Dwarsliggers & Buitenbeentjes
Presenting episode 3 of a mini-series dedicated to outsider Billy Byers (trombonist, composer and arranger).
The artistic management of the RCA label has rock-solid confidence in Billy Byers’ development potential, which is why they do not hesitate to pair Coleman Hawkins, a robust vedette of 51 years, with a 28-year-old arranger who has yet to conquer the world.
Byers will have a substantial budget at his disposal, allowing him to be generous with three different line-ups.
An orchestra with 15 strings, 4 horns, 2 percussionists plus Hank Jones (piano and celesta), Jack Lesberg (bass) and Osie Johnson (drums) will perform Body and Soul, The day you came along, Have you met Miss Jones and The essence of you (a composition by Coleman Hawkins).
A band with seven strings and nine horns plus Hank Jones, Marty Wilson (vibraphone), Barry Galbraith (guitar), Milt Hinton (bass) and Osie Johnson accompanied Coleman Hawkins in yet another four pieces: Little Girl Blue, I never knew, Dinner for one please, James and There will never be another you.
Finally, we hear Hawkins as a soloist with a regular big band line-up, with quite a few prominent figures at the lecterns: Charlie Shavers, Ernie Royal and Nick Travis with the trumpeters, Urbie Green and Chauncey Welsch with the trombonists and a saxophone section including Hal McKusick, Al Cohn and Zoot Sims. The rhythm section again consists of Hank Jones, Marty Wilson, Barry Galbraith, Milt Hinton and Osie Johnson.
For this line-up, apart from I’m shooting high, Billy Byers worked on three compositions by Coleman Hawkins: The Bean stalks again, His very own blues and Bean and the Boys.
At RCA Victor, they were so pleased with The Hawk in Hi-Fi (the place where the 12 pieces I’m featuring in three blocks of four in this broadcast were found) that six months later, Coleman Hawkins is already back in the studio recording a similar project: The Hawk in Paris. Again, the pieces show a thematic unity as all 12 are about Paris or evoke associations with Paris, written by French and American composers. Incidentally, RCA partnered with another arranger for this project: Manny Albam. Like Billy Byers, at a later stage, Manny Albam (as a baritone saxophonist) learned a lot in the band of the energetic tenor saxophonist Georgie Auld. In particular, the arranging lessons of Budd Johnson, who was for a while associated with Georgie Auld’s band, struck a chord with Manny Albam.
The line-ups with which Manny Albam is to complete The Hawk in Paris are less extensive than the line-ups that served Billy Byers for The Hawk in Hi-Fi, but Manny Albam’s arrangements are far more lively and colourful than those of his colleague Billy Byers.
In an orchestration featuring trombone (Urbie Green), flute (Romeo Penque), harp (Janice Putnam), five violins, two cellos plus a rhythm section, we hear four pieces from the album The Hawk in Paris: April in Paris, Mon homme, La vie en rose and La Mer.
Again, the exceptionally tasteful and alert drummer Osie Johnson is on hand, as in the two previous instalments of the Billy Byers story.
Osie Johnson died in 1966, at the age of 43, of kidney failure. While preparing for this broadcast, I stumbled upon the enormity of his discographic legacy: in his short life, he participated in more than 670 (!) recording sessions, but in jazz literature, hardly more than simple phrases have been devoted to him.
An observant and intelligent jazz enthusiast, Steve Wallace, exposed this shameful gap in jazz historiography in August 2014 by publishing an outstanding online essay: The Strange Case of Osie Johnson.
In a comprehensive, highly readable argument, he elaborates on the reasons that led to Osie Johnson’s neglect, the context in which Osie Johnson arrived at that frenzied production and the characteristics of his style. It is a highly informative and lovingly written 9-page article that pays tribute to an important and extremely likeable jazz musician. Read it: Peter Erskine, Adam Nussbaum, Eric Ineke, Bill Crow, and Butch Miles, plus Osie Johnson’s daughter, preceded you.
We will again hear Osie Johnson at work in upcoming broadcasts.Produced & presented by: