Friday, July 27, 2012

Ad-Lib#1: Bird, McGhee & Fats

I came by but you weren't in...later...Bird. [1]


A visit to the National Jazz Archive, housed in the Loughton library, and going through some Ellington pages (from so many books available at the library) reminded me of the only collaboration between one of the greatest trumpet players of jazz, Howard McGhee, with the Ellington's orchestra.

As you see in the image below, McGhee is filling the trumpet chair of the orchestra for three tracks, recorded on 31 January 1962 for CBS. These tracks, among other materials appeared on Midnight in Paris LP. The complete album is available on Villes Ville blog, a significant member of Ellingtonia in digital. This is the link to the page, but as Villes is undergoing almost everyday changes of the posts and links, just in case have a direct link to the player of the album here.

Comparing to other recordings, made by Duke in the year 1962 (Feat. Paul Gonsalves, Meets Coleman Hawkins, Duke and Coltrane, Money Jungle and even Recollection of the Big Band Era - Wow! What a year!), Midnight is not a flawless, or as the other recordings of that year, a new musical adventure for Ellington. But definitely this charming and elegant piece of musical travelogue, especially with McGhee's presence, will give you a great time.

As for McGhee, it was a year after his full-fledged comeback with Maggie's Back in Town and some other albums released in May, 1962. Coincidentally, I found a rather long interview with him at the archives, mostly focused on drugs and hard times he had in the 1950s. The interview is published in the Jazz People book by British author/photographer Valerie Wilmer (Da Capo Press, 1977) which is highly recommended.


All eyes are on London now as Olympic has come to town. 73 years ago, the arrival of one of the champions of modern music of the 20th century in London caused an almost Olympian-like sensation among jazz lovers: Fats Waller.

During Waller's 1939 trip to the UK, he recorded a six-part piano piece named after various parts and boroughs of London. He simply called that the London Suite.

It all started when Fats and his manager Ed Kirkeby went to Billy Higgs's studios at the beginning of April, and while Kirkeby gave verbal sketches and description of Piccadilly, Chelsea, Bond Street, Soho, Limehouse and Whitechapel, Fats accompanied by Johnny Marks on drums improvised a separate solo for each thoroughfare or locality.

According to Kirkeby the entire suite was composed and recorded within an hour. On 13 of June 1939 Fats returned to HMV studios to make commercial recordings of his London Suite. The results weren't a satisfactory (main problem arose from drummers inability to produce a proper beat behind Fats' solos), so they remained unissued at the time and during the world war II, according to Charles Fox, master takes were destroyed.

A copy of five of the recordings was discovered eleven years later and the sixth missing part of the suite was unearthed by Ed Kirkeby himself in 1950. [2]

You can listen to this invaluable documentation of Fats Waller in Britain on the following YouTube videos.




Bond Street



[1]  Parker, Chan & Francis Paudras, To Bird with Love, WIZLOV, 1981
[2] Fox, Charles, Kings of Jazz: Fats Waller, A. S, Barnes and Company, Inc. New York, pp.66-67


  1. Hi, Ehsan. thanks for the plug. Hopefully the blog will be more settled now from hereon in so all the links should work. Very interesting extra material on Howard McGhee. I'm looking forward to perusing the London Suite videos, too, as time allows.

    All the best


    1. Thanks Ian. I must say you broke the record of blog experimentation during the last two-three months! Though I like all the layouts and banners and everything you have incorporated in Villes Ville so far.