Not-So-Cool Struttin’

cool struttin'I happened to be perusing old DownBeats yesterday when I casually opened up the issue of Oct. 30, 1958. The “jazz record reviews” listed on the cover were for Harry Belafonte, Terry Gibbs, Benny Goodman, Earl Hines, Shorty Rogers and Bob Scobey. Nothing too interesting, and I almost passed up on reading the reviews. So I was a bit surprised to see that this issue contained reviews of two of the rarest and most highly treasured records in the entire Jazz Collector pantheon: Sonny Clark, Cool Struttin’, Blue Note 1588 and Hank Mobley, Blue Note 1568.

 

Let’s start with Cool Struttin’. The reviewer, Don Gold, gave it two and a half stars out of a possible five stars. To put it in perspective, Cool Struttin’ had a lower rating than these records, also reviewed in this issue: Steve Allen All Stars Featuring Terry Gibbs; Danny Alvin and His Kings of Dixieland Play Basin Street: Belafonte Sings the Blues; Paul Horn Plenty of Horn, and Moe Koffman, The “Shepherd” Swings Again. This is what the reviewer had to say about Cool Struttin’:

Cool Struttin‘ — Blue Note 1588: Cool Struttin‘; Blue Minor; Sippin at Bells; Deep Night

“Personnel: Clark, Piano; Art Farmer, trumpet; Jackie McLean, Alto; Paul Chambers, bass; Philly Joe Jones, drums.

“The relentless production of jazz LPs creates many record sessions which could easily pass for rehearsals. This is one such session. I won’t get involved in attempting to guess how much rehearsal time or how many takes this session consumed. It does seem to me, however, that more time and more discipline were needed.

“The results are not comparable to the potential ability of those present. Clark plays inconsistently, not as well as he can play. He alternates between moments of enlightened lyricism and strings of devices. Farmer, a far more astute trumpet player than he indicates here, seems more concerned with repetition than variations. McLean, passionately striving for individuality, remains an alto man in search of an identity. Chambers is an able supporter throughout. Jones, rather inhibited or fatigued here, plays with tasteful authority without intruding.

“Clark’s contributions, Stuttin‘ (a blues) and Minor, are excuses for blowing, with little inherent authoritative value. On Night, the initial unison theme is expediently dispensed with for a string of solos. The best track is Bells, a blues from Bird’s book;  it contains Clark’s best solo work, some furious McLean, adequate Farmer, and a brief, pointed arco passage from Chambers.”

There it is. What do you think? Do you think the reviewer would have ever believed that this two-and-a-half star record would be selling for $3,000 or $4,000 56 years later? Do you think the pan was justified at any level? I’m going to have to re-listen myself in this context. Also, do you think negative reviews influenced Blue Note’s decision-making about when/whether to print up additional copies of records? Certainly a negative review would seem to lead to fewer sales of the record, right? Do you think “fatiqued” in reference to Philly Joe was a code word for drugged?

The Mobley record fared better, with three and a half stars. Tune in tomorrow for that review.

16 comments

  • Awesome review on Cool Struttin! which brings up the question of worth. Is it worth $3000+ because of the music or the rarity of the record? or a little of both? My guess would be rarity of the record having a slight edge on the music.

  • DB catered for a broad indiscriminate audience for which the small group jazz of the East Coast independent labels was anathema.
    Then DB influenced buying behaviour: on the basis of a three star review in DB, I have postponed for a decade the purchase of “Reunion” (Mulligan/Baker on Pacific Jazz)! The free blowing on this record was against the prevailing norm of neatly arranged music. Free blowing being a dirty word.

  • Gregory the Fish

    so many critics are unable to understand the context of the playing. in addition to my love of jazz as we discuss here, i am also a big fan of most modern organic forms of punk and metal, and it’s the same story: a great record gets panned if the reviewer isn’t able or willing to delve into the context. trane’s “live at the village vanguard” was a great example of this, too.

  • The review of Cool Struttin’ is appalling. It’s a wonderful record. Wonderful music. A classic. 5 stars.

  • My personal reviewers have always been my ears, never critics. I’ve been listening and reading for over 40 years and I really struggle in remembering an artist or a record I don’t love anymore. About Sonny Clark: he has never been helped by USA press. Our Japanese friends “discovered” him in the 70’s and collecting started to look for his records.

  • audibledifference

    Just because a record is insanely rare doesn’t mean it’s the best or even that good. Some of the more or less universally agreed upon “best jazz” records aren’t worth much relatively speaking: Kind of Blue, Out to Lunch, Mingus Ah Um, A Love Supreme, or Brilliant Corners.
    Record collectors of all genres fetishize the obscure and rare. Rarity, obscurity and scarcity go hand in hand. For example a Rhodesian Sex Pistols’ 45 going for $100s. Who cares? Does the music sound better than a UK pressing or even a cd?
    In the rock record collecting world they have run out of obscure things from the US and Europe and are ransacking the planet for insanely rare psych funk records.
    I love music, but record collectors of insanely rare holy grail stuff often bring out my cynicism.

  • It should be noted that Down Beat’s reviews did in fact influence buying habits – and the less an album was bought, the rarer it would be today; and therefore (given Blue Note’s present reputation and particularly an album of worth))the higher the present price.

  • Wasn’t there was a bias against the so-called “blowing” sessions that Blue Note was putting out in the 50’s?

    I seem to remember reading that although many are considered classics now, they were looked down on by certain critics back in the day.

  • Remarkable. Times change, tastes change. I find Cool Struttin’ to be absolutely essential. But, I’m writing with tremendous hindsight and bias as a person who is actively looking for jazz sessions JUST LIKE THAT ONE. Popular music history is chock full of albums which were either panned or ignored upon release, but then, later, became regarded as classics, particularly by a different generation which looked for different things in the music than did critics at the time.

  • Downbeat reviewed 4 Sonny Clark Blue Notes in 1958. Don Gold (who was editor at the time) also gave Dial S For Sonny 3 ½ stars and said “This is a better than average, but not shockingly exciting, blowing session. “ Martin Williams gave Sonny’s Crib and Trio both 2 ½ stars and spent most of his Crib review on Coltrane. Ralph J Gleason gave Sonny Clark Trio on Time 4 stars in 1960 calling him a “first-rate player”. For the most part, the DB reviewers did not like blowing sessions. They constantly complained about the frequency of these types of releases. They did not realize they were living through a golden age. Downbeat collected all their reviews from 1956 to 1963 in 8 yearly books. You can find them occasionally on Ebay or from specialty book dealers. They make great reading. I started reading Downbeat in 1962/3 (I was very very young). The record reviews were the most important thing to me. Needless to say, I ended up with some Paul Winter but their 5 star ratings were usually good including Steve Lacy Evidence and Dexter Gordon Go. Both of these records led me down interesting paths which I am still on.

  • While I disagree with the reviewer that Sonny Clark’s playing is subpar, this is an album I feel is average to a bit above average hard bop. But nothing really more than that. I would seek out an original pressing if it’s something I felt I would be in my heavy rotation listening, but it’s something I don’t listen to more than once every 2 or 3 years.

  • This is of course nothing to get excited about. The reviewer is “caught in time” and probably was in a hurry – listened only once or did not care much for “blowing sessions”. Who cares really? The music has stood the test of time and classics are sometimes not discovered at once.

    Blue Note did generally not sell so good and as Earl so wisely remarked had it been a smash selling hit, like the sidewinder, we would have so many more copies to fight about in the used market. Would that not have been nice?!

  • BTW just an anecdote regarding Cool Struttin….

    I’m from Sweden and was visiting Chicago and the Jazz Record Mart store some years ago. Really Heaven for me! They were playing som great Bop in the store. The song was familiar to me but I could not really place it so I had to ask the somewhat grumpy old guy clerk. He replied “cool Struttin” with a rised eyebrow – and yes of course it really was. Great choice indeed! I later asked another guy who the old guy was and it turned out to be the owner Bob Koester…that was a day to be remembered for me!

  • Perhaps the poor review contributed to the scarcity. If it was hailed as an instant classic many more copies would be in existence as blue note would’ve kept presses running for demand.

  • It’s not THAT scarce, really. There seem to be several pressings in the pre-Liberty era as well as Liberty issues with leftover labels, and Liberty stereo pressings as well (I have one). I agree with some people here in that it’s good but not great. Cool cover.

  • Rich (DG Mono)

    Still waiting for a study on the extent to which album art influences the collectibility of classic jazz albums…

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