THE last time that I heard him play his tenor saxophone was in 1975 on the grassy slopes in front of Ally Pally, where on a baking summer afternoon his golden horn whirled in joy and beauty.
He came from that swooping, howling, gushing tradition of Texas tenor stalwarts, the same tradition that produced James Clay and David “Fathead” Newman of Corsicana and Arnett Cobb of Houston.
Except that Buddy Tate (born in Sherman, Texas in 1913) had another great jazz element implanted within him: the seed of relentless swing.
Between 1939 and 1948 he was a featured tenorist of the Count Basie Orchestra, first alongside the pioneering Lester Young, before freelancing with other swing maestros like Lucky Millinder, Jimmy Rushing and Hot Lips Page, then leading his own hot bands and guesting with others for the rest of his music life.
Two powerful 1975 sessions have been combined to create a double CD on the Danish Storyville label, which show the late Tate at his best.
The first was recorded in Copenhagen with the blind Catalonian pianist Tete Montoliu — who was born in Barcelona in 1933, learned his music in braille, recorded with Lionel Hampton in 1956 and played and cut records with great US hornmen from Roland Kirk, Kenny Dorham, Dexter Gordon, Ben Webster, Lucky Thompson to post-bop free spirits like Anthony Braxton. With him are Danish stalwarts bassist Bo Stief, drummer Sven-Erik Norgaard and violinist Finn Ziegler.
Tate’s whooping notes are in full fettle in the opener, a bustling version of Stompin’ at the Savoy, given Monkish inflections by Montoliu’s more modern and boppish pianism.
The Texan was also a prime balladeer, and his rendition of the emotive Body and Soul is full of restrained and allusive beauty, with Tete’s wonderful keyboard forays.
Buddy’s Blues are certainly Montoliu’s too, as he charges in with a rampaging opening solo. Then it is Ziegler’s turn with his Stuff Smith-style violin chorus, Tate comes in with an earthy vocal before his gruff tenor tones, eternally swinging, take over.
Stief’s bass digs in for Broadway before Tate’s yelping phrases bring Texas to New York and then down the Kattegat to Copenhagen. The songbook standard Just You, Just Me is taken at a runaway pace with first Buddy and then the scurrying Tete, sprinting homewards.
Tate was never an Ellingtonian, but he tackles the Duke’s In a Mellotone with a swinging gusto. Montoliu’s enigmatic solo is full of sudden angles and turns and Stief’s bass pulsates.
The session’s finale is a poignant and tender performance of I Surrender Dear, prefaced by an astonishing Montoliu solo, and followed by Buddy’s passionate hooting tones. But no surrender to the predictable here.
Two months earlier in July 1975, Tate had been in Antibes, France recording a session with two septuagenarian hornmen of powerful distinction, the trombonist from Xenia, Ohio Vic Dickenson, and the veteran trumpeter from Nashville, Tennessee Doc Cheatham, with an all-American rhythm section of pianist Johnny Guarnieri, drummer Oliver Jackson and bassist George Duvivier.
Dickenson was briefly a Basie-ite too, so when the sextet plough into the Count’s Jive at Five, it is familiar terrain. Buddy swings while he growls, Doc climbs and soars and Dickenson’s trombone wit is as sharp as ever.
There Goes My Heart is a crooning interlude with Tate singing through his horn and Guarnieri milking every note, but the George Gershwin standard Somebody Loves Me gives the three horns a lively outing with Dickenson’s tricky slides and Tate eating up the theme.
Cheatham’s aching trumpet wails through I Got a Right to Sing the Blues, while in I Never Knew, Duvivier’s dancing bass has its moment and Dickenson’s wry solo tones understate his brilliance. Tate comes in at full pelt, half lamenting, half rejoicing and Cheatham’s lucid notes are pure, unalloyed yet filled with all the vagaries of a complex jazz life.
All gone now, this generation, yet when I walk on the grass around Ally Pally, I can still hear them, led by a man from Texas, whose blue and howling notes once flew all over London and whose echoes can still be heard howling into the mist.
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