Tag Archives: Chess/Cadet

Eddie Sings The Blues

(originally published in the December 2020 installment of the Jazz Institute of Chicago’s JazzGram)

Chicago saxophonist Eddie Harris is perhaps best remembered as an unabashed experimentalist, famously playing the Varitone electronic saxophone on albums like Plug Me In (1968). He also utilized an early tape looping mechanism (now so en vogue) on 1969’s Silver Cycles. So, Eddie Harris Sings The Blues (1972) stands less as an outlier than as a further testament to his legacy of sonic risk tasking.

Sings The Blues opens with the track “Please Let Me Go”. AACM co-founder Muhal Richard Abrams employs an RMI Electra-piano, all flickers of chunky, reverb-drenched notes. This unusual fanfare sets the scene for Eddie Harris to serenade us, very literally singing to us though the mouthpiece of his electric horn, which he further muddled through a wah wah pedal. Naysayers and purists might be tempted to stop reading here, but the truth of the matter is that Eddie achieved an absolutely spellbinding effect on this album with indefinite vocalizations that defy casual listening. After Eddie sings a few plaintive bars on “Please Let Me Go”, a gorgeous swell of strings blooms on the otherwise sparse track (rounded out by Rufus Reid’s upright bass), enveloping his vocalizations flawlessly. The strings come courtesy of E. Zlatoff Mirsky, Sol Bobrov and the rest of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra strings that played on countless Chicago Soul music recordings in the 1960s and 70s (from Fontella Bass’ “Rescue Me” to Curtis Mayfield’s “Superfly” and beyond), so you know they can swing.

This album may not be an outlier in Eddie Harris’ catalogue in terms of sheer novelty, but it reflects the cross-pollination found on the Chicago music scene circa 1972. For further proof, the horn section on “Walk With Me” included Willie Henderson & Burgess Gardner, record producers and players responsible for hits by artists like Tyrone Davis (“Turn Back The Hands Of Time”) and Barbara Acklin (“Am I The Same Girl”) at Brunswick Records.

Eddie Harris Sings The Blues (1972) stands less as an outlier than as a further testament to his legacy of sonic risk tasking.”

Andre Fischer (of the rock band The American Breed [“Bend Me, Shape Me”], and later of the funk band Rufus featuring Chaka Khan) played drums on that track, as well. Marshall Thompson (a member of The Chi-Lites) even contributed percussion accompaniment on a handful of tracks. And the strings, horns and vocals on the album were arranged by Richard Evans (of Chess/ Cadet Records fame) who had proven at that label to be as deft at working in soulful modes as he was with jazz and blues.

The title of this album is reminiscent of the Billie Holiday standard titled “Lady Sings The Blues”, and Eddie’s hazy, blurred out voice on “Please Let Me Go” and “Eddie Sings The Blues” bears more than a passing resemblance to Ms. Holiday’s (particularly in regards to his phrasing). And on “Please Let Me Go” in particular, arranger Richard Evans dials up an arrangement befitting a gardenia-adorned torch singer. However, this album was not recorded as a cash-in response after the release of the popular Diana Ross film Lady Sings The Blues (a fictionalized account of the life and death of Billie Holiday). Eddie Sings The Blues was recorded months before the film’s release, and contains no material that was previously recorded by Holiday. But Eddie definitely had a sense of humor (even releasing an infamous album of comedy monologues in 1976), so it very well may have been recorded anticipating the film’s ultimate success. Besides, any level of confusion related to the album’s title would likely have pleased him.

But, ultimately, the album’s ambiguous connections to a Billie Holiday biopic are not what makes this album notable. Eddie Harris Sings the Blues is a fairly lean album (weighing in at 6 tracks, soaking wet) that somehow delivers the sort of blues that begs for a Formica bar stool and a stiff gimlet on “Eddies Sings The Blues”, moody, big band jazz on “Please Let Me Go”, the sort of soulful jazz you might find on a Young-Holt Unlimited album on “Walk With Me”, and even a playful, positively angular, Latin-tinged romp through “Giant Steps”. In short, it’s a deeply soulful album flecked with avant touches and a flair for the dramatic that never teeters into schmaltziness.


Clea Bradford and Frank D’Rone: my love’s a monster, so think i will. jive on.

From Frank D’Rone’s Cadet/Chess album “Brand New Morning” released in 1968 (arguably Cadet’s creative peak), “Think I Will” was arranged by Richard Evans and is the Brother record to Clea Bradford’s bananas Sister cut “My Love’s a Monster” (also from Cadet in 1968). Yes. The horns are so mighty, and that guitar work is extra-tasty… I think I’ll jive on, too!

So here’s the little narrative I pieced together from the two records… First, in the record above, poor unsuspecting Frank decides to go out on the town (maybe to Mister Kelly’s, or something). He thinks he’ll fool around with some girl’s heart. That is until he meets Clea (listen below what goes down next).


Minor Moods: ahmad jamal have i loved.

“Minor Moods” by Ahmad Jamal (1967) makes me happy, and yes I will play this at next week’s “groove conspiracy”.  Ahmad Jamal is from Pennsylvania, but a lot of his Golden Age material (including this hipper-than-thou number) is straight outta Chicago.  The Ahmad Jamal Trio was the house band of the Pershing Hotel (on the South Side) in the early sixties.  A live recording from that place and time was a hit record for Chess Records’ Argo label. 

This record is from 1967, and part of Chess’ foray into instrumental jazz with voices.  Donald Bryd experimented with this sound over at Blue Note in the early sixties (often taking it to church); but in the Late Sixties, Chess made it real groovy.  Minnie Riperton’s voice can be heard in the mix of a number of the cuts (led by luminaries including Ahmad Jamal, Ramsey Lewis, and Phil Upchurch). Enjoy and Jive on!


Woman of the Ghetto: marlena shaw dealing the cold truth

 

I just found a copy of “Woman of the Ghetto” by Marlena Shaw for 4 bucks! Killer Chicago recording from 1969.  The song has been sampled multiple times, among them:

St. Germain sampled from “Woman of the Ghetto” from Live at Montreux used in “Rose Rouge” on Tourist (2000)

9th Wonder and Buckshot also sampled “Woman of the Ghetto” in the track “Ghetto”, and Evil Dee (of Black Moon)’s remix of the same song.

Early integration of a Kalimba in popular western music. Richard Evans production. Jazzy Funk mastery. Lyrics below.  Nuff said. 

I was born, raised in a ghetto
I was born and raised in a ghetto
I’m a woman, of the ghetto
Won’t you listen, won’t you listen to me, legislator?

(ging, gi-gi-gi-gi-ging…)

How do you raise your kids in a ghetto?
How do you raise your kids in a ghetto?
Do you feed one child and starve another?
Won’t you tell me, legislator?

How do make your bread in the ghetto?

How do make your bread in the ghetto?

Baked from the souls in the ghetto

Tell me, tell me, Legislator?
Strong true,
my eyes ain’t blue
I am a woman
Of the ghetto

I’m proud, free,
Black, that is me
But I’m a woman of the ghetto

(ging, gi-gi-gi-gi-ging…)

How do we get rid of rats in the ghetto?

How do we get rid of rats in the ghetto?

Do we make one black and one white in the ghetto?

Is that your answer, legislator?

How do you legislate, brother?

How do you legislate, brother?

When you free one man and try to chain up another,

Tell me, Tell me legislator?
How does your heart feel late at night?
How does your heart feel late at night?
Does it beat with shame, or does it beat with pride?
Won’t you tell me, legislator?

(na-na-na-na-na-na-na, …)

My children learned just the same as yours
As long as nobody tries to close the door
They cry with pain when the knife cuts deep
They even close their eyes when they wanna sleep

We must all have identity

That’s the only way that we can be free

Now peace, you say
is all that you ask
But self-respect is a separate task

You may be sitting up there
in your ivory tower
60 stories tall

Now you may have seen at least one ghetto
But I wonder have you lived there at all?

Places like Watts,
ah, Detroit, tell me
Chicago, ah tell me,

Harlem, tell me,

Washington, tell me

See the women cry

See  the children die….

(ging, gi-gi-gi-gi-ging…)


There is….Soul in Chicago

I love the Dells… Great group originally from Harvey, Illinois.    They’ve recorded on various Chicago-based labels, including the Chess Records subsidiary Cadet Records.  In 1967, the Dells issued the album, There Is, and the title track, a cut of baroque soul (produced by Charles Stepney) which showcased the gritty baritone of Marvin Junior and the harmonies with the four other Dells. Together since 1952, the song was also their first top 20 pop hit. Highly recommended….

the-dells