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June 2002

Jazz at the Philharmonic
Norman Granz' J.A.T.P. Carnegie Hall, 1949
Pablo

This previously unissued recording of a Jazz at the Philharmonic concert contains the elements that made J.A.T.P. one of the most interesting cultural phenomena of the '40s and '50s. Better yet, it captures superb soloing by Charlie Parker, Fats Navarro, Hank Jones and Coleman Hawkins, and good playing from Sonny Criss and Flip Phillips. The horns are supported by pianist Jones, bassist Ray Brown and-in his only J.A.T.P. recording-Shelly Manne. Manne's work here makes it clear that he was one of the great New York drummers before he became a mainstay of the Southern California jazz scene.

J.A.T.P. audiences were always ready to stomp, whistle and shout, and to clap on one and three. The dignified surroundings of Carnegie Hall did not repress their urges: the screaming begins the first time Flip Phillip emits a low note from his tenor saxophone. For the most part, however, Phillips contains his crowd-pleasing inclinations and plays musical, logical solos typical of his best work. The principal showboater is Tommy Turk, a fast trombonist who plays to the crowd's appetite for sensationalism. The contrast between the two alto saxophonists, Parker and Criss, is a study in the subtlety of a brilliant original and the excess of an overdone copy. The 22-year-old Criss has fine moments but is second to Turk in the over-the-top sweepstakes. Parker's incandescence throughout would be reason enough to own the CD, but there is also invaluable Navarro. Following Turk's fulminations on "Lover Come Back to Me," Parker's sheer musicality is striking. Jones is first rate on this piece, deeper than usual into his bebop aspects.

Navarro and the rhythm section join Hawkins in the second half. Impulses to pander have left the stage with Phillips, Criss and Turk. Hawkins' quintet gives splendid performances of two of his signature pieces, "Rifftide" and "Stuffy." The father of the tenor is all elegance and strength on "Sophisticated Lady," but ballad honors go to the trumpeter, who had less than a year to go in his short life, Navarro is at his peak. "The Things We Did Last Summer" is a masterpiece, with his perfect inventions on the second bridge and the coda. The boisterous crowd shuts up, pays attention and gives Navarro sincere applause. For a few minutes, he has turned the J.A.T.P. mob into a roomful of listeners.

Originally published in June 2002
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