‘Hugo Hurwhey’, by The Russ Freeman/Chet Baker Quartet
I’ve already talked a lot about Chet Baker, but mostly about the later part of his professional life. In the 1950’s, when he was making some of his most distinctive music, the pianist Russ Freeman (1926-2002) was a key figure in the career of the trumpeter. Born in Chicago, Freeman studied classical piano in Los Angeles. By the 1940’s, when bebop was taking over New York’s hip clubs, there were few West Coast pianists who understood its harmonic complexities. But with his training, and a spare but flexible technique, Freeman grasped bebop’s mechanics fast. He went to New York City in 1947 to accompany Charlie Parker, and became a heroin addict for four years as well. In 1951, facing jail and probably death, he straightened out and began rooming with Chet Baker. When Pacific Jazz offered Baker a recording deal in 1952, it was Freeman who picked and arranged the tunes, and explained the harmonies to his roommate, who could not read chords, on their living room piano.
They recorded a lot together under Chet’s name, but on this last meeting of the two the billing had changed, with Freeman getting his name before Baker’s. But it is Baker that shines, really. 1956 was arguably Chet’s best year for bop, and this CD stands along side ‘The Route’, ‘Chet & Crew’, and ‘Playboys’ (with Art Pepper) as some of the hottest music he ever laid down.
Today’s song ‘Hugo Hurwhey’ was recorded after Chet’s return from his European tour of ‘55/’56. Russ Freeman had left the quartet before that tour, for which Baker then recruited Dick Twardzik. After Twardzik’s death (heroin overdose) and Chet’s return to the United States, producer Dick Bock arranged this session. It was instantly obvious how much Baker matured during that tour. ‘Quartet’ was a direct progression from his Paris albums and quite distinct from his previous Pacific Jazz releases. Among other things, Baker had discovered and dived deep into hard bop in Paris, leaving much of his former cool jazz vocabulary behind. ’Hugo Hurwhey‘ shows him charged, energized and alert, and there is a distinct influence of Clifford Brown noticeable here.
Chet Baker - Trumpet Russ Freeman - Piano Leroy Vinnegar - Bass Shelley Manne - Drums
After becoming my 200th follower, I asked ohmicorazon what or who he wanted me to write about. His answer was: “…I’m so glad to be your lucky 200th follower. If you haven’t already, I’d really like to see a post dedicated to Charles Mingus please. :)…”
I wanted to come up with something more original than ‘Mingus Ah Um’, ‘The Black Saint’ or ‘Pithecanthropus’ (although, of course, masterpieces, but I will talk about them later), so I came up with ‘West Coast Ghost’, from the album ‘East Coasting’. I hope you like it.
This sextet session dates from 1957, when Mingus was first assembling his Jazz Workshop. Mingus had already put together the core of the band that would reach its summit two years later with ‘Mingus Ah Um’, including saxophonist Shafi Hadi, trombonist Jimmy Knepper, and drummer Dannie Richmond, who would be with Mingus’s bands for the next two decades. ‘East Coasting’ is notable for the presence of pianist Bill Evans, who briefly worked for Mingus before joining Miles Davis for the landmark album ‘Kind Of Blue’.
How that came about can be read in Pettinger’s book ‘Bill Evans: How My Heart Sings’, page 42-43:
“…One night in August he (Evans) came home at about 4 a.m. to find a wire: “Can you make a record date this morning at 10 a.m. with Charlie Mingus?” For some reason Wade Legge, current pianist in the Mingus group, was not going to be there for the session. Evans made it to the sessions (for Bethlehem Records) and sight-read the parts- as Gil Evans used to say, Bill was a quick study… On ‘West Coast Ghost’, Evans’s aural imagination again dictated to him that sound quality was as important as material, in this case resulting in an exemplary synthesis: as he played here, and sustained in the pedal, the music tugged at the listener with a plaintive cry…”
WARNING: Listening to this will leave you with this tune in your head for hours days.