Thursday, January 04, 2007


Fred Katz and His Jammers, Dexterity.
Carmen McRae, Flamingo.

Charlie Parker's "Dexterity," recorded in October 1947, is about as typical as bebop gets--it's yet another variation on the "I Got Rhythm" changes, with a knotty opening theme delivered by the two horns, followed by a steeplechase Bird solo. Miles Davis and Duke Jordan dash out solos, the latter upended by a eight-bar explosion from Max Roach.

In 1958, the cellist Fred Katz transmuted "Dexterity": the opening is now a neatly-arranged contrapuntal exercise, which begins with eight bars of Katz bowing his cello. Katz and John Pisano's guitar take on the roles of Bird and Miles, then the cast expands with trumpet, vibes, bass and drums. Pisano gets the first solo, followed by Gene Estes musing on vibes. And Roach's brief drum salvo in the Parker original is here transformed into an elaborate, lengthy excursion, complete with a fade-out, by Frank Butler, who would later accompany John Coltrane as a second drummer (working with Elvin Jones) during Coltrane's last years.

Katz was born in Brooklyn in 1919, and trained with Pablo Casals. He earned a living via session work and touring, accompanying the likes of Lena Horne and Tony Bennett, though he was also a founding member of the Chico Hamilton Quintet in the mid-'50s. He is perhaps best known for his film work--he actually appears on-screen with Hamilton in Sweet Smell of Success, and he scored a number of movies for Roger Corman, including the first Little Shop of Horrors and Bucket of Blood.

Katz's take on "Dexterity" was recorded in Los Angeles sometime in 1958, and also features Pete Candoli (t) and Leroy Vinnegar (b). It's on the LP Fred Katz and His Jammers, Decca 9217, which, along with most other Katz recordings from the '50s, has never been released on CD.

Carmen McRae, born in Harlem in 1920, was considered a cult favorite: while treasured by the elite group of bop players who hung out at Minton's, she was a complete unknown outside of New York. That changed in 1953, when she began recording for Decca and Kapp, making a dozen LPs that remain some of the finest jazz vocal discs ever released, including By Special Request, Mad About the Man (a tribute to Noel Coward), and the woefully out-of-print Carmen for Cool Ones.

For a taste of what McRae routinely delivered during the '50s, here's "Flamingo," blessed by a McRae vocal whose loveliness is unearthly, and featuring Ben Webster on tenor sax and Irving "Marky" Markowitz on trumpet (he was a Woody Herman veteran).

Recorded in New York on August 4, 1958, with Fred Kellin, Donald Corrado, Dick Berg and Tony Miranda, all on French horns, Don Abney (p), Mundell Love (g), Aaron Bell (b) and Ted Sommer (d). On Birds of a Feather, a wonderfully bizarre "concept" LP in which each track is about birds. Seriously.

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