Keeping in the Bud Powell frame of mind…Here are Leonard Feather’s liner notes to “The Amazing Bud Powell (Volumes 1 and 2),” featuring recordings made between 1949 and 1953. The many links within the text will take you to full song versions.
BETWEEN THESE COVERS lies the harvest of a journey through the mind of Bud Powell. It is a journey in which beauty and darkness, pleasure and sorrow are to be gleaned along the way; for this mind is a strange land, endowed with a glow of genius yet beset by illness and deprivation.
Bud Powell’s career has been an erratic one, gregarious months along 52nd Street alternating with lonely month in the hospital. For all the inconsistency of his march to fame, he has managed to earn the unanimous admiration of his contemporaries and to forge an ineradicable place for himself in the international hall of fame.
Born Earl Powell in New York City on Sept. 27, 1924, he is one of three brothers; Richie Powell, who is a few years older, plays piano with the Max Roach-Clifford Brown combo. Bud gained his early experience playing teen-aged gigs around Manhattan and Brooklyn; some of his earliest jobs were with Valaida Snow and the Sunset Royal Orchestra, and at the late Canada Lee’s Chicken Coop.
A frequent denizen of the Play House (better known as Minton’s) during its years as an incubator of new jazz talent, Bud first showed signs of an incipient bop style before the word bop itself was coined, as can be confirmed by some early recordings with Cootie Williams’ band in 1943-4. During the rest of the 1940s he was a part of that loosely-knit clique of restless souls with something new and exciting to tell the world and few places in which to tell it but the smaller and smokier night clubs and the growing world of combo recording. It was during this period that Bud’s rocket-swift, indomitable single-note lines and moody, mordant harmonic inventions made so deep an impression on Alfred Lion of Blue Note that starting in 1949 a series of wonderful recording sessions took place. All of these, in addition to some takes never before issued, have now been made available in Blue Note’s first 12-inch Bud Powell LP releases.
“The Birth of a Masterpiece” is the title Hollywood would probably give to the fascinating story told by the three takes of Un Poco Loco heard here. The first cut shows the composition at a stage somewhat before Bud has quite settled down to a definitive interpretation; it bogs down. Bud senses it and stops short, just as the driver of a smooth-running limousine might pull up on hearing air escape from a tire. The second take, though more or less complete, still lacks something of the conviction of the third, which is the one originally released on a 78 r.p.m. disc. Un Poco Loco has always been, for me, an indescribably exciting experience and certainly one of Bud’s greatest compositions. To hear it as it is presented here is pleasure thrice compounded.
Dance of the Infidels opens with a staccato intro by the trumpet of the late Fats Navarro and the tenor sax of Sonny Rollins, mostly in thirds, leading into a theme that makes use of a favorite rhythmic device of bop: the two-bar phrase with a “hesitation” accent before the third beat of the second bar. Bud, Fats and Sonny have solos before the theme, mostly in unison, returns. This piece, incidentally, has not been issued on LP previously.
This is the first of four numbers on BLP 1503 on which Bud has a quintet instead of trio. The presence of the immortal Fats Navarro, whose elegance of execution and brilliance of tone and conception made him the nulli secundus trumpet start of his day, lent additional luster to the date. It’s a typical bop combo performance that shows Fats, Sonny and Bud to advantage in 52nd Street Theme. This Monk tune, to which I gave its title when the little groups along that thoroughfare were using it to open and close each set, is mainly a simple two-bar riff, which the participants throw around polytonally, as if for laughs, in the opening chorus.
It Could Happen to You is an alternate master of one of Bud’s best ballad interpretations, differing in content though not in mood from the previously released take, and originally rejected only because of a slightly marred ending. The same may be said of the alternate take on A Night in Tunisia, in which Bud’s weirdly delayed ending resulted in the decision to make another take (heard on the next track). Wail and Bouncing with Bud, both Powell originals, are both happy tunes with an exultant rhythmic feel throughout.
Ornithology is Bud’s version of Charlie Parker’s version of How High the Moon, so to speak. The tempo is moderate, the style a melodic single-line groove that might be called a contemporary parallel for Earl Hines’ “trumpet style piano.” (Just listen and imagine Diz and/or Bird playing those same notes).
Parisian Thoroughfare is a surprise. Never previously released, it is an earlier incarnation of a number Bud recorded for Norman Granz’s Clef label some years later. Its delicate, lacy lines have a pristine charm that differs greatly from the more conventional patterns of the typical wailing Powerll originals.
Reets and I is built on a theme by “Little Bennie” Harris; it is name for Bennie and his wife. Its foundation is the All God’s Children chord pattern. Autumn in New York is a remarkable demonstration of Bud’s ability to retain the essence of a popular melody while investing it with his own personality. An interesting departure is Bud’s overlapping of the 2th and 25th measures, which has the effect of telescoping the melody into a 31-bar chorus.
In I Want To Be Happy Bud changes the melody slightly on the third and fourth measure to make them fit a diminished chord. George Duvivier, who worked closely with Bud in preparing this date, has a remarkable chorus of his own.
It Could Happen To You shows Bud adopting what might be called the Tatum approach to a ballad, playing its first ad lib, then in tempo, without accompaniment. Bop is a secondary ingredient, chords spell the single-note passages, and Bud is on interestingly neutral ground.
Sure Thing, a 1943 Jerome Kern song, shows remarkable cooperation between Bud and Duvivier; especially on the passages for which Bud’s left hand and George’s bass line are in locked in unison. On Polka Dots and Moonbeams Bud hugs the melody as closely as if he were Garner, while sparking it with that unique incisiveness of touch and perfect timing and placement of right-hand chords that made an unmistakable Powell sound.
Glass Enclosure ranks with Un Poco Loco among Bud’s greatest. It was built up from an odd theme that Alfred Lion heard him play one night when visiting his apartment. Greatly impressed, Lion asked what it was. Bud said he had something in mid that he was trying to express; Lion repeatedly asked him about it and encouraged him to continue. A few days later he heard the idea further advanced; by the next time, Powell had worked out the pattern and Duvivier put the parts down in writing. Glass Enclosure is more or less in four movements: the first somewhat maestoso, the next a swinging format on tow 10-bar phrases: then a pensive yet flowing movement with a stirring bowed-bass underline, followed by a reminder of the first movement.
Oscar Pettiford’s Collard Greens and Black-Eye Peas (also known as Blues in the Closet) is some swinging ad-lib blues with Bud, Duvivier and drummer Art Taylor all featured. Over the Rainbow and You Go To My Head are patterned along similar lines to the other ballads; Audrey is a trickily constructed 12-bar original. Finally Ornithology offers a longer, slower take that provides a most intriguing contrast with the largely different improvisation around these chords on BLP 1503.
In addition to being a composer, producer and pianist, as a renowned jazz critic Leonard Feather was the leading proponent of bepop.