This album's title may seem facetious, but it was provoked by the pose adopted for the photographer by the two protagonists. Paul Gonsalves was known to many friends in the profession as "Mex"and was so addressed by, for example, Clark Terry and Quincy Jones. Despite the fact that his sur¬name ended with an "s" rather than the "z" so many typographers insisted upon, he did not resent the nickname nor find it necessary to point out that his ancestry was Portuguese, not Hispanic. Moreover, he spontaneously assumed the posture of a Mexican bandido for our cover picture.
Although Roy Eldridge is indisputably from Pittsburgh, no known evidence exists of his having indulged in piratical activities once fashionable on the Spanish Main. In our times, how-ever, the Pittsburgh Pirates have acquired varying degrees of popularity in a somewhat different field of endeavour, and it is they he represents, swinging his horn or, as the hip might say, his axe in response to the musket's menace.
Some nine years older than Gonsalves, Eldridge had played in a dozen famous big bands, as well as at the head of his own and in numerous small groups, before this album was made. He was a prolific recording artist and had worked with all the best tenor players of his day—Chu Berry, Coleman Hawkins, Prince Robinson, Ben Webster, Lester Young, Don Byas, Buddy Tate, Bud Freeman, Ike Quebec, Budd Johnson, Zoot Sims, Flip Phillips, Illinois Jacquet, Stan Getz—except Paul Gonsalves.
Gonsalves's experience had been extensive, but less varied than Eldridge's. Before World War II and service in India, he had played in Sabby Lewis's Boston band. The war over, he joined Count Basie in 1946 for four years. He was then with Dizzy Gillespie's big band for a short time before joining Duke Ellington in 1950. Apart from two unhappy weeks with Tommy Dorsey in 1953, he remained with Ellington until they died within ten days of one another in 1974. Although his experience had thus been mainly in big bands, Gonsalves was, like Eldridge, a competitive player, one never loath to reply to a challenge in a small group or jam session.
To bring these two stars together had long been an ambition of Duke Ellington's nephew, Michael James, and this he finally achieved in August 1973 after the problem of assembling an appropriate rhythm section had been solved to everyone's satisfaction.
Roy Eldridge is himself no mean drummer and to him time is of the essence. A logical choice on drums was therefore Eddie Locke, who for many years fulfilled faithfully and well the needs of the formidable group jointly led by Eldridge and Coleman Hawkins. The youngest musician on the date, he gave it the firm, uncomplicated foundation both of the horns esteemed. Sam Jones on bass was another valuable rhythmic source of strength, his experience with Cannonball Adderley and Oscar Peterson having given him both confidence and a remarkable expertise for small-group playing. Pianist Cliff Smalls was at the time in Sy Oliver's band at the Rainbow Room in New York. An extremely versatile musician, he first came to wide public attention when playing piano and trombone, and arranging, with Earl "Fatha" Hines in the forties. (Yes, no mistake, piano. Hines had him out front playing "Basie Boogie" at the Apollo Theater the week before Basie was to open.) Although he names Hines and Tatum as his chief influences, he has a definite style of his own and an arranger's sense of construction, as he had shown with artists as varied as Ella Fitzgerald, Roy Hamilton, Smokey Robinson, and Earl Bostic.
The program opens with a brisk, swinging Eldridge blues, "5400 North." The composer states the theme muted before handing over to Smalls, who takes off with assurance. His stab-bing, percussive notes in the treble and plunging basses build a great feeling of swinging momentum, and this is maintained throughout the furious choruses by Gonsalves and Eldridge.
Paul Gonsalves was perhaps cast too often in the role of the uninhibited, driving improviser at up tempos. It was his own fault, because he played the role so well. But he was considered even greater by many on tender, soulful ballads, where his mel-low tone, smooth phrasing, and rich harmonic imagination were particularly moving. "I Cover the Waterfront" is a case in point and the album's high spot. He opens gently and inventively, set-ting the mood for the brilliant solos by Smalls and Eldridge that follow. The pianist's meaningful tremolos add a blues flavor to the song's sentiment, and Eldridge enhances it with his big, full tone and the affecting vibrato which develops into a searing half-growl.
"C Jam Blues" is one of many creations Duke Ellington bequeathed to improvising jazzmen. Eddie Locke kicks off this version on which the rhythm section really takes care of business, while the horns rough it up in very individual statements before dialoguing toughly.
"Body and Soul" is a number redolent with memories for tenor players, especially those like Gonsalves on whom Coleman Hawkins was a major influence. The 1939 Hawkins version is one of the most famous records in jazz history, but it is well to remember that the previous year another excellent one had been made by Chu Berry, then regarded as Hawkins's most serious competitor. And with Berry in his "Little Jazz Ensemble" was his colleague from Fletcher Henderson's band, Roy Eldridge no less. With this knowledge in mind it is interesting to compare the different responses to the material in this performance made 35 years later. The emotional content of Johnny Green's number does not seem to lose its potency.
Despite the apparent evidence to the contrary in the liner photograph, Paul Gonsalves's health was deteriorating in the last year of his life. So to rest him, "It's the Talk of the Town" was entirely entrusted to the rhythm section, although it is also a number beloved by tenor players. Completely improvised in one take, it is a striking example of Cliff Smalls's authority and imagination. At times, his firm, bold touch and melodic ideas are reminiscent of Eddie Heywood in his jazz heyday.
"Somebody Loves Me" opens with Roy Eldridge singing the first chorus, not quite like Jimmy Harrison long ago, but with comparable humor. Gonsalves charges in boisterously; Smalls swings a chorus hard; and then Eldridge returns on trumpet to tear it up and take it out. All of which should remind you that while cool may be fashionable momentarily, warmth and passion are never altogether out of season.
— STANLEY DANCE
Notes reproduced from the original album liner.
Paul Gonsalves - Tenor Saxophone
Roy Elrdridge - Trumpet
Cliff Smalls - Piano
Sam Jones - Bass
Eddie Locke - Drums
1. 5400 North (Eldridge)
2. I Cover the Waterfront (Green & Heyman)
3. C-Jam Blues (Ellington)
4. Body and Soul (Green, Heyman, Sour & Eyton)
5. It's the Tlak of the Town (Symes, Neiburg, Livingston)
6. Someboy Loves Me (Gershwin, DeSylva, MacDonald & Valentine)
7. Satin Doll (Ellington & Strayhorn)
Recorded 24th August 1973 - Chicago, USA
Reissued 1992 - Fantasy (OJCCD-751-2)