The Beatles generation turns to jazz and bluegrass
The "Woodstock Generation" -- the generation that virtually took the tiny recording industry and turned it into a corporate giant -- is not entering its fourth decade.
With the ensuing population downturn, it is still the largest segment of the American buying public, and despite the recent sales drop, buying records is still a way of life for many of the nation's new 30-year-olds.
Unlike ten or even five years ago, however, tastes here have diversified to the extent that marketing "monster" hit albums is by no means as easy as it once was. Teens raised on the Beatles and Rolling Stones are now turning as often to jazz, blues, and bluegrass as to rock. And while the rock market has been affected negatively by this broadening of tastes, jazz in particular is enjoying a resurgence.
As the sax has long been a dominant (if not them dominant) voice in jazz for some years, it is interesting to trace the effect of this new commercial potential on young sax stars. A handful of new album releases allows us to examine some interesting style trends.
Grover Washington Jr. is perhaps the most commercially successful of the recent generation of tenorists, and his latest, Paradise (Elektra 6E 182) is only adding to that stature. By incorporating rich melodies with superior improvising and contemporary tempos, Washington is able to walk a tightrope between the artistic and accessible.
The production techniques he employs are typically more lush than "old-fashioned" blowing sessions, but the backdrop tends to add something musically rather than just "mush things up" with extra strings. Furthermore, while carefully structured, his recordings maintain space for melodic invention -- the heart of true jazz.
Sonny Fortune is a similar player with a similar approach. His latest With Sound Reason (Atlantic Records SD 19239) is a variant of the same basic approach. Fortune is not a tenor player, but like Washington he is adept at the alto and soprano saxes as well as the flute. This instrumental variety also goes a long way toward avoiding formula.
Two extremes from this balanced style would be David (Fathead) Newman and Scott Hamilton.
Newman first became known as a member of Ray Charles's fine R&B sax section, and so it is not surprising that he has a heavy funk leanings. However, his new disc Scratch My Back (Prestige P-10108) disappoints in that, like so many jazz-based soul performers, Newman has succumbed to the drone of disco. Newman too can play all saxes and the flute, but such front-line variety cannot compensate for rhythmic rigidity and uninspired backdrops.
Hamilton, on the other hand, is almost interesting performer indeed. He is younger than Newman, Fortune, or Washington and looks like a '50s "grease rocker." But as a brilliant young tenor ace, he is still mining the riches of the late-swing, early-bop era of 30 years ago.
Two recent LPs illustrate the many delights of this everygreen style. No Bass Hit (Concord Jazz CJ-97) sets the young Hamilton with two veterans -- drummer Jake Hanna and unsung painist Dave McKenna. Naturally enough, the material here is all standareds and the interplay is smooth and refreshing.
Even better perhaps is Back to Back (Concord Jazz CJ-85) which pits the young Hamilv ton with Buddy Tate -- a great black tenor stylist who once starred with Count Basie. Scott by no means sounds out of place, though, and has styles of the two men are most complementary. This LP is particular delight and may start a trend equal to the Washington or Newman approaches.
No doubt Hamilton has been a factor in rekindling interest in older jazz recordings, and a flurry of reissue activity has resulted in new packages by jazz's first two major tenor voices -- the great Coleman HAwkins and the perennial Bud Freeman.
Each of these pioneers is featured in respective Commodore reissues thanks to Columbia Special Products. Freeman's Three's No Crowd (XFL 14941) catches him in a warm trio setting featuring his dry, witty playing, backed by Jess Stacy and George Wettling. Freeman is historically too often overlooked and this might help remedy that injustice.
Coleman Hawkins (Commodore XFL 14936) features the master in two fine early 1940s settings and helps collectors round out their Hawkins catalogs with these long-sought all-star performanceS.
A couple of other Hawkins reissues of note . . . Savoy has reissued Coleman Hawkins Meets the Big Sax Section (Savoy 1123) which presents the Hawk in a rare big-band session with Basie's late '50s outfit. The ensemble work here is powerful, and an interesting contrast to The Real Thing, a Prestige "twofer" (P- 24083) that features the aging Hawkins in relaxed (at times almost sleepy) series of combo settings.