Al Grey-Billy Mitchell: Studio Recordings

The trombonist and saxophonist left Basie in 1960 and formed their own sextet, becoming popular for their mix of foot-tapping swing and R&B


Al Grey and Billy Mitchell joined Count Basie in 1957 and remained with the band until 1960, when they decided to leave and form their own sextet. The group was introduced in July 1961 on The Museum Of Modern Art album which was followed by Snap Your Fingers (the first five tracks here) and Night Song (tracks 6 to 12). The well-named Dirty Low Down Blues has been added as a bonus.

With its foot-tapping, swing-oriented approach combined with a heady mix of R&B, the band found favour in the local New York clubs. The duo’s contemporary, trombonist Bennie Green, ploughed a similar furrow with his quintet. The Grey-Mitchell sextet often appeared at Birdland and in 1962 they won the Downbeat New Star small combo award.

Kurt Dietrich’s Jazz ’Bones describes Grey as “one of the great plunger players” and he exhibits this facility throughout this reissue. There’s an exuberant gospel-like feel to Nothin’ But The Truth with a typically swaggering statement from him. As the name implies, Three-Fourth Blues is a fast jazz waltz with a fine contribution from Dave Burns. The sleeve note hints that he had been absent “from the active jazz scene” for seven years but he had recorded with Art Taylor and Johnny Griffin in 1960 and Leo Parker in 1961.

We don’t hear enough from Billy Mitchell but he makes Melba Liston’s lovely Just Waiting all his own. At less than three minutes it has an Ellington quality and Mitchell obviously liked it because he recorded it later the same year on This Is Billy Mitchell (Smash SRS67027). He does, though, get a chance to stretch out a little more with three choruses on the classic Blues In The Night.

Grey was a consummate balladeer as he shows on Night And Day, Stella By Starlight and Stardust, all performed without a mute and thus revealing his full, rounded trombone tone.

(1) Nothin’ But The Truth; Three-Fourth Blues; Just Waiting; R.B.Q.; On Green Dolphin Street; (2) Blues In The Night; Stella By Starlight; The Way You Look Tonight; Through The Night; Stardust; Night And Day; Laughing Tonight; (3) Dirty Low Down Blues (58.29)
Al Grey (tb); Billy Mitchell (ts) with:
(1) Dave Burns (t); Bobby Hutcherson (vib); Floyd Morris (p); Herman Wright (b); Eddie Williams (d). Chicago, 19 February 1962.
(2) as (1) Otis “Candy” Finch (d) replaces Williams; add Philip Thomas (cga). Chicago, 1 November 1962.
(3) as (1) add Calvin Newborn (elg). Chicago, 1962.
Fresh Sound Records FSR-CD1138