January 4th, 2016

One Night in Indy

Title: One Night in Indy

Artist: Wes Montgomery featuring the Eddie Higgins Trio

Label: Resonance

Formats: CD, LP, MP3

Release date: January 15, 2016
 

 

With its latest release, One Night in Indy, Resonance Records brings us their third volume in what will be known as a treasury of mostly unknown early recordings of legendary guitarist Wes Montgomery. This release, from a performance recorded in Indianapolis on January 18, 1959, is certainly as exciting as the two that preceded it (In the Beginning and Echoes of Indiana Avenue), and reflects top-level performances by four emerging jazz artists: Wes Montgomery (guitar), Eddie Higgins (piano), unknown (bass), and Walter Perkins (drums).

Let’s begin with a few words about both Eddie Higgins and Wes Montgomery to set the stage. Higgins’ first recording was made early in 1957, and he appeared on many sessions the following year recorded by the Chicago-based Argo Records. This reflected the growing recognition of his talents among his fans in Chicago. The One Night in Indy performance, sponsored by the Indianapolis Jazz Club (hereafter IJC), was mid-way during Eddie’s time with Argo and nine months before he was recorded accompanying Coleman Hawkins at the Playboy Jazz Festival. Yet, despite his growing reputation, Eddie’s first documented performance outside the Chicago area was with Jack Teagarden in Florida in 1963, some four years later.

Clearly the IJC was among the earliest groups to recognize Eddie’s talents and commit funds to bringing him with two others to Indianapolis for this appearance. The notes to the CD state that the drummer was Walter Perkins, also growing his reputation in Chicago while recording on Argo Records with Ahmad Jamal. A likely candidate for bass would have been Bob Cranshaw, since he had recorded with Eddie twice at about this time on Argo Records, and a bit later in the appearance with Coleman Hawkins at the Playboy Jazz Festival; however, when contacted by the CD’s producer, Bob said that this was not him and could not provide any further information. Thus, the bassist remains unidentified, but perhaps other musicians recording for Argo Records could be candidates? Anyhow, the Trio was likely all Chicago-based and probably very familiar with each other’s styles.

Montgomery’s first recordings pre-date Eddie’s by a decade—with Lionel Hampton beginning in 1948—and then a five year gap until he recorded with his brothers at Columbia Records’ New York studios in June 1955. A year later, he was captured on a recording live in Indianapolis. Both performances have been released on Resonance Records, and capture Wes’s earliest development of his unique use of octaves in his soloing. Wes’s fame exploded following the release of his recordings for Riverside Records beginning just nine months after this IJC performance.

One Night in Indy captures Eddie and Wes on the threshold of their growing fame. The tracks on the CD average about eight minutes, allowing lots of space for creative solos and exchanges. Opening with my personal favorite, “Give Me the Simple Life,” the level of interplay among the musicians suggests that it was not the first tune performed that night. Eddie begins with a few pulsing chords leading to Wes’s swinging solo, first voiced with his unique octave style and then alternating with single note lines. Eddie follows and, after a bass solo, this leads to a series of conversational guitar-piano exchanges to close the performance. These delightful exchanges convey the sense of excitement the musicians shared in their unique bandstand encounter. The bass player and drummer provide excellent support throughout, leaving no doubt in my mind that this is a functioning trio and not a pickup group.

On “Prelude to a Kiss,” Wes adopts a richer but denser initial approach that contrasts nicely with Eddie’s light arpeggios that continue throughout his solo. Wes dances through the final bars showing appreciation for Eddie’s contribution, concluding a track that’s delicate and delicious throughout. “Stompin’ at the Savoy” starts in a call and response mode between Eddie and Wes, then Wes takes the first solo while the Trio provides firm support. Eddie solos next, while Wes drops into the background a bit, injecting some notes for selective emphasis as the tempo accelerates. A series of short exchanges follow, with all four musicians participating. They incorporate some short interpolations, among them are rapid allusions to “Give Me Five Minutes More,” “Great Day,” “Lady Be Good,” and other tunes that reflect their joy of performing together.

Their approach to Neil Hefti’s “Li’l Darlin’” can only be described as mellow. Wes and Eddie both have extended solos in this sensitive performance, although Eddie seems to be in the lead, while Wes and the unknown bassist provide rhythmic support, underscoring the collaborative nature of their rendition. Next comes a fine medley of two tunes, listed simply as “Ruby, My Dear” in the accompanying notes, though the performance begins with a solo from Eddie on “Ruby” and then seamlessly segues to “Laura” where Wes solos.

The CD closes with “You’d Be So Nice to Come Home To,” opening with a nearly 3 minute performance and solos by Wes. Perhaps he is even sending a signal to the Trio that they should now feel at home in Indianapolis and return often? Certainly the CD provides proof of IJC’s gracious hospitality.

At this point, a bit of additional background on the recording might be helpful, extending and clarifying the information included in the liner notes. The CD was mastered from an open reel tape provided by Duncan Schiedt prior to his passing. Duncan was a noted photographer and champion of jazz throughout much of his lifetime, so it is worth noting a bit more about his role in events that led to this performance.

The liner notes state that the performance was “at a jazz club in Indianapolis” that Duncan ran with his friends. To me, this implies that Duncan operated some sort of nightclub, whereas the Indianapolis Jazz Club (hereafter IJC) was simply an informal group of enthusiasts who periodically organized gatherings and concerts for their own enjoyment and with their own funds. It all began with a concert performance by Chicago-based pianist Art Hodes in 1956. Duncan has written about this organization in notes supplied to me by an early IJC member Phil Oldham:

The group adopted a constitution that stated the following: “The Indianapolis Jazz Club, a civic, nonprofit organization, has been formed to afford a common meeting ground for lovers of Classic American Jazz; to stimulate and encourage public interest in this form of jazz, its cultural and historical significance, and by means of live performance and special programming to bring its members both enjoyment and education…. Dues were established at $5.00 per year, with an additional $2.50 for each member of the same family….

The venue, which would be our “home” for some time, was the student union lounge of the Indiana University Medical Center on West Michigan Street [in Indianapolis]. Equipped with a good grand piano and able to accommodate well over one hundred persons, the place served us well, though we were conscious of providing an evening’s free entertainment to any student who wished to sit on the fringes….

Opening the door to 1959 was our concert by the Eddie Higgins Trio, a Chicago unit which I believe had a long gig at the London House. Higgins, a classically-trained pianist turned jazzman par excellence, was joined at one point by Indy’s native son Wes Montgomery in an impromptu set which was our first exposure to the great guitarist. It was the first time for Higgins, and resulted in a marvelous, never-to-be-forgotten experience for both musicians and audience.

That brings us to the performance on One Night in Indy. To my ear, the audible applause between musical selections suggests a small audience was present, perhaps numbering two to four dozen supporters; however, there is no accessible record to support my guess nor to document the actual location of the performance. But, again to my ear, this seems to be a semi-private concert and not a commercial nightclub setting. Perhaps it was even held at the fore mentioned student union lounge on the Medical Center campus, located just west of the heart of downtown Indianapolis. The miking of the performers is close and balanced with each instrument clearly captured, and there is no ambient noise from glasses or chatter beyond occasional exclamations from the musicians themselves. While the specific location may never be known, I feel it important to acknowledge the commitment of the IJC visionaries who underwrote the performance, bringing Eddie Higgins with his bassist and drummer from Chicago, a longer drive before the construction of modern Interstate highways.

Again, to my ear, Higgins’ Trio performs in a manner consistent with musicians who have already worked together. There is no hesitancy in crafting support for solos and during ensembles. Wes Montgomery is a ‘local addition’ to the program. I speculate that the concert may even have consisted of two sets. Perhaps the first set would have featured the Eddie Higgins Trio and second, mostly captured on this CD, might have been a second set that added Wes Montgomery. That structure would have accomplished several things. First, it would have focused on the primary musicians imported to Indianapolis for this concert in the first set, honoring advance promotion. Then there would have been opportunities for informal conversations between the musicians and the sponsors of the concert during a break between sets that would be consistent with the sort of interactions valued by the organizers of the IJC. Next, there would have been the excitement added with the addition of the locally renowned guitarist, Wes Montgomery, for the second set. But this is conjecture.

The main point is that this was booked as a concert for the IJC by the Eddie Higgins Trio, perhaps noting that there would be an appearance by Wes Montgomery as a special guest at some point. This combination would have created excitement among the club’s members, but it is doubtful that there was extensive publicity beyond that core group for this event. But there is another possibility, namely that Wes simply appeared and was welcomed to the bandstand on the basis of his growing reputation based on recordings released on the Pacific Jazz label.

Interestingly, it is worthwhile noting that one tune from this Montgomery-Higgins performance, “How Come You Do Me Like You Do,” is not included on this CD but was issued in a special privately produced CD to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the IJC. Perhaps it was not included on the 7” reel tape provided to the producers? It a fine performance and would have fit within the time limitations of the CD.  The notes to the private CD state that this was “a spontaneous and surprise appearance by Wes during the Eddie Higgins Trio concert.” So it is possible that Wes’s appearance was not publicized in advance, although it remains possible that it was known to the organizers who would have made room in advance on the informal stage. The tune is performed in a satirical style, including a two-beat rhythm that is completely different from the issued tunes on the CD.

Thanks to Duncan Schiedt for preserving this recording and for doing so much to support jazz music, and thanks to Resonance Records for issuing this marvelous CD as the third in what should rightly be seen as a treasured trilogy of many of Wes Montgomery’s earliest recordings. Duncan is a true jazz hero. He has left us with many rich memories of great jazz and good times. It was my great pleasure to have been one of many who enjoyed his company many times during the past three decades.

Reviewed by Thomas P. Hustad
Author of Born to Play: The Ruby Braff Discography and Directory of Performances

Review Genre(s): Jazz


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