Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Taking the Time

The 1954 Bethlehem album "Basically Duke" isn't a full-fledged Ellington tribute, but it includes a smattering of Duke classics and the presence of three players associated with the band: Pettiford, Clark Terry and Jimmy Hamilton. I don't own the album -- too bad, because I'd love to know who's responsible for this attractive arrangement. Hamilton, the featured soloist, couldn't have possessed a more mellifluous tone and fluid approach; this is the epitome of effortless playing. Pettiford, for his part, is pure class. His interweaving lines during the theme statement and firm support throughout Hamilton's solo turn are evidence of the selfless contributions he could dependably provide. That is, when he wasn't grabbing the spotlight with his flashing bass and cello solos. Indeed, Pettiford was a strange figure whose historic role is difficult to assess. Although routinely acknowledged as the pioneer of bebop bass playing -- he can be heard on important nascent bop sessions with Coleman Hawkins, Dizzy Gillespie and others -- O.P. is conspicuously absent from the Parker-Gillespie axis during the major years of the musical firmament. (Pettiford sequesters himself away in Ellington's band from 1945 to 1948, bebop's peak years of fertile innovation.) He demonstrates his true gifts as a player,composer and occasional bandleader in the 1950s; particularly impressive is a 1956 trio date that finds him with tenorist Lucky Thompson and guitarist Skeeter Betts. Pettiford was also instrumental in introducing the cello to jazz, but to err, it must be remembered, is only human.

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