At Newport // Dave Brubeck Quartet, J. J. Johnson & Kai Winding Quintet (Columbia CL 932)

Another album featuring music from the Newport Jazz Festival, this time from the year 1956, and another live album from the Dave Brubeck Quartet.  Like most jazz records, particularly Brubeck’s, this album has a mysterious backstory.

The Music

Tune:  ‘In Your Own Sweet Way’

Recorded 6 July, 1956 at the Newport Jazz Festival, Newport, Rhode Island

Personnel:

  • Dave Brubeck-  Piano
  • Paul Desmond- Alto Sax
  • Norman Bates- Bass
  • Joe Dodge-  Drums

This is an interesting album in that two different groups share the album.  Dave Brubeck’s group begins the record and spills over to the other side, with J. J. Johnson and Kai Winding playing three short tunes to close the album.  Since the record is mostly Brubeck with Jay and Kai’s group thrown in almost as an afterthought, I figured I should do them justice and give them their own post, which I’ll do sometime in the near future.

During the 1950’s, Willis Conover was the favorite M.C. of the Newport Jazz Festival, and his very brief intro is included in the first track.  Dave Brubeck then takes the mic to explain that they would like to play “mostly new things”, and then proceeds to debut one of his most famous and endearing original compositions, ‘In Your Own Sweet Way’.  Well, it was kind of a debut.  Brubeck wrote the tune in the early 1950’s in response to Paul Desmond’s complaints that they played too many standards and needed to find someone to write original music for them.  Bootleg recordings from radio broadcasts from 1955 and ’56 have Brubeck’s quartet performing the song, but he held off officially recording the song until 1956, when he recorded a solo piano version of the song for Columbia.  Miles Davis had already beaten him to it, though, having recorded it with Sonny Rollins and John Coltrane earlier in 1956.  Miles flatted the fifth of the last note before the bridge instead of playing ‘F’ that Brubeck wrote, and most musicians have followed his example in subsequent covers of the song.  When Brubeck asked Miles about it, Miles allegedly replied that Brubeck had written his own song wrong!

At any rate, this was the first official recording of the song by Brubeck’s group, and Desmond’s solo on it ended up being his longest recorded outing on this tune.  In fact, he almost outshines Brubeck’s own ensuing solo.  It’s a nice outing that simmers along, and a rather bold choice, using a ballad to start off their set at the festival.

The rest of the Brubeck tracks are nice enough, and for the most part it seems like a normal album documenting Brubeck’s Newport set.  Wrong.  Some rather obscure bootlegs (almost an oxymoron) prove that there’s more to this record than the liner notes let on.  Time for an exciting installment of…

Bring It Holmes

Let’s bring this home.  First, the bootlegs.  About ten years ago, I bought a bootleg album on iTunes that had live tracks that weren’t released anywhere else.  A few days later it disappeared from the iTunes store.  Half of the album consisted of tunes that were the same listing as the songs on the official ‘At Newport’ album from 1956.  The only difference was that ‘In Your Own Sweet Way’ was missing and ‘The Duke’ was added.  Since I didn’t have the ‘At Newport’ album at the time, I assumed the tracks were the same on both albums.  When I listened to the sound sample of ‘Take The ‘A’ Train’ from the official ‘At Newport’ album on iTunes, however, I was surprised to hear that it was a different track.  I then figured that the tracks from the bootleg album were from a different concert.  I finally bought the record last year, and when I put it on the turntable and played ‘Take The ‘A’ Train’, I made a startling discovery- the track on the record has the same beginning as the bootleg version, but then there’s an edit and it’s a different song from there on out.  And in the ‘new’ edit, there’s no audience sound in the background.  So what’s the truth?  To the liner notes we go!

As stated in the liner notes, the music was recorded on a summer night in July in front of an audience.  Also stated in the liner notes is that one song was cut from Brubeck’s half of the record.  ‘The Duke’, an original by Brubeck, was frequently played as a preamble to ‘Take The ‘A’ Train’, and was omitted from the album due to it already appearing on a previous album.  Coincidentally, this track appears on the bootleg.  Let’s compare the two versions of ‘Take The ‘A’ Train’ from the different albums.  First, the version that actually appears on the actual record.

If you listen closely, you can hear the audience clapping at the beginning of the track for the omitted track ‘The Duke’.  Then, after the break leading into Desmond’s solo, there’s a barely perceptible change in the sound of the instruments.  They all sound a little better, less ‘mic-ed from the stage’ and more ‘mic-ed from the studio’.  The audience ambiance in the background that was in ‘In Your Own Sweet Way’ is also noticeably gone.  Now, here’s the bootleg version, with the missing ‘The Duke’ restored to the beginning of the track.

The beginning of the song is identical to the version that appears on the record, up to that break where Desmond begins his solo.  The sound quality of the two tracks is quite different, with the bootleg version actually sounding better than the version on the record, more full-bodied and up-front than the other track.  So what gives?  It sounds to me like the Brubeck quartet re-recorded the track in the studio and simply kept the beginning, probably because of Desmond’s sly and witty playing on the bridge.  In the liner notes, it’s mentioned that Paul Desmond frequently quoted Prokofiev’s theme for Peter from ‘Peter and the Wolf’ as an inside joke.  Before going on that night, he told Avakian that he would throw in a double-quote in the middle 8 bars.  He proceeded to play ‘Peter, Peter, Pumpkin Eater’ and ‘Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf’ in rapid succession.  It’s a fascinating and unbelievable example of why Desmond is considered one of the best ‘quoters’ in jazz (I’ll go into further detail about Desmond’s quotes in a special post of ‘Desmond’s Quotes’). It’s most-likely due to this that the intro was saved for the record and the studio part was spliced in.  There’s no mention of it or any of the tracks being re-recorded in the studio in the liner notes or anywhere else online.  If anything, I wonder if the few squeaks and honks in Paul’s solo caused him to want to do it over?

What about the other tracks?  The bootleg versions are all completely different from the tracks on the record, except for ‘Sweet Way’, which wasn’t included in the bootleg.  It almost makes me wonder if ‘Sweet Way’ is the only track on the album that is original and unedited, and the rest of the tracks on the record were studio remakes.  It would explain why it doesn’t appear on the bootleg album with the other original tracks from Brubeck’s set.

The next logical question is what is the source of the bootlegs?  I believe it’s from Willis Conover’s radio program ‘Voice of America’, a radio program that Conover used to beam jazz and his commentary on jazz across the United States and abroad to Europe, Africa, and other countries and continents.  He recorded many of the Newport Jazz Festival performances throughout the 1950’s and 1960’s, and a few of these broadcasts have made their way onto bootlegs and official releases.  A famous example of one of his broadcasts saving the day is Duke Ellington’s Newport Jazz Festival appearance, coincidentally also in 1956.  Ellington’s wild career-revitalizing performance of ‘Diminuendo and Crescendo in Blue’ was later re-recorded in the studio due to faulty sound, like Brubeck’s performances apparently were, and like Brubeck’s album, no mention of the studio recording was made in Ellington’s album notes.  The truth came out years later when an old ‘Voice of America’ tape of the concert surfaced with pristine sound, and was used for the re-issue of the album.  What’s my point?  That it seems like Columbia records engaged in shady practices concerning the authenticity of their recording’s sources and then readily covered it up.  Brubeck’s half of this album wasn’t recorded live at all; it was recorded ‘live’ in a studio.  Thanks to what is probably an old ‘Voice of America’ recording, the truth about the record was able to be revealed.  The story of this album has been brought home.

The Cover

FullSizeRender (87)College Jazz Rating:  B-

It’s a rare picture of the Dave Brubeck Quartet in color!  Seeing the Newport Festival chairs and tent is neat, and the design of the cover is mildly interesting.  The pictures of Brubeck were taken by Aram Avakian, brother of Columbia producer George Avakian.  How’s that for a hook-up?

The Back

FullSizeRender (86)The back has some neat pictures of the Brubeck group, including a shot with beautiful vintage cameras and the group at the beach near Newport.  Based on the change of clothes, I assume the beach shot as well as the cover shot was taken earlier in the day and the shot of them in suits was taken closer to their performance.  The liner notes, written by George Avakian, are interesting for their behind-the-scenes nature as well as for their lack of info as to the re-recording.

The Vinyl

The vinyl is moderately heavy, deep-groove vinyl with the classic pre-stereo mono 6-eye labels.  Side one has ‘1A’ in the runnout while the other side has ‘1L’, and both sides have a star stamped beside the matrix number.  I’ve seen this star before on other albums but don’t know what it means.  If any of you know, please tell me about it in the comments!  The vinyl looks clean, but the record sounds a little worn at some points.  Some may be my record player (it’s an Ion Max LP, not the greatest system) and the rest may just be a pre-loved 61 year-old record.

The Place of Acquisition

eBay.

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