My wife had a wedding makeup gig in Mt. Vernon on Saturday and since I didn’t have a lot going on I offered to come along and help her load in and out. I figured I’d check out the antique shops to see what books or vinyl they might have. Unfortunately, there used to be a really great record store in Mt. Vernon above one of the art stores. I guess the father of one of the owners of the store had a large record collection that they wanted to sell, so they ran a store for a while.
After helping Sherry, I parked the car and set out on foot to see what I could find. The former Mt. Vernon Middle School is now known as The First Street Community Center and this is where I found the one record I picked up. The school has been converted into a number of small shops and businesses– most of them antiques and gifts. On the second floor of the building I found a lone stack of records in front of one of the shops. The stack was marked $2. So, I flipped through them not expecting to really find anything as the records were largely 60’s era ephemera like orchestra, some odd soundtracks and some foreign music titles. One I almost picked up was a University of Iowa title called The Songs of Iowa or something like that and had a selection of music from the various cultures– Mesquaki Indian music, Czechoslovakian, German, Dutch. But, just before I got to the bottom of the pile this familiar collection of African masks was staring me in the face.
Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers – Drum Suite (LP, Columbia CL 1002, 1957)($1.00) Wow! First, it is Mono and original Columbia Records “Six Eye” label, so it is an original pressing. The record was missing the inner paper sleeve, but the record itself was in pretty decent shape! It had some slightly incriminating scuffs, but I figured for a record over 50 years old, it wouldn’t be perfect, and the price was right. After a conversation with the nice lady who ran the little shop, and who attempted to just give the record to me, we arrived at $1.
When I got home, I gave the record a wipe with Gruv-Glide II (I highly recommend this stuff!) which did a fantastic job of cleaning out the groove of dust and debris and also provided an anti-static barrier. The record had a deep black sheen and it took some close looking to even see the original scuffs! The record played with very little noise.
Drum Suite is really two recordings. Side One is the three-part “Drum Suite” performed by The Art Blakey Percussion Ensemble which was made up of Specs Wright on percussion, Ray Bryant on piano, cellist/bassist Oscar Pettiford, Sabu Martinez on congas, and bassist Candido Camero. As is frequently commented about this release, it predates Afrobeat music by many years, and considered by many to be quite revolutionary at the time. Listening to it now, I notice how well the ensemble ties standard hard bop jazz with the world beats making it pretty listenable (“never descends into cacophony” was one review I read).
The second side of the record is a selection of songs by one of the many iterations of The Jazz Messengers. While enjoyable, is not in my opinion as strong as other Jazz Messenger releases like my personal favorite Mosaic.
When I heard the middle part of the Drum Suite “Cubano Chant” I found it to be familiar, so I looked into that track further. “Cubano Chant” was composed by the pianist Ray Bryant and included in his 1956 album on Epic Records The Ray Bryant Trio (Epic LN 3279)– which is sadly very out-of-print. The version on Drum Suite has some vocals (“Vamos a bailar la cha-cha-cha!”) where his version (and most other cover versions) doesn’t. Ray Bryant passed away in June at 79 years old. One of his noted contributions to the world of jazz is “Cubano Chant” which seems to be regarded as kind of a standard, considering how many people covered it. I found a pretty cool video of Steely Dan’s touring band from 2003 performing it as a warmup before a concert. I’m not exactly sure where I heard this before, but I guess it could be anywhere– but I’m pretty sure I heard it on “Dancing With the Stars” though I don’t know what season that would have been.
I managed to find a vinyl rip of Ray Bryant Trio (the Epic release, not the confusingly same-titled Prestige album from the same year– although some call that one Piano Piano Piano) on the internet which is pretty cool– but considering the apparent significance of “Cubano Chant” you’d think that they would have reissued this. It’s on my “wishlist” to get on vinyl.
A bit of a side note: Ray Bryant recorded a single in 1960 called “The Madison Time” which was featured prominently in the first film version of Hairspray (not the John Travolta version, the Rikki Lake one). Here are the instructions for how you can dance “The Madison Time,” too!