Johnny Coles: Little Johnny C

Before he improvises a note, Johnny Coles’ tonal quality and projection on trumpet and fluegelhorn announce his identity. His sound, without vibrato yet loaded with emotion, and his crisp articulation distinguish him. Gil Evans, attracted to Coles’ plaintiveness, used that sound to great effect in several recordings. In this 1963 date, Coles played only the melody of Duke Pearson’s “So Sweet My Little Girl” and needed to do nothing more to own the song. That track is the only moody performance of the album.

All of the other pieces on this date were arranged by pianist Pearson with a brightness that brought out Coles’ sunny side and with harmonies that encouraged his penchant for unusual intervals. His optimism and verve were matched by alto saxophonist Leo Wright and young tenor saxophonist Joe Henderson, who had recorded his own first Blue Note date earlier that summer. Bob Cranshaw was the bassist. Drum duties were split between Walter Perkins and Pete LaRoca.

Coles is sometimes identified as a surrogate Miles Davis. Those who listen closely to his playing are unlikely to make that error, which crept into the jazz literature because of his connection with Evans. Coles was, and is, one of a kind. This reissue helps to make that quite clear. – Doug Ramsey