Lester Young and Benny Goodman at Minton's?

All pictures by William Gottlieb, except the one of Charlie Christian (from Leo Valdés' site, author unknown).
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(Monk, Howard McGhee, Roy Eldridge, Teddy Hill, 1947.)

Minton's Playhouse has entered the brief history of jazz as the place were bop was brewed. It owes its notoriety as a musical lab to the drummer in the house band, Kenny Clarke, and especially to its pianist, a very young Thelonious Monk, although Jerry Newman's live recordings on acetate discs must account, at least partially, for its prominent place in posterity. It is known that other joints in Harlem also had informal jams where what was then called be-bop, re-bop or simply bop came about, more by accident than as a result of a premeditated plan for a revolution. As Monk himself told Valerie Wilmer in a 1965 interview for Down Beat, "what I was doing was just the way I was thinking. I wasn't thinking about trying to change the course of jazz, I was just trying to play something that sounded good."

The informal atmosphere at these sessions meant, among other things, that the stage could be shared by musicians from different generations. One of the regulars, a contemporary of Clarke's and Monk's, was Charlie Christian (right, jamming with the Harlan Leonard Orchestra in 1940), who at the time shared the frontline of Benny Goodman's combo with the clarinetist, tenor sax George Auld and ex-Duke trumpet Cootie Williams. Christian's recordings at Minton's are among the best of his and the club's discography. His presence there may account for the introduction of a riff (at the time apparently called "Meet Dr. Christian" or "Pagin' Dr. Christian") lifted from his friend Mary Lou Williams' "Walkin' and Swingin'" (1:12...) which would eventually become Monk's "Rhythm-A-Ning" - it features in "Down On Teddy's Hill" (2:28...) from Minton's and "Guy's Got to Go" (at the beginning), this from Monroe's, another Harlem joint.

There are many stories about musicians taking the stage and jamming at Minton's. One of them includes Lester Young and, more improbably, Benny Goodman, who appears to have joined his star guitarist in some of his excursions to Harlem.

In the second edition of his biography of Charlie Christian (Solo Flight - The Seminal Electric Guitarist, Ashley Mark, 2003), Peter Broadbent states that several sources, including Kenny Clarke himself, have told him about a Jerry Newman recording with Lester Young and Benny Goodman, accompanied by Monk and Minton's house band, with Charlie Christian on bass, around May 1941.

Broadbent himself points out a take on "You're A Lucky Guy" as that recording. According to Brilliant Corners, Chris Sheridan's definitive tome on Monk (Greenwood Press, 2001) personnel on that recording are Joe Guy on trumpet, unknown tenor sax, clarinet and drums, Monk on piano and Nick Fenton on bass (Guy, Monk and Fenton being, with Clarke, the house band). The main argument for this tune having Young and Goodman is that someone shouts "Lester!" at the end of the tenor solo (2:44) and that at least two people shout "Benny Goodman!" during the clarinet solo (3:24). Listening to the actual music, at least to these ears, those could well be Young and Goodman (especially the latter). Whoever is on tenor, towards the end of the tune (6:52) he plays a riff which, as "Rhythm-a-Ning", was "in the air" at the time and that would become part of "Salt Peanuts" - it had already appeared on record, at least in part in John Kirby's "Sweet Georgia Brown" (1:08) and Dizzy Gillespie himself put it in Lucky Millinder's "Little John Special" (2:20).

"You're A Lucky Guy" is available in Harlem Odissey (Xanadu 112), The Early Thelonious Monk (Moon MCD086-2) and Thelonious Monk - After Hours at Minton's (Definitive DRCD 11197). Opinions about the clarinet and tenor solos will be most welcome.


Todas las fotos son de William Gottlieb, salvo la de Charlie Christian (del website de Leo Valdés, autor desconocido).
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Minton's ha pasado a la breve historia del jazz como el lugar donde se coció el bop. Su lugar en la posteridad se debe a la presencia en la banda de la casa de Kenny Clarke y, sobre todo, de Thelonious Monk y, quizás aun en mayor medida, a la serie de grabaciones hechas in situ por Jerry Newman en 1941. Se sabe que otros locales de Harlem también acogieron jams desenfadadas en las que fue surgiendo lo que se dio en llamar be-bop, re-bop o bop a secas, más por accidente que por un intento consciente de revolucionar. Como dijo el propio Monk en una entrevista de 1965 publicada en Down Beat, "lo que hacía era exactamente lo que pensaba. No estaba pensando en cambiar el rumbo del jazz, solamente trataba de tocar algo que sonara bien".

El carácter desenfadado de estas sesiones implicaba, entre otras cosas, la presencia de músicos de distintas generaciones. Uno de los músicos habituales, coetáneo de Clarke y Monk, era Charlie Christian, guitarrista y estrella del combo de Benny Goodman (a la derecha, en 1946) que en aquel momento compartía honores de solista con el clarinetista, el tenor George Auld y el trompetista ex-Duke Cootie Williams, cuyas grabaciones en Minton's se encuentran entre lo mejor de la colección y de su propia discografía. Parece ser, por ejemplo, que el riff (al parecer llamado entonces "Meet Dr. Christian" o "Pagin' Dr. Christian") sacado del "Walkin' and Swingin'" de Mary Lou Williams (1:12...) que terminaría por ser el "Rhythm-A-Ning" de Monk, llegó a Minton's a través de Christian - figura tanto en "Down On Teddy's Hill" (2:28...) y "Guy's Got to Go" (al principio), éste grabado en Monroe's.

Las historias sobre los músicos que se subieron al escenario de Minton's son multitud. Una de ellas tiene como protagonistas a Lester Young (a la izquierda, en 1946) y, más improbablemente, Benny Goodman, que al parecer en alguna ocasión se animó a subir a Harlem con su guitarrista.

En la segunda edición de su biografía de Charlie Christian (Solo Flight - The Seminal Electric Guitarist, Ashley Mark, 2003), Peter Broadbent señala que varias fuentes, incluido el propio Kenny Clarke, le han hablado de una grabación de Jerry Newman, con Lester Young y Benny Goodman, acompañados por Monk y la banda de la casa de Minton's, con Charlie Christian al contrabajo, en mayo de 1941.

El propio Broadbent apunta a una versión de "You're A Lucky Guy" como posible candidata. Según Brilliant Corners, la biodiscografía de Monk a cargo del insigne Chris Sheridan (Greenwood Press, 2001) asigna el tema a Joe Guy a la trompeta, tres desconocidos al saxo tenor, clarinete y batería, Monk al piano y Nick Fenton al bajo (Guy, Monk y Fenton, junto con Clarke, formaban el grupo "de la casa" en Minton's). El principal argumento es que hacia el final del solo de tenor alguien grita "¡Lester!" (2:44) y en el de Benny Goodman al menos dos personas gritan "¡Benny Goodman!" (3:24). Lo cierto es que, al menos para estos oídos, podrían ser perfectamente Young y Goodman (sobre todo el segundo). Sea o no Young el tenor, cabe destacar que hacia al final (6:52) toca un riff que, como "Rhythm-a-Ning", estaba "flotando en el aire" de la época y formaría parte de "Salt Peanuts"; en disco ya había aparecido al menos en parte en el "Sweet Georgia Brown" de John Kirby (1:08) y el propio Dizzy Gillespie lo incorporaría al "Little John Special" de Lucky Millinder).

"You're A Lucky Guy" está disponible en Harlem Odissey (Xanadu 112), The Early Thelonious Monk (Moon MCD086-2) y Thelonious Monk - After Hours at Minton's (Definitive DRCD 11197). Se agradecerán las opiniones sobre la autoría de los solos de clarinete y saxo tenor.


Michael Steinman said...

Fascinating! Now I wish I still had a copy of the Xanadu record so that I could hear for myself. But I worry about these things: someone shouting famous names from the audience might only be saying, "Hey, that solo sounds just like Lester . . . or Benny!" We should also remember that Lester and Benny had many young -- oftn lesser -- musicians who copied their phrases. Is there any way to put the audio on a future posting, Fernando? Yours hopefully, Michael Steinman

Fernando Ortiz de Urbina said...

Hi Michael - I've also thought about the possibility you've mentioned re: audience shouts (they could even be overdubbed later, some versions of other Minton's recordings have overdubbed applause). However, although I'm not too sure about the tenor solo, the clarinet does sound like Goodman to me. As for audio clips, have done it in the past. Have recently moved flats and can't get hold of my Monk CDs at the moment. Will try to do soon.

Fernando Ortiz de Urbina said...

"You're a lucky guy" can be heard on-line (streaming, not download) here.

"Jazz Lives" @ WordPress.com said...

It was a wonderful dream, and I'm delighted to have been able to hear YOU'RE A LUCKY GUY again and share your odyssey. But the two mystery players are trying to play like Pres and BG without much success. If anyone would compare this performance with Lester's 1941live recordings with Shad and John Collins, with Goodman's playing with his Sextet in 1941 -- there's no comparison. The tenor player is earthbound, falling back on the melody when inspiration fails; the clarinetist misfingers a note or two. Both players also seem tentative, which I don't associate with the Masters. And the shouts? I don't hear them as superimposed, but rather as echoes of what happened once in a New York club: young Scott Hamilton played a particularly beautiful furry phrase and a fan stood up and shouted "Ben Webster!" Tribute rather than identification. But it was and is a thrilling post, and thanks for sending us all to hear Monk before he was MONK. Cheers! Michael

Fernando Ortiz de Urbina said...

Thanks for that, Michael! I'm more interested in finding out the (likely) truth than anything else. If that's not Goodman, I'm now wondering whether it could have been a young Tony Scott, who apparently used to go down to Minton's...

Fernando Ortiz de Urbina said...

Para los no angloleyentes, Michael "Jazz Lives" Steinman dice que NO son Lester Young y Benny Goodman (basándose en la comparación con las grabaciones de la época de ambos).

Manu Grooveman said...

Fascinante historia!!! solo de pensar que pudiera darse esa posibilidad me emociono...

Tu blog es una gran fuente de inspiración!

Fernando Ortiz de Urbina said...

Manu: Es probable que ocurriese (la banda de Basie y la de Goodman con Christian coincidieron unos meses en Nueva York, precisamente a partir de la apertura de Minton's en octubre del 40 (si no me equivoco). Lo que parece seguro es que esa ocasión no quedó grabada.

Gracias y un saludo.


PD ¿Conoces la sesión de grabación del 28 de octubre del 40, con Goodman y Christian + Lester Young, Buck Clayton, Count Basie, Freddie Green, Walter Page y Jo Jones?

Manu Grooveman said...

No la conozco, sabes dónde se puede conseguir?

Fernando Ortiz de Urbina said...

En CD hay varias reediciones. Échale un vistazo a la discografía de Leo Valdés (la fecha es 28 de octubre del 40).

Son cinco temas (he encontrado 4 en YouTube):

* Ad-Lib Blues (sin Goodman)
* Lester's Dream (versión de Dickie's Dream)
* I Never Knew
* Wholly Cats

Manu Grooveman said...

wow wow wow! Me dejas sin palabras...
Grandísimo material. He escuchado un par de temas y me parecen alucinantes. Menudo line-up!!

Y muy interesante la web también con las referencias...

Me da a mí que voy a aprender un montón con tu blog...

Gracias de nuevo!!

Un abrazo