Like many musicians who weren't pure jazz players but had to earn a living in the 1950s, guitarist Bill Jennings spent much of his all-too brief career in R&B bands. When he did drift into jazz, it was often with groove crossover artists like organist Brother" Jack McDuff and tenor saxophonist Willis Gator" Jackson.
Guitarists like Jennings were solid riff-'n'-pickin' players who could keep swinging time and solo with pronounced lines. Many R&B guitarists like Tiny Grimes, Carl Hogan and Floyd Smith saw minimal jazz recording work in the LP era due to the wealth of studio players like Barry Galbraith, Mundell Lowe, Kenny Burrell and Chuck Wayne and heavy-lifter headliners like Wes Montgomery and Grant Green.
Many of Jennings' '50s recordings were made for Cincinnati's King label, often accompanying high-profile R&B players like Leo Parker, Wild Bill Davis, Bill Doggett and Louis Jordan and his Tympany Five. Unlike Grimes, a straight-up blues player, Jennings had more hip soul and wry wit in his inventive lines.
A left-handed picker who also could play while holding the guitar upside down, Jennings was an R&B showman with an earthy sound and urgent attack. Late in his career, he lost a finger on his fretting hand and had to switch to the bass. His last known recording was in 1968.
In August 1959, Jennings recorded Enough Said for Prestige with Brother Jack McDuff (org) Wendell Marshall (b) and Alvin Johnson (d). Jennings made several albums with McDuff, including Glide On (1960) and Brother Jack (1960), as well as others with McDuff and vocalist Betty Roche and with Willis Jackson.
Enough Said stands out for Jennings' improvisation on an assortment of bluesthe loping title track, the up-tempo Tough Gain, the slow-as-syrup Brillin' And Bluin' and the slithery Blue Jam. There's also a savvy theme-like tune called Dig Uncle Will. On many tracks, particularly the last one, Jennings' notes sound like rifle shots zinging on canyon walls in '50s Westerns.
Interestingly, the only balladIt Could Happen to Youis handled by McDuff [pictured above] with Jennings out. And on Dark Eyes, Jennings gets to show off his virtuosity at slow and fast tempos, proving he was much more than an R&B section player.
Jennings [pictured] was a favorite of B.B. King's, and on Enough Said you can hear why. Like many Prestige albums of the period that documented R&B crossovers to jazz, Jennings had a chance to show his jazz-blues roots, with Jack McDuff serving as the perfect provocateur.
JazzWax tracks: Much of Bill Jennings' Enough Said has been issued on Legends of Acid Jazz: Glide On, which unites Enough Said with Glide On. The only problem is the tracks aren't in album sequence. Go here.
MP3: Dig Uncle Will
This story appears courtesy of JazzWax by Marc Myers.
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