Jazz Recommendation: Art Blakey's "Ladybird"

February 21, 2018

Just a few years after Tadd Dameron composed "Ladybird", Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers recorded it. It was recorded at the Cafe Bohemia in New York City in late 1955.

 

This live recording is not only a masterpiece in jazz, it also explains the transition from bebop to hard bop. Since the late 1930s, Charlie Parker had been the central figure of bebop, along with Dizzy Gillespie in the mid-1940s. Parker originally played with a swing band before coming together with Dizzy Gillespie to form the bebop music that became popular with many jazz fans in the late 1940s and early 1950s.

 

However, Parker's unhealthy lifestyle nearly killed him in 1946, and he had to be taken to Camarillo State Hospital, only to die in spring 1955 after several more years of unhealthy living. His death also saw changes in the modern jazz scene, and bebop pianists like Al Haig and Dodo Marmarosa were no longer well-known by the 1950s. They were replaced by soul jazz pianists like Horace Silver and Bobby Timmons.

 

With the death of Charlie Parker, many new saxophonists and trumpeters also came on the scene. Jackie McLean would soon join Hank Mobley and Donald Byrd to continue bebop, and Ornette Coleman and Don Cherry would begin experimenting with free jazz.

 

But in late 1955, Charlie Parker's swing-influenced but fast playing based on modern chord sequences would dominate modern jazz. Drummers Art Blakey and Max Roach, who played with Parker, began organizing music groups and finding young modern jazz talents. This led to fame for now-famous musicians such as Hank Mobley and Clifford Brown.

 

On "Ladybird", the Jazz Messengers quintet consists of trumpeter Kenny Dorham, saxophonist Hank Mobley, pianist Horace Silver, bassist Doug Watkins, and Art Blakey on the drums. The solos are dominated by Dorham, Mobley, and Silver.

 

Kenny Dorham's style contrasts to later recordings like his Blue Bossa recording with Joe Henderson. On this 1963 Blue Bossa recording, Dorham sounds harsh and dreary; on the 1955 recording of Ladybird, he has Clifford Brown's warm, joyous style with strong Fats Navarro influences and a sound like that of the soon-to-be-famous Donald Byrd.

 

Hank Mobley was one of the first to play tenor saxophone but not sound like Coleman Hawkins or Wardell Gray - these early bebop musicians sounded more like swing era saxophonists. He completely understood bebop and managed to put it into his tenor and sound like alto saxophonist Charlie Parker. This is clear on the New York City "Ladybird" live recording.

 

Horace Silver was still nearly 10 years from the Latin jazz recording "Song for my Father" that made him famous, and his style was still developing. If you did not know who the pianist was on this version of Ladybird, you would assume that it was either John Lewis, Duke Jordan, or, even more likely, Russ Freeman. (Russ Freeman's modern jazz recordings with Chet Baker in 1954 are a whole other story.)

 

There is then a bass solo, which is again a sign of changing times. Longer recordings meant longer solos, and musicians who were previously not able to get a solo in the three minute limit could now solo for as long as they wanted, on the basis that the overall track did not pass twenty minutes in length (the length on one side of a 33 record).

 

They then trade fours and come back to the Ladybird melody, as usual.

 

Here, we see the pioneers of soul jazz and hard bop begin the reformation of jazz, which would open the music to a whole range of rhythms and styles.

 

SOURCES

 

Camarillo State Hospital - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Camarillo_State_Mental_Hospital

Musicians information about "Ladybird" recording - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tSXe8FKoJA0

Recording release information about "Ladybird" - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/At_the_Cafe_Bohemia,_Vol._1

Information on lifetime of Charlie Parker - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charlie_Parker

Information about "Blue Bossa" recording - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Page_One_(Joe_Henderson_album)

 

YOUTUBE LINKS

 

LADYBIRD - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tSXe8FKoJA0

BLUE BOSSA - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U7eOs5lERww

 

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