Norman Granz’ Jazz at the Philharmonic – Carnegie Hall 1949

Norman Granz’ Jazz at the Philharmonic
Norman Granz' Jazz at the Philharmonic
Carnegie Hall 1949

(Pablo – 2002)
by John Barrett

As the disc opens, the audience is still filing in – it’s February 11, the start of JATP’s 1949 season. Norman Granz is announcing the band, with a ring in his microphone; you can hardly hear him but the crowd cheers every name. And no wonder: from the opening riffs, you know this is going to be wild. Based on “Perdido”, “Leap Here” bounces hard between notes; Hank Jones makes his comp light and his pace fast. The first solo goes to Flip Phillips: his notes buzz, surging through tough angles. In the second chorus he sounds like Jacquet – this really gets ’em screaming. Tommy Turk wields a strong ‘bone, with continuous notes and a buttery tone; in later years this spot would be filled by Bill Harris. Charlie Parker is next: seamless, relentless … flawless. Fats Navarro’s turn is intricate and way too short – you can really hear from where Clifford Brown got his style. Sonny Criss sounds a lot like Parker, and may even be faster; just a teen at the time, he sounds like his potential was infinite. A lineup like this cannot disappoint … and it doesn’t.

Fats is the star of “Ice Freezes Red”, a theme he wrote on the chords of “Indiana”. The horns stay calm on this one, allowing Shelly Manne to work the brushes. Phillips has a mellow, Pres-inspired solo – soon he spirals upward, with a crop of ecstatic honks. Turk is dignified, Bird ferocious (quoting his own “Donna Lee”), Fats breathtaking and Criss straining but up to the challenge. Each solo sounds like an answer to Parker; such competition helped make JATP great. (And the crowd is into it – they’re really pulling for Sonny.)

“Lover Come Back” is sloppy at first, but coalesces when Flip purrs his solo like Webster. (On this one his flame-throwing licks are a distraction; I wish he stayed soft.) Tommy follows by tailgating, to great crowd reaction – his best solo of the evening. Bird slows it down and Fats is decent, but Criss is on fire; this one is better than Parker’s, as the crowd indicates. Impossibly fast, totally intricate, this solo will wow you – how this guy became overlooked I have no idea. Hank romps through a joyous solo, and then it ends … fifteen minutes long, and not a second wasted.

Following the intermission, Navarro and the rhythm section joined a set by the great Coleman Hawkins. “Riffitide”, credited to Hawkins, has the same theme as Monk’s “Hackensack”: Fats turns aggressive, as Coleman displays his velvety tone. He’s slightly ragged but always beautiful … and the crowd loves it. Navarro’s solo comes stuffed with blistering high notes; Hank follows gently, with the crowd urging him on.

After Jones has his say, “Sophisticated Lady” is the typical Coleman Hawkins Ballad … and you know what that means. His inventiveness in such settings is always arresting; Hank twinkles faintly in the background. This melts effortlessly into “The Things We Did Last Summer” (the same mood, starring Fats this time) and “Stuffy” is another jam, with Hawkins in a slow swagger and Navarro sly, along the way quoting “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star”. From beginning to end, this was truly a night to remember … so remember to buy this.