JAZZ A LA BOHEMIA
The Cafe Bohemia lives up to its name in part by being located about as
close as you can get to the geographical core of Greenwich Village, New
York's fabled center of the bohemian life. It lays further claim to
Bohemian artistic status by being an unpretentious and comfortable (except
perhaps on Saturday nights, when no club in the city has the space for
true comfort) home for some extremely noteworthy modern jazz. One evening
in the Fall of 1956, when the attractions at the Bohemia included a group
headed by the remarkable young pianist, RANDY WESTON, Riverside unloaded a
station-wagon full of recording equipment into the club and settled down
to several hours of taping a live performance by Weston and his
colleagues. The results of that evening make up this album.
As recordings such as this sharply indicate, jazz as heard "live" in
actual club performance is inevitably more than a little different from
jazz recorded under studio conditions. Nowadays, many members of the
American jazz public have become frequent record-buyers and only
occasional club-goers. And while it may seem strange for a record company
to say so, this present imbalance is a most unfortunate situation. For,
despite the technical superiority of even a fairly good recording studio
to the average club, there are some very definite advantages to "live"
jazz performance-and these are being missed by a good many people.
Most obvious, of course, is that the musicians are playing at and reacting
directly to an audience, rather than just acoustically impeccable walls
and two or three faces in the studio control room. But there's more to it
than that. In a studio, there is very often (even if only subconsciously)
an insidious awareness of permanence: once issued, a given solo will stand
as the way you treat that tune; and a clinker can live to haunt you
So there is incentive, as well as opportunity, for several 'takes' of each
number, in a search for precision or for inspiration that sometimes
succeeds -but that can often lead jazzmen to stiff, stilted playing, even
to downright boredom. In a club, a given tune is rarely played more than
once a night, and there is no need to strive to create anything deathless.
Of course, there can be an opposite danger here, brought on by the
dangerous assumption that rough spots and clinkers will quickly be
forgotten by the audience if only the "feeling" is right.
A vast amount of lastingly excellent jazz has been and will continue to be
made in the recording studios; and some nights in jazz clubs can be,
musically, quite a waste of time. But, canceling out pro and con, there
remain certain important qualities of live performance at its best
-warmth, spontaneity, vitality- that are only rarely duplicated in the
In recognition of this, there is a growing (if still limited) tendency
towards on-the-spot recording. This means sacrificing something of
acoustics, freedom from distraction and overall control of the situation,
in hopes of catching your performers on a good, truly live night. In the
present case, the negative elements were minimized by the fact that the
Bohemia is an unhectic place, and that Riverside's staff engineer, Ray
Fowler, is an unhectic, highly skilled and sensitive technician. Also, the
key musicians of the evening, Weston and baritone sax man Cecil Payne, are
both exciting, inventive artists with a good deal to say.
Randy Weston has become, in just a few years, one of the important younger
jazz figures: the object of almost universal critical praise, Down Beat
choice as "New Star" pianist of 1955, and possessor of an ever-growing
following. He offers a rhythmic piano style that owes something to the
early attention he paid to Thelonious Monk and to Art Tatum, but that
increasingly, each time around, reflects his own richly lyrical and highly
individual jazz imagination.
Cecil Payne (who grew up in Brooklyn with Randy) has an astonishingly
agile command of a potentially cumbersome instrument, plus a vibrant tone
and a swinging-modern conception. Bassist Ahmed Abdul Malik is also
noteworthy, for his full sound and impressively strong beat. Altogether,
it's a group quite deserving of being presented in a natural habitat.
Throughout the evening they played tunes at their normal club length,
which is often (though not rigidly so) several choruses more than average
recording studio length. In lieu of several 'takes' per number, the
evening consisted of the normal (in a club) varied and non-repeated
repertoire: with the most success. full selections of the many being
chosen for the LP.
Thus the album does not actually present one continuous set of
performances; but this is the only artificiality. The applause, for
example; is quite real; and the album opens and closes with the group's
Theme (written by Randy's original bass player, Sam Gill, at this time
in the Army). In between there are three standards, a Weston original (Chessman's
Delight) dedicated to a Brooklyn chess club, a calypso, and a bright,
neglected tune (Just a Riff) previously recorded only by the late
Sid Catlett with Ben Webster. Except for two trio numbers, the emphasis
-as it usually is in club appearances by this group- is on Weston and
Payne both as soloists and in their ability to interweave with skill and
We feel that this recording captures the "feel" of live, in-the-club
performance on a good night-that by bringing the studio to the club in
this instance we have been able to preserve on disc something of the best
of two technically very different corners of the jazz world.
The Cafe Bohemia has quickly established itself as among the top showcases
for modern music (Down Beat has called it "the most valuable jazz club in
the East"). As a practical tribute to the club's atmosphere, this
Riverside album (our first at the Bohemia) has been preceded by five other
LPs of actual performances there, recorded by other labels: a Kenny Dorham
album, and two by The Jazz Messengers (all on Blue Note), a Charlie Mingus
(Debut) and a George Wallington (Progressive).
1957 Orrin Keepnews