Louis who?

I recently picked up the album Here Comes Louis Smith on the Blue Note label. I did not do my usual thing of checking the album out first before ordering. I also had no idea who Louis Smith was (he died in 2016) or how I even came to be looking at the album in the first place. Having heard the album through a couple of times I have to ask: why I have I not heard of this trumpet player from Tennessee before?

Blue Note 52438

Here Comes Louis Smith was his debut album recorded in 1957 – it had originally been recorded for the Transition label but the company went out of business shortly afterwards and before the recording could be released in the spring of ’58. The album masters were acquired by Blue Note producer Alfred Lion. Louis had a stellar supporting group alongside him with Buckshot La Funke (Cannonball Adderley was signed to the Mercury label at the time so used a pseudonym) on alto sax. Duke Jordan and Tommy Flanagan shared piano duties with Doug Watkins on bass and drummer Art Taylor completing the rhythm section.

The album features four Louis Smith compositions and one tune each from Duke Pearson and Hoagy Carmichael. The Duke Pearson number, “Tribute to Brownie, opens the album with the drums of Art Taylor before Louis Smith comes in with a beautiful clear bop sound. If the opener does not grab your attention then go no further but, in my opinion, the rest of the album does not disappoint and is worthy of a hearing.

Of the four original compositions two are very well executed blues numbers: track 2 – “Brill’s Blues” and track 6 “Val’s Blues”. In fact track 2 features some really nice alto playing from Cannonball Adderley. Tracks 3 (“Ande”) and 5 (“South Side”) are good but it is “South Side” that stands out for me for both the group playing and the solo playing from Smith and Adderley. That leaves just one track to talk about, Hoagy Carmichaels “Star Dust”.

Carmichael wrote “Star Dust” in 1927 and it when on to become a standard that would be recorded by so many of the great and good in jazz music. On this version it is Smith’s solo trumpet work that stands out. The playing has a “haunting” quality to it that just makes everything around the listener disappear leaving only the sound of the trumpet to focus on.

[Those around Smith] make for a potent supporting cast, but the focus is mostly on the criminally obscure Louis Smith. After cutting his second Blue Note set and switching to teaching, Smith would not record again as a leader until 1978. All bop and ’50s jazz fans are strongly advised to pick up this CD ….

AllMusic Review by Scott Yano

As I wrote at the beginning of this piece, I have no idea how I came to be looking at this album in the first place but something must have prompted me to do so. I do have to agree with Mr Yano, Louis Smith is a “criminally obscure” artist whose music deserves to be played and heard.

The cost of vinyl

There was something posted on Instagram that caught my eye and it related to the cost of buying new vinyl LPs. The poster was basically arguing that now that vinyl is re-established as a viable music format, the cost of purchasing albums in that format should be coming down. This is not a new line of thinking as I can remember similar comments being made about the price of CDs back in the day and nothing much changing.

Jazz Journal December, 1956

I have a copy of Jazz Journal from 1956 and in the album review section not only the band members listed but also whether the release is an EP (remember those) or a twelve inch LP and how long each side of the release played. The review also lists the price that the music retailed at. The Modern Jazz Quartet released a 12in. LP (London LTZ-K 15022), which played for 18 min on each side at a cost of 37s. 6½d. This information is known but what does it mean to a modern day collector of vinyl?

The actual average earnings in April, 1955, the latest date for which figures are available, were £10 17s. 5d.

HANSARD 1803–2005 21 February 1956 Commons Sitting  NATIONAL FINANCE

With the cost of album being £1 17s. 6½d a record buyer in 1956 would be spending around 17% of their income, and that would be before rent, food, etc. had been paid for. National Service was still in place in 1956 and servicemen were paid £1 8s. a week but with all food, accommodation, uniform, and travel paid for – that MJQ album would have had to have been saved up for.

On the Waxtime label

The above wage figures are for those working in the industrial sector. In 2019, the average weekly wage for a worker in the same sector is £607 before tax, around £486 after tax. The MJQ album referred to above is available on vinyl today at £16 or 3.3% of income before other costs are taken in to account. So is the cost of vinyl today really too high and if so is that the fault of the record label or the artist?

All of us who like to own music would like to pay less for it and you can if you are prepared to download. However, MP3 as a format does not give you the tactility or artwork of the physical format of CD or vinyl. If you are going to”own” an MP3 library – when did you ever hear anyone offer to let you browse their digital library – you might as well stream and kill off the music industry altogether: see my post To stream or not to stream?

New Year Listening

So which CD was the first in to the player for 2019? Well that honour went to the trombonist Curtis Fuller.

The CD, Curtis Fuller: Four Classic Albums, is from Avid Jazz and was bought on boxing day at HMV in Winchester (there really are some of us who still like to pick up the physical article after browsing the racks of a music store) and has been sat on my desk waiting to played since then – this is not an example of deliberate delayed gratification but an enforced hiatus in listening due to a head cold that has long outstayed its welcome.

Avid Jazz is a very useful, and cost effective, label through which to explore jazz. They will give you three, four, or sometimes five albums by an artist across two CDs. The Curtis Fuller set is four albums starting with the album The Opener , which was originally released on the Blue Note label in 1957, featuring :

Curtis Fuller – trombone

Hank Mobley – tenor saxophone (tracks 2, 3, 5 & 6)

Bobby Timmons – piano

Paul Chambers – bass

Art Taylor – drums

Now that is a stellar line-up and it shows on the recording. This album is simply very good straight ahead jazz playing from musicians who know how to play for each other to create a sound that impresses the listener.
And if my word is not enough how about this review from Stephen Thomas Erlewine of All Music:

“The Opener” is trombonist Curtis Fuller’s first album for Blue Note and it is a thoroughly impressive affair. Working with a quintet featuring tenor saxophonist Hank Mobley, pianist Bobby Timmons, bassist Paul Chambers and drummer Art Taylor, Fuller runs through a set of three standards — “A Lovely Way to Spend an Evening,” “Here’s to My Lady,” “Soon” — two originals and an Oscar Pettiford-penned calypso. The six songs give Fuller a chance to display his warm, fluid style in all of its variations. “A Lovely Way to Spend an Evening” illustrates that he can be seductive and lyrical on ballads, while the brassy “Hugore” and hard-swinging “Lizzy’s Bounce” shows that he can play hard without getting sloppy. His backing musicians are equally impressive; in particular, Mobley’s robust playing steals the show. In all, “The Opener”, along with his three earlier sessions for Prestige and New Jazz, establishes Fuller as one of the most distinctive and original hard bop trombonists of the late ’50s.

Well that is album one of a four album set heard through once, three albums to listen to from one of the distinctive trombone players of the 1950s before moving on to ..?