Charles Mingus - bass; Eddie Daniels - tenor sax; Joe Farrell - tenor sax; Dewey Redman - tenor sax; Roland Hanna - piano; Howard McGhee - trumpet; Michael Urbaniak - violin; Freddie Waits - drums
At the 1974 Newport Jazz Festival in New York, impresario George Wein revived a longstanding Newport tradition -- the jam session. Since the very first summer bash in Rhode Island, Wein liked to mix-and-match different musicians on stage to exchange ideas and establish some kind of instant chemistry. (Perhaps the most audacious example of that was in 1958 when he matched seminal rock 'n' roller Chuck Berry with Swing-era sidemen, including clarinetist Rudy Rutherford and drummer Papa Jo Jones on a "Sweet Little Sixteen" jam). And as with all jam sessions, it's all about the solos, which puts the onus here on Mingus, Waits, and Hanna to be the glue that holds it all together.
The site of Wein's midnight jam session (following a concert by pop star Diana Ross) at the '74 festival was spacious Radio City Music Hall, which seats 6,000 or more. An unlikely crew of Charles Mingus on bass, Freddie Waits on drums, Roland Hanna on piano, Michael Urbaniak on violin, Howard McGhee on trumpet, and a phalanx of tenor saxophonists Eddie Daniels, Joe Farrell, and Dewey Redman opens with an extended interpretation of the jazz standard "All the Things You Are." Mingus kicks off a brisk tempo, and McGhee boldly states the familiar theme before the rest of the troops quickly fall into place. The bebop trumpeter solos first, showing off his impressive facility and fertile imagination along the way. He is followed by tenor saxophonist Farrell, a Trane disciple and former Elvin Jones sideman, who at the time was enjoying a successful solo career with CTI Records. He summons up bold tones and a powerful flow of ideas in his solo before yielding to violinist Urbaniak, who turns in a potent bop-informed solo on his electrified instrument. Next up is Dewey Redman, a member of Keith Jarrett's quartet at the time, who turns in a pungent-toned tenor solo that is teeming with renegade detours and audacious filigrees. He is followed in the solo order by fellow tenorman Daniels, who more closely follows the harmonic contour of the piece during his smooth-toned, measured solo. Roland Hanna, a member of Thad Jones/Mel Lewis big band at the time, takes his time in delivering an elegant solo against Mingus' insistently walking bass. The whole band drops out as Mingus delivers his own imposing bass solo, followed by Waits' traversing of his kit in a brief drum solo. And they all return to the head in orderly fashion, blowing contrapuntal variations on the theme at the tag like a modern Dixieland ensemble.
McGhee next kicks off the mellow ballad "I Can't Get Started," which opens as a trio number with Hanna and Mingus before drummer Waits pulls out his brushes and supplies a sensitive undercurrent. This Tin Pan Alley nugget, long identified with Swing-era trumpeter Bunny Berigan since his 1937 hit version, soon morphs into Jerome Kern's "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes," with Daniels delivering some relaxed, smoky-toned tenor work on the familiar melody. Tenorist Farrell shifts gears with his bold reading of Ellington's "In a Sentimental Mood" on top of Hanna's gorgeous accompaniment and Mingus' steady bass lines. Polish violinist Urbaniak next segues into a heartfelt reading of "Lover Man (Oh Where Can You Be)" while showcasing his prodigious chops along the way. The lengthy ballad medley continues with Redman offering some high register blowing on "My One and Only Love" before launching into some virtuosic intervallic leaping on the poignant theme. Hanna takes the ballad into Ellington's "I've Got It Bad and That Ain't Good" during his magnificent extended piano solo, extrapolating on the Duke-ish theme in harmonically daring ways with shimmering arpeggios before cleverly segue-ing to a molasses slow, blues-drenched, ivory tickling rendition of "On the Sunny Side of the Street," a particular audience favorite during this 19-minute jam. Mingus remains solid as a rock on bass throughout, offering his own stunning bass solo at the end that puts an exclamation point on the proceedings.
For the finale they launch into the familiar bebop break song, Miles Davis' "The Theme" (which he used to close out his set at the 1958 Newport Jazz Festival). Daniels comes out of the gate swinging hard on this set-closer and is quickly followed in succession by Redman's provocative and bold-toned tenor solo, McGhee's authoritative bop trumpet solo, Redman's forcefully swinging tenor solo, and Urbaniak's boppish electric violin solo. The underrated Hanna turns in another sparkling piano solo while Mingus contributes another formidable bass solo, and Waits wraps it up with an invigorating drum solo, bringing this late night jam session to a rousing finale. (Milkowski)