Having managed to miss a couple of months, I realised that I really ought to start writing a piece again and chose to consider duos in jazz. It’s brought about by listening to a recent recording by tenor sax player Houston Person and bassist Ron Carter, working their way through a series of standards from the Great American Song Book along with a lovely version of Thelonious Monk’s Blue Monk. Duo playing jazz is about as small a group as you can get, placing tremendous responsibility on the bass player who has to act as a whole rhythm section, keeping time, playing the appropriate notes to suggest the chords, and also soloing when asked. Person is a man who knows the American Songbook totally and is a very melodic player, influenced by tenor players such as Illinois Jacquet and Hank Mobley. Carter, one of the most recorded bass players in jazz with over 2000 recordings to his name, is best known for his time with trumpeter Miles Davis, but I have a couple of lovely duo records of him along with one of my favourite guitarists, the late Jim Hall.
Most duo recordings feature piano and trumpet or cornet. One of the first was Louis Armstrong along with pianist Earl Hines back in the 1920’s, when they recorded a tune called Weather Bird, one of the classics of all jazz recordings. Not surprisingly, given the challenge of working as a duo, there are not too many such recordings around. I have an old LP recorded for the UK 77 label, a label run by Doug Dobells of the famous Dobells record shop in Charing Cross Road, which features trumpeter Billy Butterfield alongside stride pianist Dick Wellstood – some great sounds. I also have Wellstood paired with one of my favourite clarinettists – Kenny Davern, playing some really modern sounds on a record which at the time could not be given away! Cornet player Ruby Braff produced some brilliant duo recordings with pianists Ralph Sutton and Dick Hyman – also well worth seeking out. On the modern side I have a great CD featuring vibes player Gary Burton with electric bass player Steve Swallow – this time a modern classic called Hotel Hello. Beginning to find his memory going, Burton recently announced his retirement from playing – a loss of probably the greatest modern vibes player and one of the best musical educators of recent years. Lastly, an oddity from my collection – two tenor players, long-time friends and musical associates Al Cohn and Zoot Sims, appear on a record where the pair of them tear up Limehouse Blues.
There are many other duo recordings out there, but I hope I’ve mentioned a few which encourage people to go out and listen to some of them – they provide a delightful musical experience well worth discovering. Mike Goldsmith.