Dee Dee Bridgewater’s Debut Album: Afro Blue

Dee Dee Bridgewater, born Denise Garrett (1950), is an award-winning singer-songwriter with a career encompassing jazz, soul, and disco. Her debut studio album Afro Blue is a timeless soul-jazz masterpiece that highlights her exceptional vocal abilities. The album features a song collection compiled from various music genres. Most songs are arranged by jazz trumpeter and Dee Dee’s husband, Cecil Bridgewater.

The vocalist was only 23 years old when she recorded the album in Tokyo. The album got released in 1974 on the Japanese label Trio Records (PA-7095). It got reissued a couple of times on different labels and exclusively in Japan, which made it a long sought-after item for record collectors. In 2020, the record label Mr Bongo partnered with Trio Records and released the album on vinyl in the United Kingdom on June 19. 

The album features various acclaimed jazz songs such as Horace Silver’s Love Vibrations (1970), Little B’s Poem by vibraphonist Bobby Hutcherson (1965), and of course, the title track Afro Blue, a jazz standard by Mongo Santamaria (1956).

The Cuban percussionist Mongo Santamaria originally recorded Afro Blue in 1959 and, the song became the first jazz standard built upon the African 3:2 cross-rhythm called hemiola. The composition got released on Santamaria’s album Mongo (Fantasy, 1959). The recording, however, is instrumental and lyrics were added later that year.

Songwriter Oscar Brown Jr. is the creative hand behind the lyrics you hear in Dee Dee Bridgewater’s version. The lyrics were added to Mongo Santamaria’s original and got initially recorded by Abbey Lincoln, who released the song including lyrics, on her fourth studio album titled Abbey Is Blue.

Apart from Dee Dee Bridgewater and Abbey Lincoln, various other musicians recorded and released the song. Among them, Cal Tjader (who recorded with Mongo Santamaria), Robert Glasper and Erykah Badu (who bring a contemporary version with altered lyrics), and Roberta Flack (who using Coltrane’s arrangement of the songs).

John Coltrane performed his arrangement of Afro Blue in 1963 together with Elvin Jones (drums), Jimmy Garrison (bass), and McCoy Tyner (piano) at the Birdland jazz club in New York. This is the same quartet with whom he recorded the albums CrescentA Love Supreme, and Blue World the following year. The song recording got released on the album Live At Birdland (Impulse Records, 1964).

Here are videos of live recordings of Afro Blue by Mongo Santamaria and John Coltrane’s Classic Quartet. Dee Dee Bridgewater’s full album is available for stream via YouTube.

Mongo Santamaria – Afro Blue
John Contrane – Afro Blue
Dee Dee Bridgewater – Afro Blue – Full Album

A Collective of Musicians Re:imagined the Blue Note Catalogue

Ever since its birth, jazz music has continuously evolved into various subgenres. The American record label Blue Note Records, which got established in 1939, played a significant role in this evolution. The company is a landmark in jazz music and has an extensive song catalog that includes many acclaimed jazz standards. Their new release Re:imagined is a compilation of Blue Note originals brought to you by a unique selection of musicians who’ve taken on jazz, soul, hip-hop, and R&B as their musical narrative.

Blue Note describes the album as “a bridge between the ground-breaking label’s past and future“. The driving force behind this highly anticipated project is a new and vibrant scene of mostly UK-based musicians. They are a group of forward-thinking artists that innovate, even reinvent, the genre through sampling, hip-hop, afrobeat, and dance music.

The compilation album features, among others, Shabaka Hutchings, Nubya Garcia, Alfa Mist, and Jorja Smith. They perform their take on Blue Note classics, often transformed into an easy-to-absorb contemporary remake.

“This 16-track compilation finds today’s youthful, often London-based renaissance in dialogue with the revered New York label’s deep back catalogue.”

The Guardian (review by Kitty Empire)

Not all songs on the album are adaptations of historic jazz standards. Singer-songwriter Jorja Smith opens the album with an electronic and upbeat transformation of St Germain‘s hit song Rose Rouge.

Inner sleeve artwork

Noticeable are the transformations of four original compositions by Wayne Shorter. The American jazz saxophonist composed many acclaimed jazz standards and, it’s no surprise that he is listed here multiple times. He had an influential career and, his contributions to jazz were paramount. In 1959, he joined Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers, where he replaced Hank Mobley. And in 1964, he joined Miles Davis‘ second (great) quintet and co-founded jazz fusion.

His compositions spotlighted on Blue Note‘s Re:imagined are Footprints, Armageddon, Speak No Evil, and Night Dreamer.

Footprints is a composition that was originally recorded for his album Adam’s Apple. The track got reworked by the London-based Ezra Collective, who are adding beats to the original. The jazz standard Armageddon got transformed by the Norwegian group Fieh into something that best can be described as neo-soul. The last two, Speak No Evil and Night Dreamer, are cleverly fused into one by Emma- jean Thackray. The songs transform into an adventurous arrangement where, also here, beats dominate.

London Jazz News writes in their review that “for some heritage-loving jazzers this whole vault-raiding exercise will be sacrilege“. They also comment on the life expectations of these adaptations versus the originals: “Some of Blue Note Re:Imagined‘s supposed updates will vanish long before the originals fade and the results often aren’t “jazz” – but the spirit of adventure and imagination in a good number most definitely is.

All in all, despite how the album is being viewed by “heritage-loving jazzers“, and despite it being a compilation, the record is spirited and exhilarating. It’s shelved among the best albums released in 2020 as it spotlights a new wave, and helps you discover the latest in music.

Tony Allen’s Tribute To Art Blakey

Afrobeat legend and drummer, Tony Allen, was strongly influenced by the recordings of Art Blakey. For his first release on Blue Note Records, he pays a tribute to one of the greatest hard bop drummers in jazz history by blending hard bop with the afrobeat rhythmic subtlety. The recordings got released in May 2017. That year, Tony Allen continued returning to his jazz roots and, a couple of months later, he released his first full-length album on Blue Note titled The Source.

The recordings for the extended play of A Tribute To Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers were an opportunity to document his interpretations. “I’m trying to change the pages,” Allen explains during a live performance. Tony Allen plays afrobeat and, he does not compromise, even when playing jazz standards. In the mini-album, he shows his jazz side and the way he is fusing the genres.

Allen doesn’t actually “swing” at all on these four standards associated with Blakey’s Jazz Messengers, instead putting each through his own Afrobeat prism.” London-based journalist and editor John Lewis explains in his review for The Guardian.

Moanin’ is reinvented in straight eighths, Politely is played in a rocking 6/8 rhythm, while A Night in Tunisia is transformed into a series of wonderfully jerky, disjointed riffs. Throughout, Allen’s Parisian septet improvises inventively around these unusual meters, most impressively on the Drum Thunder Suite, where one of Blakey’s many flirtations with West African music is, in turn, Africanised.

The release features four tracks associated with Art Blakey. It opens with Bobby Timmons’ celebrated composition Moanin’. The song got first recorded by Art Blakey’s band in 1958 and was released the following year on the album originally titled Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers (BLP 4003). The Blue Note original album also includes Benny Golson’s and Art Blakey’s track The Drum Thunder Suite, which is the final and fourth song on Allen’s homage.

The second track is the signature piece of Dizzy Gillespie’s bebop big band, A Night in Tunisia. The song has associations with Art Blakey thanks to trumpeter Lee Morgan, who was part of Gillespie’s band between 1956 and 1958. Morgan got spotlighted with his solo work during live performances of A Night in Tunisia. He joined Art Blakey’s band, and in 1961, they released the album titled A Night In Tunisia (BLP 4049). The album opens with a hard bop adaptation of Gillespie’s composition, giving the drums a significant solo status.

The third track is the jazz standard Politely, composed by trumpeter Bill Hardman. The song got originally released on the Blue Note album titled The Big Beat (BLP 4029) by Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers (released in 1960). Bill Hardman, who was part of The Jazz Messengers between 1956 and 1958 (called the “Second” Messengers), did not take part in the recordings. Instead, Lee Morgan, who was the main trumpeter of The Jazz Messengers between 1959 and 1961, provided the trumpet line.

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Youthful Enthusiasm: The Cooker by Lee Morgan

Trumpeter Lee Morgan was only 19 years old when he led the recording of his Blue Note original album titled The Cooker. The album is a demonstration of Morgan’s early bop-oriented influence and contains improvisation that communicates to the listener. He is playing with a kind of youthful enthusiasm and spontaneity.

Morgan plays exceptionally well for his age. When comparing this album to his previous work, we can notice the speedy development of his skills as a musician and bandleader. Lee Morgan will soon grow to become the greatest hard bop trumpeter in jazz history. He would be listed next to other trumpet legends like Miles Davis and Dizzy Gillespie.

Bebop pioneer Dizzy Gillespie was also his mentor. He hired the 18-year-old Lee Morgan to replace Joe Gordon in his big band. Morgan’s solo work was spotlighted during the many live performances of A Night In Tunisia, a Gillespie original and signature of bebop. The Cooker opens with this song, and his solo for this album is claimed to be the best recording of Morgan’s career.

Aside from performing with Dizzy Gillespie, Morgan also recorded in the studio during that time. He recorded several albums with jazz icons Hank Mobley and John Coltrane. His most notable work is the recording of Coltrane’s Blue Train in 1957 (Blue Note 1577), which got recorded in the same studio, and only 2 weeks before Morgan recorded The Cooker.

In 1958, Gillespie’s band split, and Morgan joined Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers where he continued to develop his talents, now mainly as a composer. He brought a new potential to the band as they returned to Blue Note and released the jazz standard Moanin’ (composed by Bobby Timmons).

The Cooker got recorded in the Van Gelder Studio on September 29, 1957. It was the fifth Blue Note recording of the young trumpeter as a leader. He got the support from bassist Paul Chambers and drummer Philly Joe Jones, who he knew from the Blue Train recordings two weeks earlier. Pepper Adams joins on the baritone saxophone, and Bobby Timmons sits behind the piano during this vigorous recording session.

The album (BLP 1578) got released in March the following year. It features five tracks including A Night In Tunisia (D. Gillespie), Heavy Dipper (L. Morgan), Just One Of Those Things (C. Porter), Lover Man (R. Ramirez), and New-Ma (L. Morgan).

In April 2020 the album got reissued as part of the Blue Note Tone Poet Audiophile Vinyl Reissue Series (Blue Note 81578). An initiative from Blue Note Records President Don Was. It’s a reissue series of all-analog vinyl records mastered from the original master tapes.

Time OutTakes: A Peek Into The Studio With The Dave Brubeck Quartet

When author Philip Clark was researching for his biography Dave Brubeck: A Life in Time, he discovered previously unissued tapes from the recording sessions of Time Out in 1959. Time Out, a studio album by The Dave Brubeck Quartet, was the first jazz record to sell over one million copies. The recently released outtakes give us an idea of how the album came to life.

Dave Brubeck formed his first group in 1946. In 1951, composer and alto saxophonist Paul Desmond joined the current trio, creating the first quartet. Over the years, Desmond and Brubeck remained the only constants in the group. In 1956 drummer Joe Morello replaced Lloyd Davis, and in 1958 double bass player Eugene “The Senator” Wright joined the group replacing Norman Bates. They would form The Dave Brubeck Quartet for the next decade. Time Out, recorded in 1959, features these musicians.

Starting in 1955, The American State Department saw the potential of jazz music as propaganda for the American way of life during the Cold War. They would send their most acclaimed jazz musicians, including pianist Dave Brubeck, to countries that recently became independent. These so-called Jazz Ambassadors would promote the western way of life via jazz music. Brubeck, fascinated about folkloric rhythms, picked up inspiration for his compositions while traveling around. In, for example, his composition Blue Rondo à la Turk he got inspired by rhythms played by Turkish street musicians.

The ensemble became known for its use of unusual rhythms. In the jazz standard Take Five, composed by Paul Desmond, the uncommon time signature 5/4 was used. It was the first jazz composition using another signature other than the standard 4/4 or 3/4 times. The song became a widely acknowledged jazz classic and one of the best-selling jazz singles of all time.

With the release of Time OutTakes on the family label Brubeck Editions, we can peek into the studio and have a look at how the album came to life. Apart from alternate takes on Take Five and Blue Rondo à la Turk on the A-side, we get some newly issued materials on the B-side.

The outtakes give us a look into the creation of this iconic album. You can ask yourself: “What if the record label decided to release a different version of the song?”. Song details that fans are so familiar with today could have looked different.

“It’s this outtake of “Take Five” that provides the most revealing insights into the quartet’s humility and clear-eyed approach to making the adjustments that would best serve each tune and the album’s aesthetic as a whole.”

Matt Silver (Review for WRTI Radio)

The Album That Documented Ethio-Jazz: Mulatu Of Ethiopia

Ethiopian jazz musician and composer Mulatu Astatke had one important goal. He got inspired by jazz music and wanted to promote and actively use Ethiopian music in his jazz compositions. “The Nigerian and Ghanaian people living in London, they were very active in promoting it [their local music] so, I decided to start working more on our Ethiopian music.” he said, referring to his time in London during the 1950s. And so he did. Mulatu Astatke focused on fusing the Ethiopian 5 note scales against the 12 note scales of jazz. He created a different sound without losing the subtlety of both genres. The new sound got documented as Ethio-jazz, and Mulatu Astatke was its father.

Mulatu Astatke is the inventor of Ethio-jazz. The album Mulatu Of Ethiopia, recorded and released in 1972, is a well-documented proof of that. As a multi-instrumentalist, focussing mainly on percussion and the vibraphone, he brings moody rhythmical patterns influenced by jazz, funk, Latin and African music.

Mulatu Astatke got inspired by jazz music in the fifties while studying music in London. He continued his passion and, in 1958, he moved to the United States where he enrolled as the first African at the Berklee College of Music in Boston (whose alumni include vibraphonist Gary Burton and icon Quincy Jones). There he mastered the technical aspects of jazz music as a vibraphonist, and he learned how to arrange music as a composer.

After graduating, halfway through the sixties, he moved back to Ethiopia and introduced his people to the new sound. At first, his music was received with mistrust. Ethiopians, who have a history of occupation by European countries (the so-called “scramble for Africa”), tried to avoid cultural contamination of any form. Eventually, Mulatu Astatke convinced the people and, more musicians picked up the sound.

Living back in Ethiopia, Mulatu Astatke kept working in New York. The New York jazz scene compelled him, so he traveled between both cities regularly for years. In New York, he formed his Ethiopian Quintet. The group is an ensemble of Ethiopian, Latin, and African-American musicians. “There just weren’t many Ethiopian musicians in America 50 years ago,” he explained. The group would mainly play Latin jazz and western jazz. Mulatu Astatke explains during an interview with the founder of Strut records, Quinton Scott, that he noticed a strong connection between Latin and African music when he was visiting Cuba.

“New York in 1966 was a very interesting time. I was there at the same time as Hugh Masekela from South Africa and Fela Kuti from Nigeria. In our own different ways, we were all working to put Africa into the modern concept of jazz music”

Mulatu Astatke (interview by Quinton Scott)

His musical career matured during his time in New York. During the second half of the sixties, he spent time with other musicians who fused jazz with African music. Amongst them the South African trumpeter Hugh Masekela and the Nigerian multi-instrumentalist Fela Kuti (known from Africa ’70).

In New York, Mulatu Astatke recorded albums where different cultures are mixed. Including two volumes named Afro-Latin Soul (1966). These albums documented Astatke’s new-found directions for the first time.

Both albums got recorded before Mulatu Astatke began to develop his sound further. After their releases, he infused more native sounds into his compositions and, he started to experiment with seventies funk. In 1972, he recorded and released the album Mulatu of Ethiopia. The album became a landmark for African music and the first representation of Ethio-jazz.

When a coup d’état established Ethiopia as a communist state in 1974, the country’s culture collapsed. Ethio-jazz was considered a western product and got censored. Musicians left the country, and for one generation, Mulatu Astatke’s sound disappeared. In 1991 Ethiopia became a democracy, and Ethio-jazz went through a revival. Producers started to collect the old recordings and would supplement the archives by making new ones. The collected music got released under the name Éthiopiques and, the fourth volume focusses on Astatke’s work (Éthiopiques 4: Ethio Jazz & Musique Instrumentale 1969-1974). The popularity grew and, by the start of the new millennial, Ethio-jazz got known worldwide.

The album was never officially reissued and became hard to find. Today, you would pay three-digit sums for an original of good quality. In 2017, Strut Records decided to reissue the album officially for the first time on vinyl (although there is an unofficial 2003 reissue in circulation).

The vinyl reissue includes three discs: the original stereo release, the pre-mix mono master recordings, and unissued session outtakes.

The outtakes give a peek of what was going on in the studio. These behind-the-scenes recordings are a part of history. They give us an idea of how the album came to life and consequently how Ethio-jazz was created. In these outtakes, instruments would often be rearranged, causing some takes to be more focussed on percussion and others on wind instruments. You can hear Mulatu Astatke position himself as bandleader and arranger.

John Coltrane’s Blue World

By 1964 saxophonist John Coltrane was one of the leading figures in jazz music. Mainly, thanks to his release of Giant Steps in 1960. Officially, he recorded and released two albums that year: the often-overlooked album Crescent, and the well-known masterpiece A Love Supreme. With the recent release of his recording Blue World, we can add a third “album” to the list.

Blue World, recorded in the Rudy Van Gelder Studio on June 24 (1964), is a composition for the movie: Le Chat Dans Le Sac (Gilles Groulx, 1964). The soundtrack was fully composed by John Coltrane. For the recording, he invited his classic 1960s quartet featuring McCoy Tyner on the piano, Jimmy Garrison on the bass, and Elvin Jones behind the drums. It was also with these musicians that he recorded Crescent (April/June 1964) and A Love Supreme (December 1964).

For every admirer of the saxophonist, composer, and bandleader, this release is very welcome. It gives another insight into the confidence Coltrane and his band had that year.

The album features two alternate takes on the song “Naima“, a ballad he composed for his wife Juanita Naima Grubbs (married 1955-66) in 1959 and which was originally released on the album Giant Steps. Also notable are the three takes on his composition “Village Blues“, a song that was originally released on the studio album Coltrane Jazz with Steve Davis on the bass. The Blue World recordings would feature Jimmy Garrison who replaced Steve Davis in 1961.

After Le Chat Dans Le Sac was put online for streaming, the search for the original recording tapes began. They were stored in the archives of the National Film Board of Canada. After discovering and clearing out the legal constraints, the music was released to the public in 2019.

Naima – John Coltrane Quartet – Belgium 1965

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Just Coolin’ With Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers

Just Coolin’ is the result of a unique but short-lived ensemble of The Jazz Messengers collective. Originally founded and led by drummer Art Blakey, The Jazz Messengers knew many changes. “Stability can be elusive for even the most successful jazz ensembles,” author Bob Blumenthal wrote. In 1959, Hank Mobley, an alumnus of the band, replaced Benny Golson’s tenor saxophone in the band and he joined Lee Morgan (trumpet), Bobby Timmons (piano), Jymie Merritt (bass), and Art Blakey (drums) for a brief period.

The studio album was recorded on a single day in March 1959 at the famous Rudy Van Gelder studio in New Jersey. However, Blue Note Records co-founder Alfred Lion decided not to release the album and instead record a live performance at the famous Birdland club in New York. The live album titled At the Jazz Corner of the World was released in 1959 and remained the only issued recording of this jazz ensemble until Just Coolin’ was released in 2020.

Just Coolin’ features six songs including two unissued tracks: Quick Trick composed by Bobby Timmons (who also composed the jazz standard Moanin‘), and the uncredited composition Jimerick. Hank Mobley left the group already in July 1959 but, his contributions to the album were paramount. Half of the songs on the album are from his hand, including the almost nine minutes long title track, Just Coolin’.

Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers – Just Coolin’ ℗ Blue Note Records

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John Coltrane’s Giant Steps

John Coltrane’s masterpiece, Giant Steps, turned sixty in 2020 and this was celebrated with an anniversary deluxe edition LP. Let’s have a brief look at how the album came to life and how Coltrane developed, personally and musically, before being able to compose one of the most influential jazz albums of all time.

John Coltrane went through a lot before he was ready to create his masterpiece Giant Steps. Starting his musical journey in 1949 under the spell of Charlie Parker, and later Dizzy Gillespie, he felt dissatisfied, even dejected. In 1954, Coltrane joined The Miles Davis Quintet where he was encouraged to think more harmonically. This was an important milestone in the yet-to-be-written composition of Giant Steps as he was introduced to new possibilities in chord progressions.

Coltrane had a drug addiction and was dismissed from the band (together with drummer Philly Joe Jones) in 1957. Being sacked by the number one musical influencer, Miles Davis, was a wake-up call. With the help of friends and family, Coltrane took steps to get his life back in order. He started rehearsing with the celebrated Thelonious Monk and this not only helped him recover from his addiction but also helped him develop artistically.

“Working with Monk brought me close to a musical architect of the highest order”

John Coltrane in an interview with DownBeat (1960)

Fully recovered and evolved, Coltrane rejoined Miles Davis’ band in 1958. The following year, they recorded Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue, an album that is claimed to be the most important album in jazz history. Giant Steps was recorded less than a month after the sessions for Kind of Blue (1959). Giant Steps, consisting entirely out of Coltrane’s original compositions, was released in 1960, and despite being a perfect contrast to Kind of Blue, it became a mighty equal.

Working with Thelonious Monk, and recording Kind of Blue with Miles Davis, were both giant steps John Coltrane took before he mastered the skills to compose and record the album that innovated jazz harmonically and rhythmically.

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Thelonious Monk At His Best – Palo Alto

In 1968, the sixteen-year-old Danny Scher invited Thelonious Monk and his quartet to play a benefit concert at his high school in Palo Alto, California. The concert got recorded and now, more than 50 years later, the music was released. Palo Alto is a live recorded concert featuring Charlie Rouse on the tenor saxophone, Larry Gales on the bass, Ben Riley behind the drums, and composer Thelonious Sphere Monk on the piano.

When jazz drummer T.S. Monk was contacted regarding an old concert recording, he was amazed by his father’s performance and the background story behind the session. Danny Scher, sixteen at the time, organized benefit concerts to raise money for the Peace Corps and construction projects in Kenya and Peru. Although many people did not believe it would actually happen, he successfully hosted a concert with the jazz titan, Thelonious Monk.

T.S. Monk, knowing most of his father’s live recordings, understood how unique this recording was and how it contributes to the legacy of Thelonious Monk. In cooperation with the label Impulse Records, he released the album in September 2020.

In an interview with Brad Baker from jazz.fm91, T.S. Monk highlights that his father was mainly known as a live artist. Especially before being placed on the cover of Time Magazine in 1964, and the wider public was introduced to his music, Monk’s recording career was unstable. Unlike Miles Davis or John Coltrane who spent their careers with major labels, Monk didn’t rely on his recordings, the people who remember Monk will refer to his live sessions instead.

T.S. Monk claims that the recording at the Palo Alto high school is the best recording made during his father’s career. “The way he plays, not knowing he was being recorded, was very rare,” he explains.

All of those elements that the world loves about Thelonious Monk are present in this recording.

T.S. Monk (Thelonious Monk’s son)

“Danny Scher caught him on an exceptionally good day, and all of those elements that the world loves about Thelonious Monk are present in this recording”, T.S. Monk said, “his ability to work with time and shift and displace various phrases, the swing that all of his bands always had, the unique harmonics and melodic figures that he played… it’s just all there. It’s pure Monk, and it’s wonderful.

You can listen to the full interview with T.S. Monk here:

The quality of the recording is exceptionally good for its age, but it has limitations. It does, however, capture astonishing details you rarely receive when listening to a studio recording. During Monk’s original composition “Well, You Needn’t” you can hear Larry Gale singing along during his bass solo. In piano-exclusive parts, you can hear Monk tapping his foot. You hear the audience react to every interaction of the musicians. These minor details bring out the jazz and feeling of presence when listening to this dusty 50-year old recording.

The album on vinyl comes with a gatefold sleeve, a copy of the original program, a replica of the event poster, and a booklet including rare images of Monk and the band.