Featured Album – Jazz at Massey Hall

This is a follow-up, of sorts, to my response to the death of drummer Ginger Baker. After he died, I went back and re-watched the 2012 documentary Beware of Mr. Baker. (Highly recommended.)

The “beware” is because Baker – while one of the great all-time drummers – was also a bit of an irascible prick. But that aside, one piece of information that I’d overlooked on last viewing caught my attention. I’ll quote here from the interview about the album that changed Ginger’s life:

“I was part of this school gang and we’d go in this record shop and the other guys would be nicking (stealing) records. But I was the decoy. I’d just take records into the booth and play ’em.

And then one day I heard The Quintet of the Year. (aka Jazz at Massey Hall.) I didn’t even have a record player but I nicked it. All of a sudden there was something that I really could relate to, you know? Max (Roach) on drums just powers his fucking {inaudible.}”

So I said to myself – how do I not know an album that has the following line-up – Dizzy Gillespie, trumpet; Charles Mingus, bass; Charlie Parker, alto sax; Bud Powell, piano; Max Roach, drums. AllMusic advises us that:

“This concert was held at Massey Hall in Toronto, Canada on May 15, 1953, and was recorded by bassist Charles Mingus, who overdubbed some additional bass parts and issued it on his own Debut label as the Quintet’s Jazz at Massey Hall.

Charlie Parker (listed on the original album sleeve as “Charlie Chan” for contractual reasons) performed on a plastic alto, pianist Bud Powell was stone drunk from the opening bell, and Dizzy Gillespie kept popping offstage to check on the status of the first Rocky Marciano-Jersey Joe Walcott heavyweight championship bout.” (Ah, yes – musicians – ME). 

The write-up goes on to say that, “at the time of this concert, each musician on Jazz at Massey Hall was considered to be the principal instrumental innovator within the bebop movement.” It was the only time that the five men recorded together as a unit, and it was the last recorded meeting of Parker and Gillespie.

Not much to say here other than well, if you’re a jazz fan and you don’t know this album, you should.

 

12 thoughts on “Featured Album – Jazz at Massey Hall

  1. Good timing with this one. I’ve been saying elsewhere that I’m on a bit of a jazz kick just now… soaking up the vibes from all the guys here over the last few days, but I hadn’t yet delved into this. I’m gonna do so this week.

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  2. I can see how Baker was inspired by this. Roach lays down some solid playing. Pretty heady stuff for a young guy.
    I had to take a drive yesterday so I took this recording with me after i read your spot. This has always been more of a historical gig for me. The playing is good by the individuals. It is also a time capsule for the kind of music these guys pushed forward. It is also a time of troubles for Powell and Parker which made their playing erratic.
    I have a book on my shelf (Quintet Of The Year) which I haven’t cracked yet (like a fine wine). I was just talking about it with another of our friends on the Mingus take I did. I know that Mingus was very frustrated playing with both Bud and Charlie and at a gig (I don’t think this one) voiced his displeasure to the audience. Good tie in with Ginger Doc.

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    1. Yeah, if you watch the documentary you’ll see he gets introduced to that album and heroin right about the same time. But hearing that literally changed his life. I take it you already knew this album. Like I mentioned in the piece I completely missed this one.

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      1. Sorry I should have made it clear. Yes I dug out my CD and slapped it on in the car. I’m a big fan of all the players in the Quintet. Individually they have all made some of my favorite recordings. This is good but when people call it “The best jazz concert ever” well that’s an individual thing isn’t it Doc.
        If I (or you) can find Mingus’s quote on how working with the two I mentioned drove him nuts, I think it would put things in perspective. Maybe that’s why Charles was so grumpy. Great music none the less. All top musicians and innovators. A case of too much for each other maybe.

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        1. Definitely an individual thing. But who’s saying it’s the “best jazz concert ever” and even if they were, I’ve never known CB to give a shit about that one way or the other. As to those guys driving Mingus nuts, I probably won’t look into it for this reason – all bands are like that. I was reading something about Butch Trucks from the Allmans the other day. He said that in the early days he played with a lot of power when he was pissed off. Sometimes Duane would challenge him and he’d get pissed. But then he said something like “I’d just look at the guy in the band that I couldn’t stand and get real fiery and play real hard.” I’ll bet you a buck he meant Dickey Betts .
          But regardless of whether this is or isn’t the best jazz concert ever or whether these guys liked each other, I’m just glad it got made. It’s as if somebody said, Hey did you know Hendrix and Clapton and Bonham and Entwhistle and Winwood made an album together? I’d say, fuck no but I gotta hear that!

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        2. I don’t give a shit about that “they’ guy that keeps saying those things (speaking about the “they” guy. I just found out that J Geils isn’t in the Rock Hall Of Fame. What’s up with that?).
          We all know the whole band dynamic thing. Case in point. Baker/Bruce. They could still come together musically and kill it.
          I think with Mingus it was the substance abuse thing and the shit storm that brings. You get set for a gig and one of your main men is to loaded to find the mouthpiece. How would Doc react?
          I’d listen to that lineup you listed. I gave the ‘Massey’ a couple listens yesterday. I’m a fan. Always about the music.

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        3. Geils has been nominated I think, twice and not gotten in. CB knows what a clusterfuck the Hall can be. Maybe next year? As to Baker/Bruce, better they kill it than each other. As far as the Mingus thing, heh! All those guys were junkies back then. I’m thinking about that big band video you sent me (Ellington?) where that sax player was asleep on the bandstand the whole time. Not sure how I’d react nowadays to that. The lead singer in a band I was in was an alcoholic. We did the best we could .CB has been around the arts long enough to know that it attracts more than its share of misfits. I was in a bus for one week on that Allmans tour – one week! – and I got in a fight with somebody.

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