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Buddy Defranco and Kenny Drew

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Clarinetist Buddy DeFranco and pianist George Shearing toyed with a quintet format in the late 1940s. But before they could record together, the two went their separate ways in 1949. Buddy signed with Capitol and Shearing with MGM, bringing in vibraphonist Margie Hyams to assume Buddy's sound. But by 1951, Buddy decided to join MGM as well, recording first with his big band and then a series of bebop quartets. The group's first pianist was Kenny Drew.

Buddy and Drew [above] would tour and record together until 1953. This period was one of experimentation for Buddy, who cut his teeth in the swing era (that's his clarinet solo on Tommy Dorsey's Opus No. 1). Buddy's first recordings with Drew came in February and March 1952. The group included Jimmy Raney (g), Teddy Kotick (b) and Art Taylor (d). One of the most interesting sides recorded was a Drew original—Cairo:

Cairo

After appearing that month with Charlie Parker in a Jerry Jerome Jazz Concert at the Loew's Valencia Theatre in Jamaica, New York, Buddy recorded in San Francisco in July 1952 with Drew, Curly Russell and Art Blakey. Among the sides was The Way You Look Tonight...

The Way You Look Tonight

Back in New York in April 1953, Curly was out, replaced by bassist Milt Hinton. Here's Buddy's Show Eyes...

Show Eyes

Buddy and his quartet recorded live at the Blue Note in Chicago in late April and May 1953, with Kenny Drew (p) Eugene Wright (b) and Art Blakey. They were introduced by Oscar Peterson. Here's Street of Dreams...

Street of Dreams

In June '53, Buddy and Drew were in Los Angeles recording for Gene Norman Presents with the Herman McCoy Swing Choir. Each song had the word “star" in the its title, and the results were rather nifty. Interestingly, this bop-and-voices session came one month after Parker recorded with the Dave Lambert Singers in New York for Norman Granz. Here's Star Eyes...

Star Eyes

Also dig Stella By Starlight, with wonderful piano work by Drew...

Stella By Starlight

And that was it. Drew left the group in 1953 to lead his own groups in New York and Los Angeles. But before Drew departed, he arranged for a new pianist to take over—Sonny Clark.

When I interviewed Buddy in 2010, I asked him about his bebop journey of the early 1950s...

JazzWax: Your bebop quartet started in 1952 and featured pianist Kenny Drew, bassist Curly Russell and drummer Art Blakey [above]. Buddy De Franco: Yes. Milt Hinton replaced Curly. That was an exciting group. Then in early 1954, Art wanted to form his own group—the Jazz Messengers. That group became so successful that people would come up to me in later years and say that they remembered when I was in Art’s group [laughs]. In 1954, Kenny Drew gave notice and told me he had his replacement lined up. He said once we got to San Francisco, he’d have the pianist sit in so I could hear him. When we arrived at the Blackhawk [in San Francisco], Kenny brought Sonny Clark in. I loved him right away. He was interesting and intelligent, and played with a happy, skippy feel. When I heard Sonny, I knew instantly we were musically compatible in terms of what we were trying to do with modern jazz. Drummer Bobby White and bassist Gene Wright joined around this time, too."

What's interesting about Buddy's evolution with Drew is how he matures as a bop player. His bop forays begin somewhat awkwardly—a swing player takes a crack at bop. But Buddy is a fast study and soon settles into a smart, cohesive groove. By the time Clark [above] joined the quartet, Buddy had perfected his approach, and the Clark sessions remain a milestone in modern jazz.

JazzWax tracks: Six of the eight sides from Buddy DeFranco's February and March 1952 sessions with Kenny Drew can be found on Hep's 1949-'52 Studio Performances (tracks 21-26) here or the French Classics series.

The June and July 1952 sessions are on Buddy DeFranco here (caution: the mp3 download isn't the same album) and here.

The April 1953 studio sessions are on Mr. Clarinet here and here.

The live 1953 recording from Chicago's Blue Note are hidden on The Oscar Peterson Trio 'Live' 1953-56 here. The Buddy DeFranco Quartet tracks are: Somebody Loves Me, The Things We Did Last Summer, Cairo, Street of Dreams and Easy Living.

The June 1953 session with the Herman McCoy Swing Choir is on a rare LP called Gene Norman Presents Mulligan with Baker+Buddy DeFranco Quartet.

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This story appears courtesy of JazzWax by Marc Myers.
Copyright © 2021. All rights reserved.

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