Monday, January 12, 2009

Horace Parlan

(I actually wrote this on Jan. 6th, then Ron Asheton died, which took up three blogs, then the Mickey Baker idea came to me so I shelved it. I've since reread it and decided since it's virtually impossible to find Up & Down I'd might as well post it, so as Bo Diddley's said-- "Here 'Tis"): "Shit and death are everywhere..."-- Bukowski Bill Landis, founder of Sleazoid Express died a few days ago, 49 years old, dropped dead of a heart attack. His two books-- Sleazoid Express (co-written with Michelle Clifford, Fireside, 2002) and the biography of Kenneth Anger, Anger:The Unauthorized Biography (Harper-Collins, 1995), are excellent bathroom reading (i.e., they'll make you shit, as Jerry Lewis would say).
Rev. Claude Jeter, lead singer of the incredible Swan Silvertones died a few days ago, he was in a nursing home up in the Bronx. I'd have never guessed he was still alive. He made many incredible records including this classic for the Vee Jay label: Mary Don't You Weep. I just can't bear to write any more about death right now, it's hit very close to home so many times over the last few years that I can't help but I next? I'll get to the Swan Silvertones at some future date (if I'm still here). I've decided that what this blog needs right now is life. So I closed my eyes and clicked the "shuffle" button on my Itunes (I've been running my computer through a Cayin T50 integrated tube amp and it sounds pretty good), so anyway, I decided that the first living person that comes up I will write about. Six tries later (good thing I wasn't playin' Russian roulette) the thing landed on a record that Bob Quine turned me onto, long out of print (although it was re-issued in Japan briefly in the 90's), and a real favorite of mine--- Up & Down by Horace Parlan (Blue Note) recorded in May of '61 and issued later that year, it's one of the many consummate Blue Note discs of that era. Great musicians at the top of their game, great vibe. Out of curiosity's sake I checked Ebay to see what the vinyl goes for these days and saw a copy had just sold for $200+. Somebody out there understands the value of this thing, if not the knuckleheads in charge of "catalog" at whatever multi-national now owns the Blue Note treasure chest (I no longer bother to keep informed on such things). Some background: Horace Parlan, born 1931 in Pittsburgh suffered polio as a child which affected the use of his fingers, but like Django, he did not let this stand in his way and he developed into an excellent pianist in the style known as "hard bop" (jazz critics are great for coming up with silly sub-classifications of music, in fact they invented the idea-- remember "anti-jazz" the etymological forerunner of "grindcore"?). Parlan is best known as the pianist in Charles Mingus' band during it's heyday: 1957-9. He then moved on to record as a leader for a series of eight excellent Blue Note LP's (compiled by Mosaic Records for the Complete Horace Parlan on Blue Note box set, now out of print). Parlan later worked with Lou Donaldson for a bit, joined Rahsaan Roland Kirk's band (1963-66), played with Jackie McClean (seen in the clip above, Parlan is barley visible on the piano). Horace relocated to Sweden in the sixties, later he teamed up with free jazz blower Archie Shepp for a series of duet LP's, none of which I've ever heard. Then, he seems to have disappeared from the jazz world although he is still alive, possibly still in Sweden. I imagine him like a missing character out of A.B. Spellman's Four Lives In The Be-Bop Business (Pantheon Books, 1966) scraping by in a piano bar somewhere, playing for tips to middle age, square head, drunks who have no idea of his accomplishments. Which brings us to Up & Down. Parlan's playing is nothing fancy, he was no Bud Powell, but his simple, rhythmic style had a lot of soul, he was an effective soloist and he as sympathetic an accompanist as can be heard, good thing, since the real stars of Up & Down are not leader Parlan but guitarist Grant Green and Booker Ervin on the tenor sax, the rest of the band on this session are George Tucker on bass and Al Harewood on drums. The record opens with Booker Ervin's "The Book's Beat" an extended jam on which both Green and Ervin's solos set the bar high, they're both at the peak of their powers here, and both would go on to become giants in their field. I'm especially fond of Green but that's another post, another day, when I get back to my specialty: dead guys with sad stories. But any of his early Blue Notes are worth owning, especially the ones with Sonny Clark. "Up And Down" is the only Parlan original on the set while George Tucker contributes "Fugee" and Green is credited with "The Other Part Of Town" (my favorite track, I think he means the part of town you go to to cop dope). The disc is rounded off with a sublime rendition of the linguistic genius Babs Gonzales' "Lonely One" (try and find a copy of his autobiography: i, paid my dues good Bread A Story Of Jazz...And Some Of It's Followers, Shyster Agents, Hustlers, Pimps and Prostitutes Expubidence Pub. Corp, 1967 and those aren't typos) and closes with Tommy Turrentine's "Light Blue".
The only thing more boring than writing about music is reading about it, although it can be fun to read about the characters who make those funny noises we love so much, I (and you) don't need someone to describe or analyze what you are hearing, you have ears, you can hear without somebody telling you what key or tempo the tune is in. On my copy the liner notes are in Japanese which is fine with me. The older I get, the better jazz sounds to me. There is something very special about that golden era of Blue Note records (from the early 50's to the mid 60's) from the warm clarity of Van Gelder's New Jersey studio to hep album covers. Blue Note was a class label. Maybe not $200 worth of special, but roll a spliff or pop the cork on some champagne (or whatever you do to unwind) and give old Horace a spin. It defines the word "vibe" in a way mere words never could. This is what great jazz is all about to my slowly deteriorating mind. These are sounds to dream to, pass out to, and Horace Parlan's Up & Down is a late night, dreamy classic.


Bob Pomeroy said...

Yeah, I love the few Blue Note recs I own. Wish I'da snagged more of 'em back when they were reissued in the 90's (but then, who thinks to plan for a jazzy old age when they're young?). Whoever was behind those did a nice job.

The Hound said...

When they started puttin' stuff out on CD w/bonus tracks in the late 80's there was one spring where the flea markets in NYC were full of Blue Notes and Impulses-- cheap, then the dealers and collectors found out and drove the prices crazy (Ebay didn't help), but I managed to find quite a few good records at this one Sunday flea market on Greenwich Ave., some of 'em still shrink wrapped. Not many deals in record collecting these days, unless you get really lucky. Then again old timers will tell you stories about drug stores selling Chess and Excello 45's for pennies...

Anonymous said...

Another fantastic post; this blog has really been my favorite lucky find find of the last few months. I always look forward to what's next.

There's a great Jazz/Funk/Soul store in Chicago called dusty groove ( and not only do they have a copy of the Up & Down vinyl LP for about $25 but they show that the CD is about to be reissued in feb. as part of the Rudy Van Gelder remasters series on Blue Note.

Great blog!
Mike R.

Bob Pomeroy said...

All those jazzbos who jumped to the CD format coz they didn't like flipping their Pharoah Sanders records midway thru some squonk jam. They tend to be audiophiles too. Another good store with a lotta jazz is Stedeford's, in Pittsburgh.

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