To get away from the obvious superstars of jazz I thought a change of pace was called for, a window of opportunity to show something outside the mainstream, and a chance for different instruments to shine.
Our own Victor Feldman was a vibes player though I preferred him as a pianist, a more than accomplished musician who made the grade in the states and lived there he even was a sideman for Miles Davis, and our other star of the same period multi instrumentalist Tubby Hayes played vibes along with almost anything you threw at him, I will spotlight Hayes on another occasion as being almost certainly our greatest jazz performer, he deserves a bit more than a single showing.
In many ways Lionel Hampton was the leading vibes player in most people's eyes. After forming his own orchestra in 1940 his signature tune “Flying Home” was THE vibraphone classic. As well as the vibraphone Hampton was a pianist drummer and actor and bandleader. They don’t make 'em like that any more.
Anyway the vibes player here is Terry Gibbs. Born in 1924 and still with us, he played with nearly all the big bands of the era: Dorsey, Rich, Goodman, Bellson , Shavers, Woody Herman et al, plus his later big bands in his own name were up there with the best.
Here he is at 87 performing “You Go To My Head”….
Terry Gibbs also gives us another performance, with a now rare chance to see a clarinettist at work, not uncommon in the Goodman era but much less so nowadays, and this one is as good as they get: Buddy De Franco, with a storming rendition of “Air Mail Special” this from the Johnny Carson Show in ‘82 - two for the price of one.
The Hammond organ has really been exploited for its value in blues and all genres of rock to good effect, in jazz much less so, Wild Bill Davis was probably the earliest Hammond player in Jazz and Jack McDuff and Jimmy Smith in the sixties, Smith was a huge success and his Blue Note albums sold like rock albums and he deserves a place on here in his own right, but I am going to give you Larry Young who with the Blue Note album Unity featuring Woody Shaw on trumpet, Joe Henderson tenor sax and Elvin Jones on drums. This album from ‘66 is considered to be Young's finest work; judge for yourself on “Zoltan”:
Stephane Grappelli born in 1908 founded the Hot Club de France in ‘34 with Django Rheinhardt and became a regular into old age on radio and television with his jazz violin. Here he is live in Warsaw in ‘91 playing How High the Moon - he never seemed to lose it, did he !
A more modern exponent of the amplified violin was Billy Bang, here with the haunting “Rainbow Gladiator”. Billy who died in 2011 was another who played to the end. Though the enthusiasm was always there the direction of his music changed and I preferred the earlier work.
When the French Horn is mentioned in a jazz context Julius Watkins is the name that invariably comes up. He made the niche his own with some delightful works, with his sextet here “Garden Delights”. Watkins played with many of jazz's luminaries including Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Kenny Burrell, the list is endless, but his music endures. This number is from his Blue Note album of ‘55.
The harp is not an obvious jazz choice and this lady Dorothy Ashby pioneered its usage, “There's a Small Hotel” from her 1958 Hip Harp album could be treated as a curiosity, but it shouldn’t be, this is the real deal.
Frank Wess was a saxophonist and flutist with the Basie band for many years and despite extensive solo work will be best remembered for his Basie years and indeed on this number, “The Very Thought of You”, the Basie influence can be heard in his own band, but that is hardly a bad thing is it !
There have been other appearances by rare or unusual instruments in a jazz context, all of the nine different saxophones, bass clarinet as used by Ellington’s orchestra at his ‘47 Carnegie Hall concerts, various brass including tuba multi string guitars and others like the odds and ends that Roland Kirk seemed to keep finding and using to good effect. Most were one offs or novelties, even the harmonica found a niche and a good one with Larry Adler.
An example where many rarer instruments are included on one album is Woody Shaw's 1978 “Rosewood”, all to great effect as the album won the Downbeat readers poll for the album of the year; on there are flugelhorn, soprano sax, flute, piccolo flute, bass trombone, electric piano , congas and harp, fabulous album and no novelty value, just great music.