Trombonist and proprietor of Hip Bone Music Michael Davis has been running his excellent Bone-to-Pick interview series for a while now. A little over a year ago, Davis featured the incomparable trombonist Bill Watrous. Watrous, who is full of stories, observations, and the occasional joke*, is a natural for this sort of thing, and that makes the interview fun to watch.
How Long Has This Been Going On?
*The Carl Fontana Joke
Watch the entire interview if you haven’t already, but for the joke as told by Carl Fontana to Watrous, check out 32 minutes 13 seconds.
When recalling his earliest — and fairly obscure — LP solo recordings, Bill mentions one whose title seems to be a 60s zeitgeist send-up: Love Themes For The Underground, The Establishment & Other Sub Cultures Not Yet Known. Watrous remembers the arranger Walter Raim talked him into the project when he was in New York City doing other recording work. Love Themes For The Underground, The Establishment & Other Sub Cultures Not Yet Known had interesting instrumentation in addition to Watrous’s trombone, consisting of string quartet, vibes, guitar, bass, and drums, plus voices. “I still have a copy of this. You can’t get these anywhere,” says Watrous.
Well, over at my favorite used record store, Hymies, I did find a copy of, you know, Love Themes For The Underground, The Establishment & Other Sub Cultures Not Yet Known. It was recorded in 1969 for MTA Records in New York (not to be confused with the current label of that name). Despite the high concept title, the recording is a standards outing with Aquarius (from the 1967 musical Hair) added in. (Also, did Aquarius ever really become a standard?) To be sure, it’s easy listening, but as the liner notes mention, using a string quartet — as opposed to a huge string section — changes up the usual “easy listening” texture. The arrangements are interesting — the tracks on this LP could have easily been used for Mad Men music cues.
Last time, I wrote about the varying quality of digital transfers at the iTunes music store, specifically on some Kai Winding and J.J. Johnson recordings. The odd situation I mentioned was that newer cover art sometimes accompanies some digital transfers of the albums — even from a scratchy LP as the source ― while the original cover art sometimes accompanies separate digital transfers, which — possibly ― come from the original master tapes.
But wait — there are more geeky details: below is the original LP cover art for J Is For Jazz. Look familiar? The striking photo sets J.J. against a black background, head-on down the length of his trombone slide, just like the art for Kai Winding’s The Trombone Sound (See the last post, which appeared far too long ago).
What you can’t see on the iTunes cover art is the photo credit that exits on the LP versions. Not surprisingly, both of these album cover photos are by the same photographer, Dan Wynn, who died in 1995. Although he had training in art, Wynn began developing technical skills in photography while serving in the U.S. Army Air Force during World War II. Out of the Army in 1947, he began focussing his photographic eye on fashion while working for Seventeen Magazine. In his subsequent career, he ended up photographing nearly everything — cars and scooters, food, models, movie stars, and, of course, musicians.
During his career as a jazz musician, the late J.J. Johnson recorded many times as a leader. His well known musical vision and skills as a writer and arranger — not to mention his virtuosic translation of modern jazz to the trombone — meant the leader role fit him well. That same reputation, too, meant he was in demand as a sideman. In these instances, J.J.’s playing always adds something special to the musical proceedings, and, while freed from the responsibilities of a leader, he might sound a little more relaxed than usual. Below are three Blue Note CDs you may not have heard yet: all feature J.J. as a sideman. Check them out. The titles and cover art will link to the music at Amazon.