It's All About a Groove
Historically speaking, most jazzmen have begun their careers as teenagers - in the case of the three players on this new CD, in their early teens and before. Drummer Greg Bandy was only 13 in 1964 when he was called in to substitute for an older cousin Raymond Farris at a gig with local organist Sam Blackshaw at a music bar in his native Cleveland. Guitarist Ethan Mann, born in Montpelier, Vt., and raised in Springfield, Mass., was 14 when, in 1975, he and a friend were hired to play twice a week at The Red Fez, a bar in Chicopee, Mass., where the patrons were country-and-western fans and the young players had to play Hank Williams and Johnny Cash tunes along with 'Take Five' and 'Impressions.' And pianist-organist Albert 'Chip' Crawford was only 12 in 1964 when, for $5, he played on a flat-bed truck outside a drive-in movie in his native Raleigh, NC where, he says, 'the electricity was so bad that you could get a shock at any moment.' Bandy was working in New York by the mid-1970s at The Village Vanguard and other clubs and soon became drummer of choice for first-rate saxophonists Pharoah Sanders and Gary Bartz. Mann arrived in early 1991 and began working with veteran New York-based jazzmen like bassists Bob Cunningham Morris Edwards and Brian Smith, pianist-organist Rahn Burton and saxophonists Jimmy Vass and Patience Higgens, along with younger players like saxophonist Myron Walden and pianist Matt Ray in clubs like The 55 Bar, Augie's, and Birdland. Crawford came to town in 2001 and landed a job in an organ trio with saxophonist Javon Jackson and drummer Terreon Gully at a club in northern New Jersey. He also worked in Harlem with veteran saxophonists Patience Higgens and Bill Saxton. By mid-2008 Mann had the opportunity to work with Crawford and Bandy at a steady Saturday night gig at Jules Bistro on St. Mark's Place in the East Village. 'After working together for a while, we began to feel a sort of relaxed cohesiveness and we decided to record' says Mann. This CD, then, can be seen as a reflection of what goes on at the club on a typical Saturday night. 'Foxy' is a medium-tempo Mann original, 'I was going for something with an uplifting, almost gospel feeling'. The inspiration for the guitarist's uptempo 'Blues For Now' was 'that I wanted to write a fast blues like George Benson's 'Clockwise' or Jackie McLean's 'Doctor Jackyl.'' The older standards are 'You and the Night and The Music,' a brisk version of the Arthur Schwartz-Howard Dietz tune from the musical 'Revenge With Music,' which opened on Broadway in November, 1934. 'It's got a great melody and harmonic progression,' says Mann, 'and it's fun to improvise on'. 'Easy Living' is a familiar Ralph Rainger-Leo Robin standard from the 1937 screwball comedy of the same name with Ray Milland and Jean Arthur. Here it is a poignant guitar solo ballad dedicated to Mann's wife Agata. 'It's got great lyrics, I know, but the melody always intrigued me even more, it's so tricky and beautiful.' Crawford points out that his uptempo original, 'Minor Steps,' is 'based on Coltrane's 'Giant Steps,' and Mann's choice of the well-known newer standards 'The Look of Love' (a Burt Bachrach composition first introduced in the 1967 James Bond film 'Casino Royale') and Michel Legrand's 1962 'What are You Doing For the Rest of Your Life' were naturals for the trio. 'We chose songs that have a wide appeal because we love it when our listeners are highly engaged'. The medium-slow 'Betcha By Golly Wow,' medium-tempo 'People Make the World Go Round,' and uptempo 'Stop, Look, Listen to Your Heart' are all from the repertoire of the Stylistics, the 1970s-era Philadelphia soul-ballad vocal group, all compositions by producer-arranger Thom Bell and lyricist Linda Creed. 'On 'Betcha By Golly Wow', Bell employed some interesting compositional devices using mixed meter and modulation up a minor third. I expanded these ideas and used them for the guitar solo section'. And then there is Bandy's funky novelty blues vocal, 'Woman Please,' which he introduces as a story that 'might relate to me, and it might relate to you.' When he pointed out that 'it's all about a groove,' the trio realized that here was the title for the CD. Because the best jazz has always had a groove, funky or not. The ease and pleasure of relating to Mann, Crawford and Bandy on this CD or watching them get into it at Jules only shows that a groove can happen any time, any place, and with any instrumentation. --Tony Outhwaite November 2009.