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Phil's Jazz Pleasures 10

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60 years of Impulse Records


Impulse, celebrating its 60 year anniversary this year, is often regarded as a ground-breaking record label laying down much new and thoughtful jazz; but the label also actually recorded many already very well established stars such as Lionel Hampton, Benny Carter, Coleman Hawkins, Benny Goodman, Ben Webster and Earl Hines. Not to mention, of course, John Coltrane who joined Impulse at the very beginning in 1961.

My first choice is one of these already established stars Charlie Mingus with Theme for Lester Young – also known as Goodbye Pork Pie Hat. Lester always wore one!
So influential did Coltrane become for Impulse that the label is often referred to as “the House that Coltrane built”. Certainly Coltrane evoked the “zeitgeist” of what the founder of the label – Creed Taylor – wanted to achieve. A label that pushed at the boundaries of jazz and evoked a more modern and pioneering spirit; indeed, the initial marketing of the label with its distinctive orange and black label used the tag line “the new wave of jazz.” John Coltrane certainly became very much the guiding light of Impulse as the music focussed on many of the concerns of the 1960s – spirituality, anti-materialism, dissent and alternative life-styles. My second choice is Coltrane playing with Duke Ellington In a Sentimental Mood – a true delight.
In fact, what Taylor was attempting to do most shrewdly was bring many new listeners to jazz. To capture the dollar of the increasingly new affluent white youth with their growing interest in soul, Blues and protest music. This is reflected one of the labels’ first releases – Ray Charles’ Genius + Soul = Jazz. Taylor put the young arranger, Quincy Jones, into the studio with Charles - and a track from this album is this is my third choice.
Billboard announced that Impulse in 1961 was “dedicated to presenting The Greats in a showcase of sonic perfection.” Certainly new levels of recording excellence were achieved by the label. This is reflected in another of Impact’s early releases - The Blues and the Abstract Truth by the sax player Oliver Nelson. My fourth choice is from that wonderful album and it is worth noting the band is made up of Bill Evans, Eric Dolphy and Freddie Hubbard – a truly stellar line-up. This album was massively well received by the critics – Impact had arrived as a label. Stolen Moments is truly memorable and wonderful track from it.
My next 3 tracks reflect the spirituality mentioned earlier. First, Pharaoh Sanders’ Thembi from the album of the same name, followed by Sun Ra’s Street of Dreams and finishing with the delightful harp of Alice Coltrane on her own extraordinarily beautiful composition Journey to Satchidananda -  again accompanied by Sanders on sax; another complete joy of a track.
My 8th track is the majestic Art Blakey & the Jazz Messenger’s Invitation with Wayne Shorter on tenor and Lee Morgan on trumpet – this is another piece of enchantment to be enjoyed again and again. My 9th selection is the phenomenal organ player Shirley Scott playing “live” with that great tenor exponent Stanley Turrentine on a track entitled Rapid Shave. I love this track – just my kind of jazz.
My final choice is a modern British band, Sons of Kemet, who have recorded on Impulse. The track I have chosen is My Queen is Doreen Lawrence celebrating Stephen Lawrence’s extraordinary mother and her continuing commitment to trying to get justice for her son. So Impulse still going strong after 60 years and still breaking new ground- all good.
There is such a wealth of great music in the Impulse back catalogue, I have simply scraped the surface and I urge you all to delve deeper into it. To help maybe with that, I will doing a 2 hour radio programme with Alan Bramwell, founder of Giants of Jazz radio, for Ribble FM on Thursday 21st October telling the story of Impulse and celebrating its music.  The show will also be played out on Giants of Jazz radio. I hope you are able to join us.
This Month’s Playlist
  1. Charlie Mingus - Theme for Lester Young on Mingus, Mingus, Mingus, Mingus, Mingus
  2. John Coltrane & Duke Ellington - In Sentimental Mood on Duke Ellington & John Coltrane
  3. Ray Charles - I’m Going to Move to the Outskirts of Town on Genius+Soul = Jazz
  4. Oliver Nelson - Stolen Moments on The Blues & the Abstract Truth 
  5. Pharoah Sanders - Thembi on Thembi
  6. Sun Ra - Street of Dreams on Bad and Beautiful
  7. Alice Coltrane - Journey to Satchidananda on Journey to Satchidananda
  8. Art Blakey & the Jazz Messengers - Invitation on Art Blakey & the Jazz Messengers
  9. Shirley Scott & Stanley Turrentine - Rapid Shave on Priceless Jazz 29
  10. Sons of Kemet - My Queen is Doreen Lawrence on Your Queen is a Reptile
Phil Lee