Although the idea of recording Paul Gonsalves and Earl Hines with just bass and drums accompaniment may seem an obvious one, the fact is that it took Stanley Dance to bring about this summit meeting. True, the two had been on record together before (as part of the Hines-Johnny Hodges encounter for Impluse in 1966) but it was Dance who managed to get them into studios in New York City towards the end of 1970. The seemingly obvious is often difficult to achieve and on the strength of the five quartet titles on this disc, Stanley qualifies for an award for services above and beyond the call of duty as a recording supervisor.
For half a century Earl Hines was at the front of jazz piano development and his influence on other pianists has been enormous. Never off form and never at a loss for a stunning, brilliant phrase during an improvisation, Hines was founder member of that exclusive club, the Jazz Giants.
Paul Gonsalves, seventeen years junior to Hines, was born in Boston but brought up in Pawtucket, Rhode Island. Like Hines he started out on one instrument and switched to another. In Paul's case it was the guitar when he was 16; with Earl it was the trumpet but, he said, 'I blew wrong and it used to hurt behind my ears'. In Paul's case the guitar was an instrument he picked up occasionally and his unique harmonic approach as a tenor saxophonist almost certainly owed something to his knowledge of chords gleaned from his guitar playing. He worked with pianist Sabby Lewis's band around Boston in the middle 'forties, joined Count Basie as a replacement for Illinois Jacquet in August, 1946 and remained with the Count until the end of 1949 when he worked for a time with Dizzy Gillespie's big band. Apart from a few weeks with the Tommy Dorsey orchestra during September and October, 1953, Paul was an important member of the Duke Ellington orchestra since September, 1950.
The excellent professionals providing the support for the two principals are well known and respected in musical circles. Bass player Al Hall was born in Jacksonville, Florida in 1915. He was a prolific recording artist in a freelance capacity but has also worked with men such as Errol Garner, Teddy Wilson and Benny Goodman on a full-time basis. Jo Jones, from Chicago, was the man who helped to set the style for the Count Basie rhythm section; in fact Jo was with Basie from 1936 until the US Army called him in 1944. Fifty-nine years of age at the time of the Hines-Gonsalves date he clearly enjoyed the music and played so well here that one realises how a sensitive drummer can make or mar a session of this kind.
The date was relaxed and any arrangements necessary for opening or closing figures were agreed within a matter of minutes. The first number was Paul's choice, What Am I Here For?, an Ellington tune first recorded in 1942 and containing a rich, warm solo from Ben Webster. On this version Paul succeeds in recalling the atmosphere of a Ducal performance but at the same time makes it a personal statement. The rhythm section produces a very satisfying sound and Hines drives along in fine style in the second chorus. The second number on the date retained the Ellington atmosphere; / Got It Bad was one of Ivie Anderson's songs with the band and Hines is in brilliant form here for his two opening choruses. Jones tightens the beat in the second, seemingly reading Earl's mind correctly, then Gonsalves eases his way in on the third chorus, re-introducing the theme before moving on to more wide-ranging phrases.
Jo Jones plays an introduction to Moten Swing before Hines block-chords the melody in the theme chorus. In the second Earl uses delicate figurations in the treble, punctuating his lines with sharp, stabbed chords. The third chorus sounds as if Fred Astaire has stepped into the studio; in fact this is a clever interplay between Hines and Jo Jones's rim shots. Gonsalves takes three choruses helped by Jones who increases the rhythmic pressure in the right places. When Earl takes over he introduces a riff based on the tune Broadway but still recognizably linked to Moten Swing. This lengthy, swinging track, like It Don't Mean A Thing which closed the quartet session, was a single take which is some indication of the rapport of the four men involved.
Earl insisted that, after Moten Swing, Paul should be featured throughout Harold Aden's Over The Rainbow. This consists of just one chorus, plus an introduction and coda, played at a tempo of less than twelve bars per minute. Gonsalves revelled in performances of this kind, his breathy tone making the most of the increasingly convoluted, intricate phrases which blend together to maintain the overall curve of the melodic line. This is ballad tenor at its best. The fourteen-chorus It Don't Mean A Thing was the final tribute to the Duke. The opening 'head' took only minutes to evolve before the tapes were rolling for the take. Jones and Hines were responsible jointly for the theme statement then, unusually, the second chorus consists of four bar piano and drum exchanges, 'unusual' because this kind of chase passage usually precedes the final theme statement at the end of a performance. Paul comes on for five consecutive choruses, fluttering the saxophone keys at the beginning of his third chorus to add impetus. Earl's four choruses which follow are brilliant; he uses runs which would be difficult for even an acknowledged expert such as Oscar Peterson. In his third chorus Hines plays a tremolo figure with his right hand, plunging down into the bass with his left; he manages to keep the same tremolo going throughout the chorus without running counter to the different chords of the middle-eight. The quartet indulges in a round of 'fours' before Paul and Earl take the tune out, closing with an extended and improvised coda.
Blues Sands was made nearly two years later and is an unaccompanied solo by Hines taped the same day as Indian Summer, I Never Knew and Lonesome Road from the outstanding Tour de force album (Black Lion BLCD 760140). Earl Hines was a pianist with such a strong left hand and positive sense of rhythm that his solo playing is complete in itself. Blue Sands is another memorable Hines original to add to a list which includes Rosetta, My Monday Date, You Can Depend On Me and Blues In Thirds.
Alun Morgan, 1974
Paul Gonsalves - Tenor Saxophone
Earl Hines - Piano
Al Hall - Bass
Jo Jones - Drums
1. It Don;t Mean a Thing (If it Ain't Got That Swing) (Ellington & Mills)
2. Over the Rainbow (Arlen & Harburg)
3. What am I Here For? (Ellington)
4. Moten Swing (Moten)
5. Blue Sands (Hines)
6. I Got it Bad and that ain't Good (Ellington & Webster)
Recorded 15th December 1970 - NYC, USA
Balck Lion BLCD760177