A tribute to Lester Young is the natural catalyst for this wonderful CD from the brilliant, masterful saxophonist Noel Jewkes. A legend among legends, Lester Young was one of the greatest figures in the history of jazz whose power and spirit transcended the tenor saxophone idiom, affecting the entire sound of jazz. Despite Young's pervasive effect, there has been a shortage of special tributes honoring his contributions to the birth of modern jazz.
Jewkes is an original musician, a premier tenor saxophonist, and an alto, soprano, clarinet and flute player, based in the San Francisco Bay Area. This recording, leading a band of top-ranked jazz musicians, has been long overdue and is both a tribute to Lester Young and a jazz celebration of Noel Jewkes.
The “Young Effect” prompted Young to be nicknamed “The President” or just “Pres.” As this CD demonstrates, Jewkes' ability to subtly unfurl nuances of jazz harmony and improvisation qualifies him as a member of Young's “Presidential cabinet.” The release of this CD fortifies Jewkes' solid reputation and will be welcomed by dedicated fellow musicians and enthusiastic fans alike.
Noel Jewkes was born in Utah on June 18, 1940. His mother, father, and uncles were all musicians: they formed the Jewkes Orchestra swing band, playing cowboy and country-western music for locals at church, school and other social functions. Jewkes joined the band at age 12, playing both clarinet and saxophone. Immersed in a deep musical environment, he became adept at a variety of instruments. He later attended college and studied music privately.
Jewkes moved to the San Francisco Bay Area and continued his musical growth and development, soon becoming one of San Francisco's bright lights, playing and recording on a very high level. He worked with Jon Hendricks and Jimmy Witherspoon, appearing in “Evolution of the Blues” production. He also worked with Mel Torme, Rosemary Clooney, Billy Eckstine, Mary Stallings, Jerry Hahn, Akira Tana, Jack DeJohnette, Weslia Whitfield, Mimi Fox, Larry Vuckovich, and Dave Ellis among others. Jewkes is an in-demand player.
Akira Tana, producer of this CD, suggested the liner notes include the story of the first time the teenaged Jewkes saw Pres perform. Likewise, Tana urged me to share my boyhood encounters with Pres.
Jewkes' first Pres experience was in 1954. Jewkes recalls: “Basie's Band was headlining, with Pres as the featured player. It was the band that included Frank Foster, Frank Wess, and Joe Williams. This Basie package came through Salt Lake City and played at a dance pavilion. Pianist Bud Powell's trio was part of the tour package, too.”
For my part, I was hotly in pursuit of Pres beginning at age 13, when I stood outside the entrance of “Jack's of Sutter Street” in San Francisco, catching the great sounds of Pres' tenor saxophone. After Pres noticed me hanging out at several of his dates, he asked me why I was there, I replied, “In your words, I have eyes for your sounds.”
My most memorable encounter with Pres occurred in Oakland's Chinatown. I had noticed a poster advertising a one-night stand featuring Pres and Billie Holiday at a beer joint named “Hamburger Gus's.” The entrance to Gus’s had swinging doors, open at the top about 18 inches. I had to check out this super gig, so I found a box to stand on and peered over the doors seeing the heads of Pres and Lady and digging the music. After the first set, Pres exited with a lady on each arm. Seeing me, he dropped the ladies, led me into the smoky joint, sat me on a stool by the stage and said, “The music will wind-up shortly... so dig it!” It was thrilling and unbelievable!
Back to Noel Jewkes and his song selection for this CD: “Some of the tunes I chose I think Pres would liked to have recorded, but never did.” Jewkes has always been a great fan of Pres. He explains: “Lester was the first modernist tenor player. Before Lester, I had devoted a lot of attention to Coleman Hawkins whose playing was more linear, more smooth and subtle. I was very fond of an album when I was still in high school. It was Oscar Peterson's quartet, featuring Pres with Oscar, Ray Brown, Barney Kessel, and J. C. Heard. The album on Verve Records is rightly named “Mr. President” and is a source of inspiration. I listened to it with intensity. That recording was one of the best things Lester ever did and I'm still impressed with it. That record fits the theme of a tribute to Pres. The standout jumping selection is “Tea for Two.” We came close to the same tempo.”
Jewkes showered praise on the exceptional musicians on this Pres tribute CD: “The rhythm section was vital and I tip my hat to them. Pianist Benny Green plays with total absorption - his conceptual consonance was unpredictable. Marcus Shelby's bass playing was sheer beauty. On guitar, Josh Workman has a great sense of swing and feeling. Drummer Harold Jones has perfect time conception and execution. The band members were fully in sync with each other - they were loose and elastic.”
Some comments about the selections on this CD might provide an insight into Jewkes' taste and ideas: Jewkes took the intros for “I Never Knew” and “I'll Never Be the Same” from original Pres recordings. The latter tune calls to mind the early recordings of pianist Teddy Wilson and Billie Holiday. On “If You Were Mine” Jewkes says: “I can hear Pres playing it in my head. Lester might have played it but he did not record it. Ditto for “Fine and Dandy,” which starts off as a slow ballad, then moves up to a medium swing tempo.” The derivation of “Moten Swing” is “You're Driving Me Crazy,” and it kicks off with the primary tune then segues into “Moten.” “D. B. Blues” has an uncommon structure - a bridge in a blues tune. The “D.B.” stands for the army detention barracks where Pres spent a year prior to his dishonorable discharge, and was a memory of the mistreatment he suffered in the U. S. Army. By the way, Jewkes' intro is different from Pres' on the same tune. “Lover Man” is associated with Billie Holiday. “I felt good playing it,” said Jewkes. Lester Young's classic signature tune, “Lester Leaps In” is played with a loose feel.
Marcus Shelby's insightful comment about Noel Jewkes is a potent wrap-up: “His harmonic and melodic concept leaves delicious melodies in your mind long after the song has ended.”
Hail Lester Young and Noel Jewkes! - Dr. Herb Wong
Noel Jewkes (ts)
Benny Green (p)
Marcus Shelby (b)
Josh Workman (g)
Harold Jones (ds)
01. I Never Knew
02. If You Were Mine
03. Db Blues
04. Fine and Dandy
05. Moten Swing
06. Tea for Two
07. I'll Never Be the Same
08. If Dreams Come True
09. Lover Man
10. Lester Leaps In
BUY THIS ALBUM!!!