Johnny Coles - trumpet
George Coleman - tenor saxophone
Toshiko Akiyoshi - piano
Gene Taylor - bass
Joe Chambers - drums
At the time of this 1965 Newport Jazz Festival appearance, trumpeter Johnny Coles was still riding high on the strength of his recent Blue Note release, Little Johnny C. Coming off of a stint the previous year with Charles Mingus, Coles was accompanied by an impressive crew including tenor saxophonist George Coleman (fresh from his stint with the Miles Davis quintet), new Japanese piano sensation Toshiko Akiyoshi, bassist Gene Taylor and drummer Joe Chambers. In their brief set they performed two songs from Coles' current album - "Heavy Legs" and the title track - along with a moving rendition of the standard "You Don't Know What Love Is," the latter a showcase for the trumpeter's dry, economical sound.
The essence of hard bop is expressed in the quintet's swaggering up-tempo opener, "Little Johnny C." Coles comes out of the gate charging hard on trumpet against Chambers' aggressive attack on drums and Akiyoshi's percussive stabs at the keyboard. Coleman follows with a signature flowing tenor solo, wailing with muscular abandon on the changes as the rhythm tandem of Chambers and Taylor urge him on with their forceful swing factor. Akiyoshi, a native of Manchuria born to Japanese parents and newly-emigrated to the United States at the time, turns in a remarkably facile piano solo before the whole band drops out for a deep-toned Taylor solo. And in classic bebop/hard bop fashion, Coles and Coleman trade exuberant eight bar phrases with drummer Chambers before heading out.
For his ballad feature, Coles dips into the Great American Songbook for a powerfully expressive reading of the melancholy "You Don't Know What Love Is," underscored by Chambers' sensitive brushwork. Coleman sits this one out but Coles carries the tune in dramatic fashion, supported by Akiyoshi's deft piano accompaniment. A discovery of piano master Oscar Peterson, Toshiko also turns in a sparkling solo on this haunting Don Raye-Gene de Paul number, which Coles concludes with a stirring cadenza. They close out their 1965 Newport set with the up-tempo modal romp "Heavy Legs," Cole's answer to John Coltrane's "Impressions." The piece opens with a dazzling piano intro from Akiyoshi before yielding to extended blazing solos from saxophonist Coleman and pianist Akiyoshi while Chambers' irrepressibly swinging energy on the kit and Gene Taylor's insistent walking on the bass fuel the exhilarating proceedings. Coles takes his time on his solo here, gradually building to a flurry of bravura high notes on top of the kinetic pulse. The band drops out as Taylor gets a solo taste himself before they all return to bring this potent number to a torrid conclusion.
Born on July 3, 1926 in Trenton, New Jersey, Coles began as a self-taught trumpeter at the age of 10. During World War II, he played in an Army band and following his discharge hooked up with Eddie "Cleanhead" Vinson's rhythm and blues band, which also included fellow Philadelphians John Coltrane and Red Garland. Coles continued playing through the early '50s with popular R&B-styled artists such as Earl Bostic and Bull Moose Jackson while also playing on the mainstream jazz scene in Philly. He played in James Moody's band from 1956-1958 and subsequently had a six-year tenure in the Gil Evans Orchestra, performing on such important recording as 1958's New Bottle Old Wine, 1959's Great Jazz Standards (1959) and 1960's Out of the Cool. Coles was recruited by Charles Mingus for a tour of Europe in 1964 in a sextet which also featured saxophonists Eric Dolphy and Clifford Jordan, pianist Jaki Byard and drummer Dannie Richmond (documented on the 2005 Blue Note release, Cornell 1964). Through the '60s, he played on a number of recordings, including Booker Ervin's Booker 'n' Brass, Duke Pearson's Honeybuns and Prairie Dog and two Herbie Hancock gems from 1969 in The Prisoner and Fat Albert Rotunda. In 1969, Coles joined the Ray Charles Orchestra and followed with a three-year hitch in the Duke Ellington Orchestra from 1971-1974. He remained on the scene through the '80s, performing with the Count Basie Orchestra, Mingus Dynasty, and Dameronia, a Tadd Dameron tribute band. Coles retired from performing in 1989 and passed away eight years later on December 21, 1997. (Bill Milkowski)