Tomb of the Unknown Soldier
If you asked me what my favorite record is, for years, I would have said Daddy Plays the Horn by Dexter Gordon. I could sing every solo off of that record by the time I was thirteen.
I found it in an interesting way: when I turned 13, I got a Real Book for my birthday, and I was told by my teacher in Cleveland that these were important songs to learn. So I went onto Napster (yikes that was a while ago…) and streamed one version of every song alphabetically in The Real Book (I had the 1976 TOTALLY REVISED edition that I got illegally from a music store in Lakewood, OH. In 2002, Hal Leonard hadn’t figured out the rights for The Real Book, so it was still underground. It was the 5th edition 1st book, if anyone’s wondering. The exchange was actually quite fantastic, with my twelve year old self going into the store with my mom, asking for the book, the guy looking me over and saying, “Uh, yeah. Yeah…” leaving for five minutes and then emerging with this book from 1976…) until I found a version that I liked. I skipped rather quickly over the complex and avant-garde, like “A Call for All Demons” and “Countdown”, music from musicians that I now can appreciate, but found a lot of songs that I came to like, which got me started on Jazz, which of course I’m now grateful for. I think I stopped the process at “Exercise #3”, because I couldn’t find a recording on the then-fledgling Napster, and then, like most twelve year olds, I forgot about it and moved on to something else. I never finished that process. This also meant that until I was about 16 or so, the vast majority of my repertoire was songs starting with A-E. I knew “Daahoud” and “Bemsha Swing” at 12, but I didn’t learn “Stella By Starlight” until years later.
However, I had a truly life changing moment when I found a version of “Confirmation” that caught my ear by Dexter Gordon. Interestingly enough, I didn’t hear Parker’s own version until a few years later. The process I had my mind set on was to find only one version of each song that I liked, and then make it “my version” of the song that I would listen to. I only needed to find one, and then moved on, which also means that my favorite Jazz musicians for about a year were in the first half of the alphabet(luckily that part didn’t last so long)! Gordon comes before Parker, so I settled on Gordon’s version. I remember the exact feeling I felt listening to the track, listening to Kenny Drew’s comping(far before I knew what comping was) over Dexter’s huge, sweeping solos, saying aloud “Who is this piano player!?!?” (yes, my parents did think I was crazy, but I’ve always been a bit obsessive, so they were used to it by that point). I just loved the rhythm and melody of it all, not at all difficult to listen to like Parker is in a musician’s early years, with all those angles. In retrospect, that, along with my other catalyst record, The Complete Oscar Peterson Plays the Song Books, were excellent first records. Dexter had a long career, and you can’t read about him without reading about Parker, Powell and the Bebop cats, but also Coltrane and Rollins, and further still, Woody Shaw and Herbie, if you listen to Homecoming and watch Round Midnight. Oscar was the gateway to other things, particularly the Swing Era, Lester, Coleman Hawkins, Ben Webster, Roy Eldridge, and then finally Johnny Hodges, Benny Carter, and Sonny Stitt.
Dexter made the perfect middle of the road record. It was recorded just as he was getting out of jail, so he hadn’t played in a few years. There’s a medium blues, an up Bebop head, a ballad, a medium original, another ballad, and a fast standard (by Earl Hines, another very important catalyst point for me.) Nothing is over 250 bpm, so it’s digestible by a young listener. The Ballads are both extremely singable, “Darn That Dream”, and “Autumn in NY”. The harmony is definitely Bebop, but Kenny Drew (who became my favorite pianist for years after that, so much that when I met my girlfriend 7 years later, I showed her some Kenny Drew, asked her who she thought it was, and was told “Nobody, it sounds like you!”) is diverging from Powell’s playing style and harmony enough to make this record perfectly straddle Bebop and Hard Bop.
Dexter’s solo on the first track was the first thing I ever lifted, although it wasn’t until I was 16, at which point I was still so excited about him using a tri-tone that it was the main device in my solos for the next year.
All of this is the reason why, when I heard that Larance Marable passed away, I felt a sinking feeling in my stomach. The most important thing that the Daddy did for me was alert me to the fact that musicians can still be great, even if you haven’t heard their name. The rhythm section is Kenny Drew, Leroy Vinnegar, and Larance Marable; not exactly Chambers-Kelly-Jones in the history books. However, they are all three completely original in their own right, and that made me pay attention to every name going forward, and that trait has since become the strongest in my historical toolbox.
I was extremely excited to see Larance two years ago at the Tri-C Jazz festival in Cleveland with Charlie Haden and Quartet West, but it was the year of the Volcano in Iceland, and Larance couldn’t make it back from Europe where he was playing just before. It was Billy Hart, which was fine with me, but I felt disappointed that I couldn’t meet Larance and ask him about whether or not he remembered my favorite session with Dexter. I’m very glad that being in Charlie’s group has garnered some notoriety for Larance in the past years.
I found out that Larance died last week, and was saddened again. I (who tries to keep as strict track as possible of news in the Jazz world, including the hoax that he had died in 2010, because another man named Lawrence Marable died in Newark that year) didn’t find out until 20 days after it happened. Bring up the name Larance Marable in most schools and Jazz clubs around the country and you will get very few responses. He is not the most known drummer, even among musicians. However, he was a powerhouse through the entire lifespan of Bebop on the West Coast, and he later became Charlie’s second pick to Billy Higgins in his main working ensemble for two decades.
Most importantly, he greatly affected my life, turning one more soul unwavering to the path of Jazz music. His cymbal beat and drum breaks will forever be the image of mid 50s bebop to me, and believe me when I say that this record will be shown in detail to each and every student I ever teach who is willing to listen.
Jazz is filled with these unknown soldiers, and I have spent a lot of my time tracking them down on record, and in person when able to. These unsung masters are everywhere, and a lot can be learned from them. Most importantly, they deserve their due for time served.
RIP Larance Marable.
“In Quartet West he was the other part of my heartbeat.” —Charlie Haden