue) for the one day session; Coltrane and Jackson had actually worked together previously when they were both in Dizzy Gillespie’s quintet in the early ‘50s.
Both Coltrane and Jackson are on this 1951 recording of one of Diz’s best known compositions, “Tin Tin Deo.”
For this session, they played a couple standards, and a few Jackson originals — including “Bags & Trane,” which would become the album title. “Bags” was Milt Jackson’s nickname, allegedly because of the bags under his eyes (rude). The playing is mostly very gentle in its virtuosity — the rhythm section, Paul Chambers, Hank Jones, and Connie Kay, mostly cede the spotlight, contenting themselves to establishing solid swing.
Milt Jackson, 1960 (Lee Friedlander)
It’s an album that often gets lost in the Coltrane 1959 fray, simply because he was on the cusp of some of his most memorable work. But Bags & Trane, which wouldn’t be released until 1961, is textbook hard bop fare (in a good way!) even if it doesn’t spotlight Coltrane at his most mind-bending. On “The Night We Called It A Day,” he’s fairly reverent without really losing his edge; on “Be-Bop” — a Gillespie tune that they likely performed together while in his band — he takes flight.
John Coltrane, 1960 (Lee Friedlander)
In its July 24, 1961 edition, Billboard reviewed the album and dubbed it a “Spotlight Pick.” “It’s veritably an all-star line-up and the group plays with stylish rapport, going much of the way on the so-called statement and answer technique [Ed. note: I believe that’s what normal people would refer to as “call and response.”],” they wrote.
The liner notes are kind of odd. “If contemporary jazz has lapsed [Ed. note:???}, it has lapsed because of an increasing failure in what may be called collective improvisation,” wrote Charles Harris Garrigues. He continues to argue that this album, with its traditional sound and approachable tone, is an aberration in the course of that decline.
To modern ears, though, it sounds less like an exception and more like a great example of a go to sound during this period.
Max Roach was at Capitol Studios (46th Street and 7th Avenue) on Tuesday, January 14, recording a set literally named in honor of all the various awards he’d won — many of which were intended as retroactive celebrations of the innovations he made in jazz drumming as one of bebop’s pioneering percussionists.
He was joined by a crew of younger protégés: trumpet player Booker Little, bassist Arthur Davis, saxophonist George Coleman, and 20-year-old tuba player Ray Draper.
Roach himself was 34 when the album, self-explanatorily called Award-winning Drummer, was recorded. “With these young players, I tried to give them some of what I’d learned through the years working with Bird, Miles and Dizzy,” he explained to Nat Hentoff in the liner notes. “But they also taught me something.”
Hypothetically, the band might have gone to see Miles’ sextet’s last night at Birdland after the session.