Junior Mance - piano; Martin Rivera - bass; Bruno Carr - drums
For the 1973 Newport Jazz Festival in New York City, George Wein put on a series of concerts at the legendary Apollo Theater in Harlem. With help from the Harlem Cultural Center, the Department of Cultural Affairs, the New York State Council on the Arts, and a few corporate sponsors, Wein showcased great jazz artists for three nights in the historic venue where Ella Fitzgerald won her first talent contest as an aspiring 17-year-old singer in 1934, before joining Chick Webb's band and where James Brown had recorded his classic Live at the Apollo in 1962. Tickets prices were set at $2 for this event, with three bands appearing on the bill each night. But as Wein noted in his autobiography, Myself Among Others: A Life in Music: "We barely sold any tickets. It took this discouraging experience to teach me that the artists who could fill Carnegie Hall were no necessarily marquee attractions in Harlem. Aretha would have sold out. But our jazz artists floundered."
Nevertheless, there was plenty of world-class jazz to be had in those three days, including this set by the Junior Mance Trio. A soulful hard bop pianist from Chicago, Julian Clifford Mance got his seasoning on the bandstand during the '40s and early '50s accompanying such stellar players as Lester Young, Charlie Parker, Coleman Hawkins, and Sonny Stitt. He toured and recorded through the 1950s with Dinah Washington, Dizzy Gillespie, and Cannonball Adderley before forming his own trio in 1959 with bassist Ray Brown and drummer Lex Humphries and releasing Junior on Verve Records. He later worked with the Eddie "Lockjaw" Davis/Johnny Griffin Quintet and in the mid-'60s accompanied by the great singer Joe Williams. He recorded prolifically through the '60s for the Capitol and Atlantic labels and in the '70s for Inner City. He became a faculty member at The New School in New York City in 1988 and remains active on the scene at age 82.
For this 1973 concert, Mance performed two lengthy pieces that appeared later that year on his album, The Junior Mance Touch. With Martin Rivera on bass and Bruno Carr on drums, Mance immediately engages the Apollo crowd by opening with a sprightly instrumental rendition of Al Green's #1 hit from the previous year, "Let's Stay Together." Mance ably demonstrates his lyrical touch on this soul staple while Carr energizes the tune with his shuffling, syncopated pulse on the kit. The trio next interprets Johnny Nash's hit single from 1972, "I Can See Clearly Now." Mance's soulful rendition carries a subtle gospel feel while Carr again gently nudges him with his infectiously syncopated groove. After a flourish of rhapsodic solo piano at the intro, the trio then settles into a luxurious, moving rendition of Tony Bennett's 1963 ballad, "The Good Life," which was also the title track of Mance's 1965 album on Capitol. The trio closes out in dramatic fashion with "Cubano Chant," a familiar soul-jazz theme by Mance's colleague, pianist Ray Bryant. Mance pulls out his most demonstrative chops on this rousing set-closer but it's all done with soulful aplomb, in the tradition of tasty soul-jazz piano trios led by the likes of Ahmad Jamal, Ramsey Lewis, Les McCann, Gene Harris, and the aforementioned Bryant. Carr also drums up a storm on this invigorating number to conclude Mance's Apollo appearance at the 1973 Newport Jazz Festival in New York.