ONE HISTORIC NIGHT in
Late in the year 1947 the pinnacle of the entire Supersonic era was attained. On one night, at Carnegie Hall in New York City, the high note of this entire musical style was reached. Like a decade before at the exact same venue (the 1938 Benny Goodman concert), musical history was made. Nobody who was there knew it at the time, but the sound record of this evening would last a lifetime and the influence of the music would still be felt a half century later. The main event of the night would be a battle of the tenor saxes between Illinois Jacquet and Flip Phillips. Both were well known to the afficianados of this music, and the stage was set for some heavy duty pyrotechnics, musically speaking. The main front men certainly did not disappoint. The supporting players (if they can be called that) were all in top form as well, and the results more than fifty years later still are exciting and provide an interesting listening experience.
Perdido - The most famous tune ever recorded during the Supersonic years, and the performance will tell you why. The medium tempo standard written by Ellintonian Juan Tizol is kicked off by the horns stating the melody line. The first inkling of what is to come is on the bridge when Illinois and Flip trade notes and the crowd immediately jumps into action. In fact throughout the session the big audience is almost part of the ensemble adding their own 'take' on the proceedings. Flip Phillips leads off with a solo that starts out melodic and well thought out. Suddenly he breaks out into some rhythmic honking and Jo Jones puts the hook into the ride cymbals and the crowd explodes. This sound of the blasting tenor sax in front of a roaring crowd predates the signature sound of live R & B by close to a decade, and the connection is very obvious. Flip ends his solo to a roar, and Howard McGhee steps up. Once again he delivers a snappy trumpet solo, bop driven with much of the notes in the upper register. Now it is the turn of Illinois Jacquet to answer Flip's earlier foray, and deliver he does. The challenge is accepted and answered with a blasting, honking, solo that covers the range of his instrument from the highest squeals down to the very bottom. Tremendous crowd reaction answers Jacquet's solo and now the spotlight goes to pianist Hank Jones. He comes through with a lyrical solo complete with his trademark descending cascade and also toys with the thematic figure from the tune "Donkey Serenade" on the bridges. A brief moment of levity is reached by the crowd reaction to someone's enthusiastic orgasmic response to Hank's solo. Another roar and then it is the turn of Bill Harris on trombone. His playing is rougher and raspier than other slide players such as J.J.Johnson and Trummy Young, but the Woody Herman veteran really catches fire when the saxes join together in stomping riffs behind his solo. Now everyone joins in on the melody line. This time on the bridge the two tenormen trade ascending blasts right up to the top of the register and the crowd just about tears the wall down. A perfect end to a landmark rendition.
Mordido - An uptempo riff tune that sounds very much constructed on the chord changes to the main body of "I've Got Rhythm" jumps into the opener, a tenor sax solo by Illinois Jacquet to show the crowd that he is indeed the master of the supersonic sax. He proceeds to rip off a red hot solo, and as the brass starts a riff behind him, Jo Jones starts to really ride the cymbals. The rousing ending brings an appreciative roar from the crowd. Howard McGhee as usual, takes the second spot and delivers another thoughtful, swinging turn at the trumpet. Some great bass work is provided by Ray Brown and Jones drops some heavy 'bombs' at frequent intervals. The tenors jump into a riff pattern that propels McGhee into some high register note bending, ending with a great last chorus and rideout on a bebop note. On piano Hank Jones puts together some fine choruses with his signature descending runs sprinkled in. Now it is the turn of Bill Harris who sounds more mellow than on "Perdido", and nicely builds his solo to a rousing climax in front of more riffing by the saxes. Ray Brown does some imaginative solo work on the bass and begins to "walk" into the intro for the much anticipated solo by Flip Phillips. The crowd awaits his answer to Jacquet's frantic opener, and Joe Flip doesn't disappoint. When he heats up and plays a very Lester-ish ride chorus on a single note, the crowd roars back "let's go" and go he does. Blasting into a wild last chorus, he proceeds to bring down the house. Now it's the turn of Jo Jones, and everyone is up for some percussive pyrotechnics. Jones, virtually the father of modern drumming, shows off his moves including some particularly tricky rhythmic patterns and rim shots. Building up to a slamming finale, Jo jump stops to a concussive "shave and a haircut" ending, and kicks the combo into a go for broke last chorus. The last note ends the tune, and the crowd roars its appreciation for the music.
Endido - This tune opens up and this time it is a straight jam on the complete "I've Got Rhythm", bridge and all. A 'razz' by Bill Harris leads into Illinois Jacquet's opening solo. He throws in some reference points to "We're In The Money" and he begins to blast. All stops are pulled as Jacquet sends out a classic set of choruses. His send off rattles the rafters of Carnegie. McGhee again follows up and plays some breathtaking trumpet. Perhaps only Dizzy has his number as a master of his horn in a modernistic style. The tenor saxes begin a very Charlie Parker-ish riff behind Howard and he seems inspired as he drives hard into some high note fireworks. Coming in on McGhee's heels is Flip who takes center stage. His opening choruses are the best he's played all night, both swinging and lyrical. As the horns jump in for some supporting riffs Flip lights it up. At the windup he has the crowd on its feet delivering a white hot last two choruses with Jones dropping some incendiaries along the way. An earthshaking blast from the crowd signals another Flip Phillips gem. Hank Jones follows with another melodic jump through, and on the last chorus he shows his bebop credentials to fine form. Bill Harris on trombone keeps up the attack, and the saxes begin to riff which causes Harris to dig in and wail. On the final bridge Jacquet and Phillips trade ascending riffs in a "can you top this?" drive to the top of the scale. One more rideout and it is all over. Endido.
What an evening of music. All the incredible facets of the music called Supersonic are included in the sound record of one indelible evening. You can certainly hear in these performances the birth of Rhythm & Blues music in its form that would join with other forces to produce rock and roll. But for that one evening late in 1947, it was the wild and unpredictable sounds of Supersonic that ruled the music world. It was its finest hour.
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