Cool Struttin'

Sonny Clark

Cool Struttin'
(Blue Note)

Cool Struttin'

Jackie McLean, alto sax; Art Farmer, trumpet;
Sonny Clark, piano; Paul Chambers, bass; Philly Joe Jones, drums.

1. Cool Struttin' (Sonny Clark) 9:20
2. Blue Minor (Sonny Clark) 10:17
3. Sippin' At Bells (Miles Davis) 8:15
4. Deep Night (Henderson-Vallee) 8:45
5. Royal Flush (Sonny Clark) 9:00
6. Lover (Rodgers-Hart) 7:00
Produced by ALFRED LION
Cover Design by REID MILES
Recording by RUDY VAN GELDER
Recorded on January 5, 1958,
Hackensack, NJ.

"A primary quality in Sonny Clark's playing," notes Art Farmer, who is an astute jazz critic avocationally, "is that there's no strain in it. Some people sound like they're trying to swing. Sonny just flows naturally along. Also central to his work is that he has a good, powerful feeling for the blues."

Sonny's capacity and present strength as a stimulating, functional jazz pianist has finally been clearly outlined in his recent series of Blue Note LPs, particularly his first three as a leader -- Dial S for Sonny (BLP 1570), Sonny's Crib (BLP 1576) and Sonny Clark Trio (BLP 1579). There have also been several forceful appearances as a sideman, among them with Curtis Fuller (BLP 1572), John Jenkins (BLP 1573), Johhny Griffin (BLP 1580) and Cliff Jordan (BLP 1582).

Sonny's biographical dues have been described on both of his previous LPs as a leader. Briefly, he was born July 21, 1931 in Pittsburgh, and started on piano at four. In high school, he was piano soloist with the band and also played bass and vibes. He first gigged professionally around Pittsburgh while still in school. In 1951, he worked with Vido Musso and Oscar Pettiford and had his own trio in San Francisco. A Los Angeles period followed during which he played with a large number of jazz figures, among them Art Farmer, Wardell Gray, Anita O'Day, Stan Getz, Shelly Manne, etc. Starting in 1954, Sonny was with Buddy DeFranco for two and half years. He then joined the Lighthouse All Stars in Hermosa Beach, near Los Angeles. He came to New York in April 1957, after working across the country with Dinah Washington.

His principal activity since being in New York has been his Blue Note sessions. He's also worked with Sonny Rollins, Charlie Mingus, J.R. Monterose and headed his own trio with Art Taylor and Sam Jones of Birdland -- a trio he hopes to reactivate soon and keep together. Sonny's earliest influences on his instrument, starting when he was 11 or 12, were Pete Johnson, Art Tatum and Fats Waller. There followed Erroll Garner and then Bud Powell. He also admires Lennie Tristano ("his technical ability and conception"), George Shearing, Oscar Peterson, and Theolonious Monk whom he began to absorb after Powell, Shearing and Peterson. Sonny likes to perform Monk's tunes and admires Monk as a pianist also ("he has technical ability for what he wants to do"). Younger pianists who impress Sonny include Horace Silver, Tommy Flanagan, Barry Harris, Ray Bryant and Red Garland.

Sonny selected the men for this date -- Farmer had been on his Dial S For Sonny album and Paul Chambers had participated in Sonny's Crib. "I met Paul," notes Sonny, "in Detroit in 1954. He was very young and nobody outside the city knew much about him, but I dug him right then. He's very consistent and has superior conception, choice of notes and ability to construct lines. He plays with intelligence and he always keeps it interesting." Of Paul's colleague in the Miles Davis rhythm section, "Philly" Joe Jones, Sonny says: "I never heard him until he was with Miles and came out to the coast in 1956.

"Joe," Sonny continues, "has a different way of swinging. He plays all the drums. Usually, when a drummer tries to do that, he gets in the way and doesn't make much sense. But Joe's different. He has every musical conception -- and he listens to what you and and the other players are doing. Very few drummers really listen. He gets involved in the group effort, and he winds up inspiring you by the diffferent little things he does besides keeping time. Joe really makes it happen. He's always inventing something. I can listen to him develop a rhythmic pattern and it turns into a melodic pattern that I in turn can build on. And always, underneath everything, he's genuinely swinging."

Sonny met Art Farmer in California as early as 1952. "I was living in Pasadena, and Art used to come over with Wardell Gray. We'd session all the time. Art, although he was influenced a lot by Miles Davis, had a style of his own even then. In the years since, he's matured a lot and has a more masculine style of playing. Now he's more consistent too and his conception is very impressive."

Sonny had heard one of Jackie McLean's first recordings -- with Miles Davis around 1953 -- and had liked his "fresh, different" sound from the beginning. "He was influenced by Bird certainly," adds Sonny, "but he's one of the very few who has his own style of playing modern alto." To which appraisal Art Farmer contributes a perceptive analysis: "Most of the altoists took one primary aspect from Bird -- there were so many to the main -- and developed that one for their own purposes. With Jackie, he took that real organized tone -- sometimes it's like a squawk -- that Bird would use at times. It's like someone sticks a knife in you; you holler and scream and your voice changes in the pain. It's a real hurt thing. So Jackie developed on that and paid little attention to the more delicate elements of Bird's playing. Jackie has a feeling in his playing that you know immediately is him. He doesn't just copy."

The title tune, "Cool Struttin'," was inspired by Sonny's wife. "I sort of got the name for it from the way the melody goes. It's a feeling of somebody struttin'. I mean the old conception of the word. I guess you could say the tune itself is a funky-modern version of an old step. It's a 24-bar blues, 12 and then 12."

"Blue Minor," another Clark original, is thus titled because it's in minor and "blue" connotes the "relaxed, moody" feeling Sonny was trying to project. "Actually, I wrote this tune a few years back. I've played it often since then, but not until this date did I feel it would be played on records the way I wanted it. I'd been saving it for the right group of guys. It's 16, 8, and 8."

"Sippin' At Bells," a Charlie Parker tune, "was one of the first in my jazz record collection. I never had the opportunity to play with Bird. I did meet him once in Chicago in 1954 during my first trip there with Buddy DeFranco. Bird encouraged me to continue playing. I admire those early Bird tunes. This one for its melody as well as its chages. It's a 12-bar blues with sort of advanced changes."

"Deep Night" I like for its changes, but until I heard Bud Powell play it in Birdland one night, I'd never heard it played except in a semi-pop way. When I heard Bud do it, I knew I'd have to play it too in my way." Sonny feels this is about the best date he's done yet. "The music was played the way I wanted it and I got the fellows I'd been wanting to record with for some time."

The session as a whole seems to me -- in the musical personalities of its participants -- to embody Sonny's definition of what "soul" in jazz is. "I take it to mean you're growing up to capacities of the instrument. Your soul is your conception and you begin to have it in your playing when the way you strike a note, the sound you get and your phrasing come out of you yourself and no one else. That's what jazz is, after all, self-expression."

--NAT HENTOFF, from the liner notes.

The original Cool Struttin' contained only the first four tracks. "Royal Flush" and "Love" were originally intended to serve as one side of what was scheduled to be Clark's subsequent Blue Note album, and they may have been recorded with the specific intention of being released with the three tracks produced at Clark's quintet session with Clifford Jordan, Kenny Burrell, Chambers and Pete LaRocca from the previous month. The album in question appeared as BLP 1592 in the label's catalogue listings, yet was not actually released until it first saw the light of day in Japan 20 years later.

--BOB BLUMENTHAL, from the liner notes,
Cool Struttin', RVG.

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