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Artist’s Choice: Bob Belden on Duke Pearson

Today’s top jazz performers pick 10 favorite tracks by the players, singers and styles that helped define them.

Bob Belden
Duke Pearson

I chose Duke Pearson as the subject for my Artist’s Choice based on the many things we have in common. We both have Southern roots; he was raised in Georgia and I was raised in South Carolina. We both play piano and another instrument; he played trumpet and I played sax. We both were signed as artists and producers to Blue Note Records. We both arranged music for other Blue Note artists. We both had big bands recorded by Blue Note. I was always compared to him when I was working on a regular basis for Blue Note. Duke Pearson is in my DNA.

“Jeanine” (Pearson)

Donald Byrd At the Half Note Cafe Vol. 2

recorded Nov. 11, 1960 (Blue Note)

Duke’s most famous composition, which has been covered by hundreds of musicians. The composition sets the pattern for many of Duke’s most successful additions to recording sessions.

“Each Time I Think of You” (Pearson)

Donald Byrd The Cat Walk

recorded May 5, 1961 (Blue Note)

Very beautiful, complex, swinging and composed in the right key for the frontline of Donald Byrd and Pepper Adams. The rhythm section of Pearson-Jackson-Jones is modeled after the Garland-Chambers-Jones team of Miles Davis’ first great quintet.

“Christo Redentor” (Pearson)

Donald Byrd A New Perspective

recorded Jan. 12, 1963 (Blue Note)

This Pearson composition reached an audience far beyond that of most jazz songs of the day. The mood of the piece, a mirror of the black church experience, hit a chord in the larger African-American community, where it is performed regularly.

“Idle Moments” (Pearson)

Grant Green Idle Moments

recorded Nov. 4, 1963 (Blue Note)

Duke had a way of capturing a mood and keeping the essence of the mood hanging over the band like a cloud of soul. This track is so much identified with Grant Green, Joe Henderson, Duke Pearson and Blue Note Records that its inclusion is essential on any list involving those subjects.

“Is That So?” (Pearson)

Duke Pearson Honey Buns

recorded May 25, 1965 (Atlantic)

One of the most beautiful songs composed by Duke, but not performed as much as some of his other classics. This track features his nonet, based in texture on the Miles Nonet with similar instrumentation. But the groove is deeper and the arrangements are meant to feature extended solos. A joyous song.

“Soulin'” (Joe Henderson)

Duke Pearson Prairie Dog

released 1966 (Atlantic)

A very rare Duke Pearson solo album released on Atlantic. “Soulin'” is a little-known Joe Henderson composition that Joe never recorded himself, and here it acts as a vehicle for Harold Vick and Duke to swing. The groove of the song is infectious and funky in every aspect.

“Big Bertha” (Pearson)

Duke Pearson Sweet Honey Bee

recorded Dec. 7, 1966 (Blue Note)

A classic Blue Note recording session. Perfect sound. Perfect Songs. Perfect solos. “Big Bertha” is an AABA song that is a set up for intense swing and some thrilling solos by the entire band. Perfection as swinging jazz.

“New Girl” (Pearson)

Duke Pearson Introducing the Duke Pearson Big Band recorded Dec. 15, 1967 (Blue Note)

This great, underappreciated big band was created in the mid-’60s as a rehearsal band co-led by Duke and Donald Byrd. It evolved into a then-fashionable Monday night band, playing various clubs and even subbing for Thad Jones-Mel Lewis at the Vanguard. This band got its chops together as a regular attraction at the Half Note club. Trumpeter Burt Collins’ solo is one of amazing beauty and emotion. Incredible.

“Blues for Alvina” (Pearson)

Duke Pearson The Phantom

recorded Nov. 11, 1968 (Blue Note)

A lost gem, a subtle swinging blues that breathes and lets Duke relax and swing without the edge of horns or the limitations of a pop song. Elegance and feeling.

“Tones for Joan’s Bones” (Chick Corea)

Duke Pearson Now Hear This

recorded Dec. 3, 1968 (Blue Note)

Duke’s arrangement of this Chick Corea classic gives testament to Duke’s ability to find certain elements of a song and then place them in a framework that brings out the best intentions of the music. The basis for the treatment is a gentle trio, but one embraced by a warm sound of brass and winds.

Originally Published