JJ 10/62: In My Opinion – Don Rendell

Sixty years ago, the British saxman reviewed Freeman, Webster, Tate, Getz, Berry, Hawkins and his own primary influence, Lester Young. First published in Jazz Journal October 1962

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Don Rendell. Photo courtesy Lansdowne/Jazzman

This is one of a series of taped interviews with musicians who are asked to give a snap opinion on a set of records played to them. Although no previous information is given as to what they are going to hear, they are, during the actual playing, handed the appropriate record sleeve. Thus in no way is their judgment influenced by being unaware of what they are hearing. As far as possible the records played to them are currently available items procurable from any record shop. Don Rendell needs little introduction. Born in Plymouth in 1926, his parents both professional musicians, he began playing piano at the age of six. At 16 he took up alto. He later played with Johnny Dankworth and Ted Heath and in 1956 toured Europe with Stan Kenton. He is currently leading his own successful group and has recorded recently for the U.S. Jazzland label. – Sinclair Traill


“Prince Of Wails”. Bud Freeman (Comes Jazz). Columbia 33S 1016
I don’t feel I’m authorised to say too much about this except that Jack Teagarden (it was Jack Teagarden wasn’t it?) was beautiful. And I most certainly appreciate Bud Freeman’s tenor saxophone. To me Freeman’s style is more like Lester Young’s than Hawkins’. Hawk has a tremendously gutty, earthy and wild sound, while Freeman has a more academic style. His sound is cooler. Freeman seems to fall between Lester Young and Coleman Hawkins. He was booting along and you have to be impressed by his drive and tone. He also uses the whole horn and not just part of the register. He has an even tone throughout. He gets a nice round sound over the whole instrument. Some players just get a thin tone at the top and a honking noise at the bottom.

‘I was amazed at the length of Dolphy’s flute solo in the Coltrane concert. I do not feel this is a good thing. In fact it is too much of a good thing’

With this type of music the solos are usually split up in such a way that one man might get eight bars, another 16 bars, certainly not more than 24. They made their re­putations in about half the solo length that Eric Dolphy takes. I was amazed at the length of Dolphy’s flute solo in the Coltrane concert. I do not feel this is a good thing. In fact it is too much of a good thing. In other words you should always leave people wanting more; you should try to get more quality rather than more quantity.

“Lester Leaps In”. Lester Young (Memorial Album). Fontana TFL 5064
That is really the top line in tenor playing – and not just in tenor playing, in music generally. To me that is very beautiful. It always amazes me that Lester was playing like that so long ago. He has a classic, poetic way of forming his improvisations.

I was influenced by Lester, and I think most other musicians today were. I was talking to Coltrane when he was here and he said he was influenced by Pres – and who couldn’t be? Lester’s playing is so easy, so fluent, and his improvisations so poetic. But there is always something different. It is executed so cleanly and coolly it makes you think it’s easy. But it’s not. For instance, that locking semi­tone intervals is pretty difficult, and those unaccompanied eight bars are an object lesson to those of us who stop the rhythm section and try to play on our own. The way Pres did it was so easy, so simple – the hallmark of a natural musician. Lester made the instrument part of himself. My father-in-law, who is not a musician, once said, quite spontaneously, “That man is really saying something.” Lester Young was then talking through his instrument.

“Groun’ Hog”. Buddy Tate (Tate-a-Tate) Prestige SVLP 2014
This has a great blues feel from beginning to end. The two main contestants, Buddy Tate and Clark Terry, are opposed musically. Tate is a powerful, driving tenor man while Clark Terry is subtle and very fluent, with more than a touch of humour in his playing. Set off against each other, the two make a very nice contrast. Terry’s trumpet playing is very near perfect. Over here musicians have a word for a very good trumpet player – they call him Mr. Flexibility. It means, in other words, that he can do almost anything – hit top F and go right down to A flat in one fell swoop. I don’t think Clark Terry ever goofs. Tate, an ex-member of the Basie band, shows himself to be a powerful tenor player in the Dexter Gordon way, although he does have that wide vibrato at the end of his phrases which is more towards Hawkins. He indulges in a few hieroglyphics – which means he goes up very high, practically over the top – but he doesn’t go too far. He may even have hit an A, but this is something most tenor players do today. The tutor stops at F, but I don’t know any tenor player who stops there. There is F sharp, G up to A and some B flat. I think this is now considered part of the instrument’s range.

“How High The Moon”. Duke Ellington. World Record Club T160
That is a good example of Ben Webster in three different moods and three different tempos. Words that come to mind are ‘artistry’ and ‘romantic’. That is a very beautiful ballad style on the first part. After the impact of the Ellington brass he plays a nice relaxed, easy tempo. His tone is much the same as before, singing and rich, although the amount of echo used on this is not giving us quite the sound.

There is another impact from the brass and the tempo goes up again, and the tenor has that very rough, big din that Webster can make. For myself 1 don’t go much for the rough tone. I think it has excitement, but the tone alone is not enough. I like to hear more actual improvisation, and more content to the music. Then we come to the cadenza, where he is on his own with this rough tone and he finishes up searching for the hieroglyphics and makes one. It must have been a tremendous thing to have been there and heard the whole thing. For me, though, I prefer the way he played in the ballad and slow tempo.

‘[Stan Getz] seems to be toying with the music, not getting right inside and making himself part of it. On this track, he sounds carefree and flippant, almost offhand’

“Tin Roof Blues”. Herb Ellis (Nothing But The Blues). Columbia 33SX 10139
Stan Getz’s short solo was typical of his work. He seems to be toying with the music, not getting right inside and making himself part of it. On this track, he sounds carefree and flippant, almost offhand. His tone is very clear and pure, while his undoubted harmonic sense and musical ability are obvious. His saxophone technique goes without saying, for it is brilliant. But there is this whimsy in his approach which makes him different to all the other tenor players. He plays with the tune rather than on it.

“Makin’ Whoopee”. Bill Doggett (Dance Party). Parlophone PMC 1118
Again, this is a matter of personal preference. I am just not particularly happy with electric organs. However, the saxophone players were very good – Clifford Scott, alto, and Hal Singer, tenor. The alto reminds me of Hodges, but with his own leanings as well. It has a bright sound to it. The tenor has a fine cutting sound, very edgy. We don’t hear much of him on this recording, but what we do hear shows he is a very fine player.

“Come On With The Come On”. Chu Berry and his Stompy Stevedores. Philips BBL 7054
When people think of great tenor saxophone players, this is the one who usually gets left out. Not because he is no good but because he died in 1941 when he was only 31. I know this LP – there are two wonderful tracks with the Cab Calloway orchestra, made in 1940 and 1936. On both, Chu’s tenor is a revelation. He sounds perfectly at ease, full of ideas, and happy. His playing to me has always been very happy playing. He was a romantic, legendary character in jazz – he had no case for his saxophone, but carried it in a bag. He got his nickname from always chewing.

Every great musician has a famous solo, like Hawkins’ Body And Soul. Chu Berry’s was Ghost Of A Chance. But what we hear here with the Cab Calloway orchestra is enough to establish Chu Berry as one of the leading tenor saxophone players of all time. The trumpet player, incident­ally, was Dizzy Gillespie, who played a short solo on this track, all that time ago.

“Stasch”. Coleman Hawkins. Prestige SVLP 2013
I have always felt Hawkins to be the original tenor man in jazz, although his style of playing is not really my favourite, as I prefer Lester Young’s way of playing. Never­theless, this record shows he can really hold his own with the youngsters. Idrees Sulieman is really good and Ray Bryant’s piano playing is excellent. Jerome Richardson on alto sounds even fiercer than the alto man I have in the quintet, Graham Bond, who is about as fierce and as strident as you can get.

The whole track sounds like a striding, wild, uninhibited epic and finesse must go under such conditions. It is certain­ly very exciting, very earthy and everyone is really telling you everything. It seems to be the trend to-day to play fiercer and fiercer, wilder and wilder and with more abandon. Hawkins is certainly a phenomenal musician. When I started playing, Hawkins was already established and his records could be bought in the shops; Hawk was at the top of the tree then, and he’s still going strong.

Incidentally, I always feel it’s a bit mean to have a record cover with no picture of the musicians on the front. Many people like to listen to jazz, but they may not own hundreds of records and when they are listening to music they like to see the musicians they are listening too. It is only reason­able to expect to have a picture of the musicians. After all, you are paying enough for the record and a couple of splodges is just not good enough.