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Jazz albums with Chris Searle Marvels from a pioneering Motown woman pioneer

Terry Pollard
A Detroit Jazz Legend
(Fresh Sound)

IN 1955, when pianist Terry Pollard recorded her only album as leader on the Bethlehem label, English jazz critic Leonard Feather commented on the grotesque attitudes towards women in jazz.

“The role of the feminine performer has taken on a slightly offside significance in jazz. Presumably because of the unwritten social law decreeing that a charming young damsel looks less alluring with a trombone ruining her lipstick, or a tuba spoiling her smile ...”

Pollard became one of the prime resisters to such backwardness during the postwar years. Born in Detroit in 1931, she launched an unlikely career, first in Motown bands and then with vibraphonist Terry Gibbs, with whose band she toured the country and began her time from 1953 to 1956 as a recording artist.

She recorded her eponymous album with bassist Herman Wright, guitarist Howard Roberts, drummer Frank DeVito and trumpeter Don Fagerquist, who features on three tracks.

Pollard plays with a beautiful swinging fluency through a series of familiar songbook ballads, savouring their melodies — particularly in her slowly drifting version of The More I See You with Roberts, Wright and DeVito beside her in a gently pulsating empathy, and her inventiveness on Where or When has more than a flavour of the great Bud Powell. And she romps away with Fagerquist's horn on Almost Like Being in Love, as Roberts picks out a fleet solo.

Pollard seizes on Charlie Parker's bop classic Scrapple from the Apple with gusto, her speed of attack almost leaving her confreres behind. Wright catches up with her and plays a throbbing solo, DeVito has a few moments and Pollard chases away again.

She strikes her keys forcefully all through Emaline and Fagerquist delivers a muted high-note chorus. Autumn Serenade plays on the cusp of familiar themes like Summertime and I'll Remember April and there are sparking solos from Roberts, Pollard and Fagerquist, while on Fedj Pollard stomps forward on her own composition and Roberts plucks out a lively solo.

In 1956 Pollard joined forces with Gibbs, drummer Jerry Segal and Wright again to make two albums, Terry Gibbs and Mallets-a-Plenty. Lonely Dreams finds her in truly balladic mood, playing the theme with a gentle beauty before Gibbs enters to embellish his own tune.

Pollard spins lyricism too on Mean to Me, but it is on Dicky's Dream, written by Count Basie and his tenorist Lester Young, that she really lets go. As she swings through her opening solo. Gibbs is full of verve as the quartet surges through the joyous track.

Nutty Notes shows that there was nothing fragile about Pollard's artistry, as she scatters her sound through the studio in harmony with Gibbs's vibes. Then it Happens is slow and easy, with Pollard making melody out of improvisation and Wright's earthen Motown bass delving deep.

Despite the relative brevity of her recording years, Pollard was very much a Detroit jazz woman pioneer. She made the fine album Soft Winds with groundbreaking jazz harpist Dorothy Ashby and cut a path too for the powerful Detroit pianist Geri Allen and car worker's daughter and virtuoso violinist, Regina Carter.

The elder sister of many a Motown artist, she died in 2009, but her brilliance lives on in this reissue.

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