THE DOZENS: HARMON-IZED TRUMPETS by Alan Kurtz

“It has heretofore been a great annoyance for the neighborhood if a person commences to practice on a brass instrument,” observed sleepless inventor John F. Stratton in 1865. “The sounds produced by unpracticed persons are really distressing. It is, therefore, a great desideratum to have what is termed a ‘mute’.” Stratton’s invention (U.S. Patent No. 51,363) called for plugging the bell with an adjustable tube, allowing a player to deaden the sound without throwing the instrument out of tune. A century later, the device had become known by its brand name, the Harmon mute, and its tube, having acquired a small cup at one end for “wah-wah” effects, was called a stem.

Miles Davis dispensed with the stem, and hugged his trumpet to a microphone, which may seem self- contradictory. Why amplify a muted trumpet? If you want it louder, why not just remove the mute? The answer is intensity. During his 1940s apprenticeship with Charlie Parker, Miles was a relatively subdued bebopper. But in the ‘50s Miles gradually energized, especially after adopting the Harmon mute, which let him blow hard while keeping his sound soft. Harmon-ized, Miles was intense and restrained, impassioned but discreet, intimate yet remote. The ultimate modernist.


Miles Davis: There is No Greater Love

Track

There Is No Greater Love

Artist

Miles Davis (trumpet)

CD

The New Miles Davis Quintet (OJCCD-006-2)

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Musicians:

Miles Davis (trumpet), Red Garland (piano), Paul Chambers (bass), Philly Joe Jones (drums).

Composed by Isham Jones & Marty Symes

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Recorded: Hackensack, NJ, November 16, 1955

Albumcovernewmilesdavisquintet

Rating: 96/100 (learn more)

In 1955, Miles Davis made the Harmon-muted trumpet his signature. Too bad a sound cannot be patented the way John Stratton (inventor of the mute in 1865) did his brainchild. Miles would've made a mint. Of course, Miles made a mint anyway, so let's not get softhearted. As for reconciling Miles's Harmon-muted romanticism with his misogyny and pugnacious persona, a phalanx of psychoanalysts commanded by Doktor Freud himself would shrink away with their diplomas between their legs. Miles's 1969-1971 pianist Keith Jarrett asked him why didn't play more ballads such as "There Is No Greater Love." Miles replied, "Because I love them too much." So do we.

Reviewer: Alan Kurtz


Chet Baker & Russ Freeman: Love Nest

Track

Love Nest

Artist

Chet Baker (trumpet) and Russ Freeman (piano)

CD

Quartet: Russ Freeman & Chet Baker (Pacific Jazz CDP 7243 8 55453 2 0)

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Musicians:

Chet Baker (trumpet), Russ Freeman (piano), Leroy Vinnegar (bass), Shelly Manne (drums).

Composed by Otto Harbach & Louis A. Hirsch

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Recorded: Los Angeles, November 6, 1956

Albumcoverchetbakerquartet

Rating: 96/100 (learn more)

On radio during the 1940s and TV in the '50s, comedians Burns & Allen closed each show with cigar-toting George telling his ditzy wife, "Say goodnight, Gracie." To which she'd respond, "Goodnight, Gracie." You hadda be there. Anyhow, Chet Baker crisply swings their theme song as proof that Miles Davis's closely miked, Harmon-muted trumpet style worked at fast tempos as well as on ballads. Pianist Russ Freeman (no relation to The Rippingtons’ guitarist) steadfastly insisted to naysayers that, uneven as Chet Baker could be, when he was on there was nobody better. In "Love Nest," Baker was ON. Say goodnight, Chet.

Reviewer: Alan Kurtz


Benny Golson & Art Farmer: Step Lightly

Track

Step Lightly

Artist

Benny Golson (tenor sax) and Art Farmer (trumpet)

CD

Benny Golson's New York Scene (Contemporary OJCCD-164-2)

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Musicians:

Benny Golson (tenor sax), Art Farmer (trumpet), Wynton Kelly (piano), Paul Chambers (bass), Charlie Persip (drums).

Composed by Benny Golson

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Recorded: New York, October 14, 1957

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Rating: 94/100 (learn more)

So, if Miles Davis proved the Harmon mute worked on ballads and Chet Baker showed it handled fast tunes, what about medium tempos? Step this way. Art Farmer's lyrical trumpet paired with Benny Golson's warm tenor was a match made in Harmon. Moreover, the lightly funky "Step Lightly" is one of Golson's most insouciant tunes. This recording, where everyone sounds slightly off-mike, would've been better served by Blue Note/Prestige/Savoy's close-up soundman Van Gelder, but regrettably Rudy couldn't be everywhere. Even so, "Step Lightly" is like those can't-eat-just-one potato chips. Once tasted, it'll keep you coming back again and again for another dip in the bag.

Reviewer: Alan Kurtz


Miles Davis: Stella by Starlight

Track

Stella by Starlight

Artist

Miles Davis (trumpet)

CD

The Complete Columbia Recordings: Miles Davis & John Coltrane (Columbia/Legacy 90922)

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Musicians:

Miles Davis (trumpet), John Coltrane (tenor sax), Bill Evans (piano), Paul Chambers (bass), Jimmy Cobb (drums).

Composed by Victor Young

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Recorded: New York, May 26, 1958

Albumcovermilesdavisandjohncoltrane-completecolumbiarecordings

Rating: 96/100 (learn more)

"Stella by Starlight" is from Victor Young's film score for The Uninvited (1944), about a music critic and wannabe composer who takes a cut-rate house in the English countryside only to find that it's haunted. The female poltergeist trails a scent of mimosa, a plant whose leaves fold out when touched—much as Miles Davis let down his guard when touched by the Harmon muse. Here, Miles, Trane and Evans shadow Young's haunting melody the way mimosa trailed the specter, with goose bumps guaranteed as Davis's lead-in dissolves to Coltrane's solo. "Stella" is as spine-tingling as any cinematic ghost story.

Reviewer: Alan Kurtz


Dizzy Gillespie: St. Louis Blues

Track

St. Louis Blues

Artist

Dizzy Gillespie (trumpet)

CD

Have Trumpet, Will Excite (Verve 314 549 744-2)

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Musicians:

Dizzy Gillespie (trumpet), Les Spann (guitar), Junior Mance (piano), Sam Jones (bass), Lex Humphries (drums).

Composed by W.C. Handy

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Recorded: New York, February 17, 1959

Albumcoverdizzygillespie-havetrumpetwillexcite

Rating: 94/100 (learn more)


Dizzy Gillepsie, photo by Herb Snitzer

W.C. Handy wrote "St. Louis Blues" after witnessing the British bombardment of Baltimore's Fort McHenry at twilight during the War of 1812, thus explaining its opening line: "I hate to see that evenin' sun go down." Enacted by Congress in 1931 as the U.S. national anthem, the song is dutifully discharged before ball- games, but also lends itself to jazz, where listeners are not required to stand. A year after Hollywood's star-spangled Handy biopic, a Harmon-muted Dizzy Gillespie serves up a jim-dandy Handy salute of his own. With its with rousing open-horn finale, this may get listeners on their feet after all.

Reviewer: Alan Kurtz


Shelly Manne: Sorta Blue

Track

Sorta Blue

Group

Shelly Manne and His Men

CD

Shelly Manne & His Men Play Peter Gunn (Contemporary OJCCD-946-2)

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Musicians:

Shelly Manne (drums), Conte Candoli (trumpet), Herb Geller (alto sax), Victor Feldman (marimba), Russ Freeman (piano), Monty Budwig (bass).

Composed by Henry Mancini

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Recorded: Los Angeles, January 19, 1959

Albumcovershellymanneandhismenplaypetergunn

Rating: 96/100 (learn more)

Conte Candoli was Superman's sibling. Pete Candoli, lead trumpeter in Woody Herman's mid-1940s First Herd, would charge onstage costumed as the comic-book hero for high-note shenanigans. Kid brother Conte's cool was closer to mild-mannered Clark Kent. By concentrating on note selection instead of huffing and puffing to blow the house down, Conte became the most interesting West Coast trumpeter following Chet Baker. Here, ensconced in the bathysphere of Victor Feldman's marimba (played with felt-tipped rather than rubber-tipped mallets) and with Shelly Manne's typically splendid support, Conte shows why he could be counted on for Truth, Justice and the American Way.

Reviewer: Alan Kurtz


Lee Morgan: Bess

Track

Bess

Artist

Lee Morgan (trumpet)

CD

Here's Lee Morgan (Koch International 8554)

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Musicians:

Lee Morgan (trumpet), Clifford Jordan (tenor sax), Wynton Kelly (piano), Paul Chambers (bass), Art Blakey (drums).

Composed by Lee Morgan

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Recorded: New York, February 3, 1960

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Rating: 95/100 (learn more)

At first glance, Lee Morgan seems an odd inductee to the Harmon Hall of Fame. A hard-bop stalwart, Morgan's style derived from Clifford Brown, not Miles Davis, meaning extrovert not introvert. But Lee didn't compromise his approach merely by inserting a mute. After blending with the too-little-heard Clifford Jordan in stating Lee's jaunty tune, the trumpeter softens the rough edges of his hard-bop solo just enough to suit the happy occasion. Plus, wonder of wonders, the actively volcanic Mt. Blakey simmers down with wire brushes instead of his customary giant sequoia sticks. This track is worthwhile if only for that!

Reviewer: Alan Kurtz


Joe Gordon: A Song for Richard

Track

A Song for Richard

Artist

Joe Gordon (trumpet)

CD

Lookin' Good! (Contemporary OJCCD-1934-2)

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Musicians:

Joe Gordon (trumpet), Jimmy Woods (alto sax), Dick Whittington (piano),

Jimmy Bond (bass), Milt Turner (drums)

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Composed by Joe Gordon

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Recorded: Los Angeles, July 11, 1961

Albumcoverjoegordon-lookingood

Rating: 95/100 (learn more)

In The Jazz Reviewer's Handbook of Essential Clichés, Joe Gordon's placement among the "underrated" is secure, as is sideman Jimmy Woods's spot beneath "unrecognized." Each recorded only twice as leader before Gordon's accidental death at 35 and Woods's baffling disappearance from music soon thereafter. Both deserved better. Gordon's sound, pinched even on open horn, fit the Harmon mute as precisely as if it had been machine-tooled at the factory. Woods's warm, congenial alto complemented Joe's buttoned-down reserve through contrast. Surprisingly, in our Harmon-ized Dozen, sad ballads—the Harmon's native habitat—are outnumbered by optimistic swingers. This track joins the majority.

Reviewer: Alan Kurtz


Bill Evans: I'll Never Smile Again

Track

I'll Never Smile Again

Artist

Bill Evans (piano)

CD

Bill Evans, Interplay (Riverside OJCCD-308-2)

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Musicians:

Bill Evans (piano), Jim Hall (guitar), Freddie Hubbard (trumpet), Percy Heath (bass), Philly Joe Jones (drums).

Composed by Ruth Lowe

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Recorded: New York, July 16, 1962

Albumcoverbillevans-interplay

Rating: 92/100 (learn more)

Like Lee Morgan, Freddie Hubbard did not make Harmon a habit, but when he used the mute his affinity was apparent. On this Swing Era leftover (a #1 hit in 1940 for Tommy Dorsey courtesy of Frank Sinatra's vocal), Hubbard shows his familiarity with Harmon's history via an uncanny resemblance to Chet Baker on "Love Nest" (1956). Freddie also displays admirable adaptability for a 24-year-old, jelling with musicians a decade older and vastly more experienced. Neither Evans nor Hall was renowned for hard swinging, but here everybody cooks with gas thanks to firebrand Philly Joe. They make us smile again and again.

Reviewer: Alan Kurtz


Miles Davis: Circle

Track

Circle

Artist

Miles Davis (trumpet)

CD

Miles Smiles (Columbia/Legacy CK 65682)

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Musicians:

Miles Davis (trumpet), Wayne Shorter (tenor sax), Herbie Hancock (piano), Ron Carter (bass), Tony Williams (drums).

Composed by Miles Davis

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Recorded: New York, October 24, 1966

Albumcovermilesdavis-milessmiles

Rating: 92/100 (learn more)

It's a long way from Miles's Harmon-ized landmark "There Is No Greater Love" (1955) to the untethered flotation of mid-1960s jazz. In the interim, the reluctant romantic had become an abstract expressionist. Miles's legendary onstage detachment now dominated his art, which grew increasingly remote from recognizable forms. Fans were as befuddled as if Mozart, at the pinnacle of classical mastery, had suddenly started composing atonal music. Yet the stark beauty of "Circle" is as penetrating as the most heartfelt conventional ballad. Symbolically, the Harmon mute connected Miles's past to his ever-changing present, giving his ever-dwindling (for now) fan base something familiar to hold onto.

Reviewer: Alan Kurtz


Rick Braun: Missing in Venice

Track

Missing In Venice

Artist

Rick Braun (trumpet, keyboards)

CD

Best of Rick Braun (Atlantic 83238-2)

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Musicians:

Rick Braun (trumpet, keyboards),

Mike Egizi (keyboards & programming), Paul Brown (additional programming)

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Composed by Rick Braun, Mike Egizi, Peter White & Paul Brown

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Recorded: Woodland Hills, CA, October 29, 1996

Albumcoverbestofrickbraun

Rating: 96/100 (learn more)

"Missing in Venice" is a drawing, part M.C. Escher and part René Magritte, from Chris Van Allsburg's book The Mysteries of Harris Burdick (1984). Inexplicably, a Titanic-sized ship is lodged in a lagoon where, on a good day, two dieting gondolas might just squeeze past one another. "Even with her mighty engines in reverse," confirms the caption, "the ocean liner was pulled further and further into the canal." Listeners to this track will be similarly sucked into an improbable vortex where a 19th-century mechanical device (the Harmon mute) navigates such 21st-century obstacles as computers, synthesizers and drum machines, pulling us further and further into The Mysteries of Rick Braun.

Reviewer: Alan Kurtz


Chris Botti: La Belle Dame Sans Regrets

Track

La Belle Dame Sans Regrets

Artist

Chris Botti (trumpet)

CD

When I Fall in Love (Columbia CK 92872)

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Musicians:

Chris Botti (trumpet),

and a large orchestra featuring Sting (vocals), Dominic Miller (guitar), Dean Parks (guitar), Billy Childs (piano), Gil Goldstein (accordion), Brian Bromberg (bass), Vinnie Colaiuta (drums), Paulinho Da Costa (percussion)

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Composed by Dominic Miller & Sting. Arranged by Gil Goldstein

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Recorded: Los Angeles and New York, September 28, 2004

Albumcoverchrisbotti-whenifallinlove

Rating: 94/100 (learn more)

During the original mid-'60s bossa nova craze, Brazilian Portuguese was the lingua franca. Despite being understood worldwide by a fifth as many people as English, the native tongue was part of the mystique, as with Swedish cinema. Four decades later, English pop star Sting writes and sings a lovely bossa nova in—no, still not English, but French! The good news is that the Harmon mute has made it into the new millennium. Chris Botti, the most angelic-looking trumpeter since a young Chet Baker, is such a divine Harmon-izer that the mute's sleepless 19th-century inventor, John F. Stratton, may at last rest in peace.

Reviewer: Alan Kurtz


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