Paul Gonsalves was born in Boston, Mass. on 7 December 1920. His first professional engagement was with the Sabby Lewis Band in that city and he was prominently featured on both tenor saxophone and also on guitar, which happens to be his first instrument.
He has always been a big band man, having worked with Count Basie for three years from 1946, and almost consistently from then on with Duke Ellington. He did however join, for a short period, that extra-ordinary big band that Dizzy Gillespie led in 1949-50. He also, for an even shorter period in 1953, worked with the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra.
Paul's style of playing emanates primarily from the Coleman Hawkins-Ben Webster school, he being particularly influenced by the latter, whose legato style of blowing he has wonderfully assimilated and moulded to his own devices. In addition, by the purity of his tone and clear cut attack, one can hear at times echoes in Paul's playing of that other great master of the saxophone Benny Carter. Yet, despite these influences Gonsalves has, through the years, fashioned a tenor saxophone style completely of his own conception, and I would venture to say that there is no other tenor saxophonist playing today whose style is more instantly and easily recognisable.
As shown here Paul's harmonic inventions have always been stylistically very advanced, yet nevertheless his ideas are always most pleasing melodically, and easy to follow. At slow or medium tempo his playing shows a powerful, pulsing tone, a little powdery round the edges. Whilst at faster speeds, his approach becomes much more simple in construction, but shows an even greater bite and swing. For a slightly built man, the power of his blowing is truly remarkable, whilst his breath control and extraordinary ability to keep a beat going for very long intervals is perhaps unique. His small-framed body, with one shoulder hunched up to ear level, eyes tightly closed, and with saxophone dangling and almost seeming heavy enough to topple him over, presents often enough a struggling picture, but frequently it is when Paul looks at his unhappiest that his music comes out at a most exciting and exhilarating level.
Playing with Duke Ellington, in whose band he is prominently featured as a soloist, he shows all the essential qualities required of a long and distinguished line of talented Ducal tenor players. His sinuous embroidery and subtle accenting of Ellington's more melodic ballad themes, and an ability to attack with fire and imagination the more vigorous Ducal fare, stamps him as the perfect tenor saxophonist for the Ellington band. Equipped as he is with a golden
gift for paraphrasing a melodic theme without ever losing the swing, plus an ability to play extremely intricate and advanced harmonies, which although sounding involved, never for one moment lose that delicate feeling for the melody, Paul Gonsalves is surely one of the topmost tenor saxophonists playing today.
© Sinclair Traill
To find Paul Gonsalves in the company of European musicians who could be described sty¬listically more modern is reasonably predictable. His long association with Duke Ellington has served him well artistically but on occasions has resulted in his being stereotyped merely as a purveyor of blustering blues choruses. His "Diminuendo And Crescendo In Blue" on a memora¬ble night in 1956 literally stopped the Newport Jazz Festival and at the same time provided him with a cross (to continually reproduce it) that he has to bear. Gonsalves, as you will hear in this vastly different context, is a far more adaptable man, whose moods range from the almost elegiac to the gushingly rhapsodic. His ballads strongly reflect his swing era background and he employs a suitably big tone and wide vibrato. His up tempo items, on the other hand, enjoy greater rhythmic freedom and encourage a harder, more leathery tone. In the fifties his phrase shapes could have been considered ahead of their time or at least as sophisticated as the Lester Young of that vintage. Today the jazz world has absorbed the linear innovations of such players and on this album it is no suprise to find Gonsalves surging across the percussive lines of demarcation during his more declamatory passages. His more reserved moments remain loyal to his earlier Coleman Hawkins inspiration but they also underline his wide emotional range.
"Humming Bird" has a Latin feeling, with Gonsalves stretching out in a good rocking solo and Wheeler also playing well. Next comes a medley that avoids the excesses that too often blight such projects. It has the advantage of good thematic choices and allows uncluttered opportunities for the featured players. "Body And Soul" is successful from the start of its beautifully stated melody to its close. Wheeler is the soloist and his improvisation is shapely in conception and assured in execution. Branscombe's reading of "What Is There To Say" is gentle and offers fine variations on the number's intriguing harmonic changes. "Talk Of The Town" showcases Gonsalves and finds him at his most relaxed, breathy of tone and staying close to its well known line by resting on the simple trio backdrops, rather than flowing over them.
"All The Things You Are" opens with some introspective piano by Branscombe and also contains a cleanly articulated and inventive solo by him. Gonsalves and Wheeler indulge in an exciting four bar chase in which ideas are cleverly handed back and forward between them. "Sticks" is a soul-type theme by Adderley and in the Horace Silver vein. Branscombe lays down a real "baptist rock" behind the front line players and Gonsalves, always at home with twelve bar material, plays four bruising choruses of blues tenor. Wheeler has the unenviable task of following him but equits [sic] himself with distinction in a solo with the same "down home" colloquialism.
"X.O.X." begins with a typical Gonsalves cadenza, before settling into its natural groove. Perhaps more than any other title this shows why he is often thought of as a man whose style acted as a signpost for the more free musical travellers of the sixties. His solo shows scant regard for the basic pulse and sets its own climax points, thus creating a tension in the listener that is immediately stimulating.
Branscombe opens "In A Mellow Tone" with a "Rose Room" introduction that is very apt. (They are, incidentally, close thematic relatives.) Gonsalves then weighs in with a succinct statement and a well-developed solo illustrating that, like Benny Golson, he is capable of adjusting his style within the same selection. The theme is delivered in a breathy and romantic manner but as the solo unfolds the tone hardens and the phrasing becomes more oblique.
Both rhythm sections are unobtrusive and genuine backroom work horses. They feed the solo voices of tenor, trumpet and piano with sympathy and handle the changes of mood with the alacrity and professionalism we have come to expect from them. Although this is not an "on location" recording it was made at night and there is that kind of atmosphere about it. Here are musicians oblivious of posterity, putting down jazz to please each other and, I venture, jazz followers of all persuasions.
© Barry McRae
Original sleeve notes from "Humming Bird" LP, SML 1064 (1970)
The distortion heard on the bass of the track Humming Bird is on the original master tape and could not be rectified during the remastering process.
Paul Gonsalves - Tenor Saxophone
Kenny Wheeler - Trumpet
David Horler - Trombone
Alan Branscombe - Piano
Stan Tracey - Piano
Kenny Napper / Dave Green - Bass
Benny Goodman - Drums
1. Humming Bird (Falkner)
i. Body and Soul (Green, Sour, Heyman & Eyton)
ii. What Is There To Stay (Duke & Harburg)
iii. It's the Talk of the Town (Livingston, Symes & Neiburg)
3. All The Things You Are (Kern & Hammerstein)
4. Sticks (Adderley)
5. X. O. X (Tracey)
6. In a Mellow Tone (Ellingon & Gabler)
7. Almost You (Falkner)
Deram LP SML 1064 Stereo
Reissued 2005 - Dutton Vocalion CDSML 8404