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May 1999

Charlie Ventura/Flip Phillips
The Complete Verve/Clef Charlie Ventura & Flip Phillips Studio Sessions
Mosaic Records

As the pages of jazz history become increasingly crowded, a tendency toward over simplification has resulted in the cramping of otherwise disparate musicians into artifical categories based primarily on accidents of time and circumstance. A classic case in point is that of tenormen Charlie Ventura and Flip Phillips. Both were of Italian heritage, born within two years of each other in the mid 1920s; both were products of eastern urban centers, Philadelphia and Brooklyn; both emerged to national acclaim as featured soloists in two of the most prominent swing bands of the mid '40s, Gene Krupa's and Woody Herman's; both attained further star status via their appearances with Norman Granz's Jazz At The Philharmonic, Ventura during the early 1950s and Phillips from 1946 through1957; both recorded prolifically as both sidemen and leaders on scores of contemporaneous combo dates during the '40s and '50s; and, at least superficially, both reflected the influences of the same stylistic role models, primarily Ben Webster and Lester Young.

But as compelling as these similarities may be, there are enough differences between the two, both musically and temperamentally, to rend apart the slim threads of their historical coincidences. Granted the attractive polish of Ventura's deep tenor tone on ballads, the brief popularity of his bravado setpieces and commercialized "bop for the people," and even his ambitious embrace of the baritone, bass, and alto saxes- a rarity at the time. However, comparisons with Flip's playing have to place these accomplishments on a much lower level of jazzmanship. Flip was then, and still is, a one-horn swinger whose flawless consistency and reliability have been the cornerstones of a career now in its sixtieth year. The possessor of a cinnamon toasty, softly contoured but full-bodied tone and an infectious sense of swinging time, especially on medium- to bright-tempoed romps, Flip draws the listener into each and every one of his performances, whether on record or in person. At a weekend-long concert appearance in March 1997, at age 82, Joseph Filipelli was still blowing the house down for the guys and making their ladies cringe with delight.

Sad to say, Ventura's later years were far from as felicitous as Flip's. For decades an alcoholic and a victim of other physical problems, his professional career was effectively over by the mid 1960s. A failed attempt at a comeback in 1977, after more than a decade working as an instrument repairman in south Florida, preceded his death by 15 years. He is represented in this collection on two discs' worth of sessions recorded between March 1951 and August 1954, and although his glory days with Krupa were dimly recalled on a 1964 album with his former leader, in essence these sides constitute his final, most respectable testament. A grandstander, to be sure, what with all of his applause-garnering hooks and other vulgar devices, Ventura also demonstrates many instances of good musicianship here, especially when in the company of such highly motivated jazzmen as Conte Candoli, Marty Napoleon, Buddy Rich, Hank Jones, Jo Jones, Dave McKenna, Kai Winding, and especially, the always striking Charlie Shavers and Mary Ann McCall, an oft- forgotten vocalist of superior talent and originality.

Far more rewarding both in sum and content are the four discs comprising the Phillips studio output for the Granz labels. Embracing a period from September-October 1947 through September 1954, these sessions are further enhanced by the inclusion of a live quartet date from a Miami Beach hotel lounge recorded in May 1957. Starting from the top, the most notable of Flip's sidemen include Howard McGhee, Hank Jones, Ray Brown, Winding, Sonny Criss, Bennie Green, Max Roach, Frank Rosolino, Cecil Payne, Rich, Bill Harris, Oscar Peterson, Shavers, and Barney Kessel, but, predictably, it is the tenorman whose commanding sound and swing shine most brilliantly throughout. His 76 tracks include only four alternate takes, three of which ("Cake," "My Old Flame," and "Cool") date from the boppish first session with McGhee, and the fourth ("Swingin' For Julie And Brownie") from the second date with four trombones and Criss. All of the remaining titles, including a previously unissued "Undecided" from February 1952, are one-time master takes. For present day admirers of the octogenarian Flip, as well as those who still marvel over his contributions to the First Herd and subsequent adventures, this collection is highly recommended.

Originally published in May 1999
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