your choice for jazz cds
and today's hottest downloads
Join our mailing list.
Jazz enthusiasts tend to be traditional in their thinking when it comes to a musician's background and antecedents. Although it is not necessary to have been born within the city limits of New Orleans, it helps if you have suffered some form of privation, worked for years in the obscurity of a rhythm and blues band or gone unrecorded until well past the age of thirty. It also helps if you show that your interests in music are unswervingly dedicated to jazz.
André Previn is a man who falls outside the traditionalist's ideas of what a jazz musician should be. He was born in Berlin (on April 6, 1929) rather than New Orleans; he did not work for years in obscurity; he made his first records when he was sixteen years of age and the diversification of his career, from leading a regular jazz trio during the 'fifties to his later position of eminence as a conductor of world renown must surely be unique in the annals of music.
Previn had already studied at the Berlin Royal Conservatory when his family moved to Paris in 1937. Two years later, after further study at the Paris Conservatory, his family moved to the United States where, in 1941, he heard his first jazz record. It was Art Tatum's Sweet Lorraine and its effect on young André was lasting. He bought a copy, transcribed it to score paper and studied it, fascinated that anyone "could use that much imagination and technique within a thirty-two bar chorus." This was the first and only time he ever attempted the task of capturing Tatum's music between stave lines. "It's like copying out a Mahler score," he told Nat Hentoff.
Late in 1942 at the age of thirteen he began his professional career with radio engagements. He worked with Frank DeVol, Al Jarvis (the West Coast's original disc-jockey who ran a programme called "Make-Believe Ballroom" on station KLAC), Hoagy Carmichael and Frankie Laine and in 1945, MGM signed him to play piano and write arrangements for their studios. It was about this time that he came to the notice of Eddie Laguna. In fact, Laguna booked Previn to appear at a jazz concert he promoted at the Los Angeles Philharmonic auditorium in December, 1943 when André was only 15. When Laguna started a record company of his own he made arrangements to capture Previn's music on record for the first time. This album comprises tracks that André recorded in Radio Recorders Studios for Eddie Laguna's Sunset Record Company.
The tracks are of considerably greater value than simply historical interest. They show that Previn's maturity as a jazz soloist came very early and although has unabashed admiration for the piano style of Nat King Cole is apparent in places, his ability to translate his ideas into tangible form is remarkable by any standards. The earliest date took place on October 13, 1945; co-incidentally this was Art Tatum's birthday and Art was leading a trio with an identical instrumentation in Los Angeles at the time. In Previn's case the trio comprised John Simmons, then working with the Eddie Heywood Sextet and guitarist Dave Barbour, musical director for his wife, Peggy Lee, on a succession of film and recording engagements.
Good Enough to Keep was the original title which subsequently became better known as Airmail Special. Here, and on Irving Berlin's Blue Skies, the crisp attack and well-ordered structure of the arrangements point to the influence of the Nat Cole and Art Tatum trios, but the piano style is already André's. Mulholland Drive, never previously issued anywhere, is based on the chord sequence of I Got Rhythm. Included here also is California Clipper- the first tune to be recorded at this first date (an alternate version was included on Black Lion BLCD760171 - Sunset Swing.)
How High the Moon was the "national anthem" of the modernists in the mid-forties but seldom heard as a piano solo!
Three weeks later Laguna booked Previn for another session, this time under the leadership of Willie Smith. As a band pianist, in the company of older and more experienced musicians, André turns in thoroughly competent performances on All the Things You Are (arranged by Jimmy Mundy) and I've Found a New Baby (Johnny Thompson wrote the score used here). Neither of the takes presented here has appeared on disc before; they are alternative versions to those included on Black Lion BLCD760171. Some confusion has existed over the exact permutation of personnels on this date due to the presence of two trumpeters (Howard McGhee and Buddy Childers), two tenor saxophonists (Vido Musso and Lucky Thompson) and two pianists (André Previn and Arnold Ross) but in the light of the evidence now available, producer Alan Bates and I are convinced that the personnels listed here are correct for these tracks. It is certainly McGhee who plays the fine trumpet solo on I've Found a New Baby and Childers on All the Things You Are.
Just two weeks before his seventeenth birthday André made a collection of Ellington tunes for Laguna. I Got It Bad, written originally as a ballad for Duke's 1941 stage musical, Jump for Joy, is by a trio consisting of Previn, guitarist Irving Ashby (then with pianist Eddie Beal's group and destined to replace Oscar Moore with Nat Cole's trio the following year) and that fine bass player Red Callender. The second Ellington tune is a solo piano version of the beautiful, contemplative Something to Live For, a song a song which has the distinction of being the first Billy Strayhorn tune ever to have been recorded by Ellington back in March, 1939.
Take the 'A' Train is, of course, the theme Billy Strayhorn wrote for Duke. He wrote it first as an exercise in the Fletcher Henderson manner and he sketched it out on rides from Downtown to Uptown New York on the 'A' train of the city's independent subway system. Most of the Henderson character of the piece is properly lost in this trio version, in which André has made some effective chord alterations. After his second solo, there is a bright little rhythmic figure repeated four times, then brought back again to make a very satisfying coda.
Subtle Slough is small band Ellington. Here André uses the first of two figures Rex Stewart created, adding his own riff to Rex's to give this recording its own distinctive character.
The remaining four titles, although recorded by Eddie Laguna for his label, never appeared on Sunset but came out later as part of a Monarch ten-inch LP which is now a collector's item. These are brilliantly conceived and executed piano solos, the hardest test for a young jazz pianist. There is no bass player to help out with the roots of the chords, no drummer to keep time, just Previn alone at the keyboard. Body and Soul is taken at up-tempo most of the way but ends in more reflective style. The two blues tunes (Sunset in Blue and That Old Blue Magic) are alternative and quite different takes of the same twelve bar minor blues composition. Blue Magic is at slow tempo but Sunset in Blue commences at medium tempo, then builds to an exciting pace with Previn making use of some clever rhythmic ideas. Variations on a Theme is just that, a very personal treatment of a Debussy-like idea played with taste and skill by a young man who was destined to carve out an important musical career for himself.
- Alun Morgan
1. I Got It Bad and That Ain't Good
Ellington & Webster (c) 3:13
2. Body and Soul
Green, Heyman, Eyton & Sour (e) 4:36
3. Sunset in Blue
Previn (e) 3:30
4. All the Things You Are
Kern & Hammerstein (b) 2:55
5. Something to Live For
Ellington & Strayhorn (d) 3:20
6. Good Enough to Keep
Goodman, Mundy & Christian (a) 2:40
7. California Clipper
Previn (a)* 2:48
8. How High the Moon
Hamilton & Lewis (d)Ý 4:02
9. Take the 'A' Train
Strayhorn (c)Ý 3:09
10. Subtle Slough
Ellington (c)Ý 3:15
11. That Old Blue Magic
Previn (e) 4:05
12. Blue Skies
Berlin (a) 3:20
13. I Found a New Baby
Williams & Palmer (b) 2:37
14. Variations on a Theme
Previn (e) 4:17
15. Mulholland Drive
Previn (a) 2:40
(a) André Previn (piano), Dave Barbour (guitar), John Simmons (bass) - Recorded Oct. 13, 1945
(b) André Previn (piano), Willie Smith (alto saxophone), Vido Musso (tenor saxophone), Eddie Safranski (bass), Lee Young (drums), Buddy Childers (trumpet, track 4), Howard McGhee (trumpet, track 13) - Recorded Nov. 5, 1945
(c) André Previn (piano), Irving Ashby (guitar), Red Callender (bass) - Recorded Mar. 25, 1946
(d) André Previn (piano) - Recorded Mar. 29, 1946
(e) André Previn (piano) - Recorded May 31, 1946
Recorded at Radio Recorders Studios, Hollywood, CA
Original recordings by Eddie Laguna
Re-issue produced by Alan Bates
Photography D.F. Photo Archives
Cover Design Ric Simenson