Jazz Record Center

The Jazz Couriers - Live in Morecambe 1959 Tippin - Gearbox



Side A: Tippin’ (Silver) For All We Know (Coots)

Side B: Embers (Hayes) Cherokee (Noble)/The Theme (Stitt)

TUBBY HAYES (tenor saxophone, vibraphone); RONNIE SCOTT (tenor saxophone); TERRY SHANNON (piano); JEFF CLYNE (bass); BILL EYDEN (drums)

All arrangements by Tubby Hayes

Recorded by Peter Bould at The Tivoli Restaurant, Morecambe, Lancashire, Wednesday March 25th 1959.

Album Liner Notes

Occasionally in jazz the in-person impact of a band far outweighs that of its recorded legacy. Short-lived groups like the original Gerry Mulligan and Ornette Coleman quartets are prime examples, as indeed are The Jazz Couriers, the formidable quintet co-led by Tubby Hayes and Ronnie Scott for two and half years at the close of the 1950s.

That the Couriers were the most popular British jazz unit of the day is indisputable. The co-leaders combination of youth and experience, instrumental virtuosity and personal charisma was a winning formula from the off and contrasted vividly with much of what was then being offered in parochial jazz circles. Five handsome young men, clad in the sharpest Cecil Gee suits, proffering music from the cutting edge and doing so with obvious natural ability and tangible relish, they were bound to make an impression and for some their message was messianic.

A brief thumbnail sketch of the Couriers history is useful; formed in spring 1957, the band based its music on the latest wave of jazz emerging from New York, Hard Bop, and principally on that of The Jazz Messengers, the dynasty started by drummer Art Blakey and pianist Horace Silver.

Consequently both the Couriers name and music echoed this and their repertoire was soon full of covers of recent themes by Silver, Hank Mobley, Benny Golson, Jimmy Heath, Tadd Dameron and others.

But the band had home-grown virtues too; although only 22 years of age, Tubby Hayes took on the lion’s share of the arranging and composing, taking the music far away from a mere two tenor fisticuffs. Hayes also added the vibraphone to the group’s range of aural textures, another precocious instrumental skill all the more notable for being taken up only a few months previously.

Unsurprisingly, the Couriers had many champions, from those in print, such as Benny Green, whose purple prose sung the bands praises in the local music press, to those who offered more practical endorsement. Producer Tony Hall got them into the studios to record three impressive albums, whilst National Jazz Federation impresario Harold Pendleton secured valuable tours for the group supporting visiting American bands including those of Dave Brubeck and Sarah Vaughan, the former famously garnering Brubeck’s endorsement that “they sound more like an American band than we do”. Fittingly the Couriers next recording was made for a US label, further indication of their international stature.

If all this makes the Jazz Couriers sound like an overnight international success, one only has to consult the contemporary media coverage of the day to discover that their progress was actually somewhat more tempered. Indeed, the band spent its first six months almost exclusively domiciled in London, alternating engagements at Jeff and Sam Kruger’s Flamingo (where they had debuted in April 1957) and Florida Clubs, thus rendering them a strictly local phenomenon. Even when they broke this curfew for the first time, in the autumn of 1957, there were atypical compromises, as could be expected from touring the UK with the now forgotten singer Yana on a package sponsored by the Daily Express!

The 1958 tours with Brubeck and Vaughan did much to correct this oversight, and examining the bands diary for its final year, their appearances include such exotic outposts as clubs in Chadwell Heath and Coventry. There was also work further afield, such as on the night of March 25th 1959 when the Jazz Couriers visited Morecambe in Lancashire.

To put the gig into context, the trip north could not have been more ironically timed. At the beginning of March, rankled by a misleading contract with Jeff Kruger, Hayes had publically expressed his dissatisfaction with the organisation of the bands engagements, haranguing the Flamingo audience on-stage and earning himself not only Melody Maker headlines but also a total ban from the club.

Therefore Chorley record shop proprietor Peter Bould had actually realised something of a coup in bringing the band up from London for a single night at the unpromising sounding Tivoli Restaurant. For the five Couriers, the engagement ostensibly promised to be a routine out-of-town gig. Everyone piled into Ronnie’s car in Soho and, save for a bit of excitement when they may have used the Preston By-pass, the UK’s first stretch of motorway, they emerged in Morecambe, saddle-sore and hungry several long hours later.

However, what made this night differ from many such gigs was that Bould, a skilled and enthusiastic but at the time strictly amateur recording buff (eventually he was to record albums by Gil Evans, Art Pepper, Stan Tracey and others) had decided to document the music on tape.

Fortunately Bould recorded the entire evening, in remarkable clarity for the time, thus capturing the band in unexpurgated circumstances and the results are noteworthy for several reasons. Indeed, they are rare examples of the Couriers playing a typical club set, with each soloist stretching out to deliver potent confirmation of his creative stamina. Furthermore, they capture the band at the very peak of its inspirational lifespan; the two co-leaders perfectly matched and yet individual and with the recent recruitment of Jeff Clyne (arguably the most technically agile young bassist of the day) in place of Phil Bates, the rhythm section was never stronger.

The evening of March 25th was a success in every way. Bould later recalled that a capacity crowd had jammed into the Tivoli and that those unlucky enough to not get in were pressed tight against the windows in the street outside, but until now that was as far as the legend of the night went. Bould’s tapes were infrequently dusted down and played to close friends, until the late 1990’s when he decided belatedly that they should be released. Sadly, Bould’s death curtailed the project and after an interminable period of negotiation it was with the kind co-operation of his widow Susan and noted jazz writer Derek Ansell that Gearbox Records were able to secure their release.

This issue cherry-picks from the two sets recorded that night, with material chosen on the principle that it was not previously included on any of the Couriers commercial releases. Thus we hear four genuine rarities.

Tippin’ was an especially recherché choice for the band. Horace Silver’s original recording from 1958 was only released on a rare Blue Note single and presumably was transcribed by Hayes, whose opening solo is nothing less than astonishing. Listen especially for his harmonic superimpositions, which at times hint at John Coltrane’s subsequent chordal breakthroughs on Giant Steps, whilst Scott’s improvisation is a forthright and funky as they come, delivered with that rich signature saxophone tone.

What is also remarkable is the idiomatic faithfulness of the rhythm team. Both Terry Shannon’s soloing and accompaniment are cut from the same cloth as men like Silver, Sonny Clark and Tommy Flanagan and Bill Eyden’s Blakey-esque bustling commentary behind the frontline is yet another reminder that for all the critical notoriety of Phil Seamen, there were other equally deserving British drum talents at the time.

For All We Know presents a more measured mode of expression, as well as the musical conundrum inherent in turning English musicians who’d served their apprenticeships in dance bands into authentic modern jazzmen. Hayes’s score, in the tradition of other Couriers triumphs like A Foggy Day and Yesterdays, is elegant and danceable, but contains equal moments of over-fussiness in the saxophone writing. Fortunately, the front-line solos redeem any echoes of the Palais, with both men’s burnished sounds beautifully captured.

Embers is a Hayes composition familiar from his first post-Couriers album (Tubby’s Groove, Tempo TAP 29), yet its genesis had begun much earlier and it is possible that the Couriers may have recorded aborted versions of the theme on one of their studio sessions. The graceful, almost Golson-like melody, atop an unusually extended structure, offers ample evidence of the more restrained side of Ronnie Scott, who touches upon his earlier Getz influence more readily here than on the faster items in the bands book. Offering a musical palate cleansing after all the heavyweight saxophone of the previous items, Hayes vibraphone solo starts out with a quote from Everything Happens To Me and demonstrates a sense of phrasing heavily (and understandably) indebted to Milt Jackson.

The closing Cherokee, a theme which Scott had already recorded (for Esquire in 1954) and Hayes would tape two years hence (Tubbs, Fontana TL 5142), is treated as an archetypal club set closer, although there were (and remain) few British jazz outfits who could match both the absurdly accelerated tempo or the sustained invention displayed here, with each man feeding off the other to incendiary effect.

In amongst the fireworks, what remains perhaps most impressive is Hayes’ relaxation; no chord change is unexplored despite the speed at which they pass, and his playing through the potentially tricky middle sixteen bars reveals a methodical skill underpinning the overtly exciting delivery. On the other hand, Scott’s solo utilises a characteristically canny blend of brinkmanship and sly know-how to make its mark. There is also as brief blast of the bands appropriately hard-hitting theme before it’s all over.

This writer has written many column inches devoted to Tubby Hayes in the last few years, often paeans of praise to rediscovered or unearthed musical gems, but the four recordings included here are without doubt some of the finest examples of Hayes art to have yet been discovered, all the more remarkable for the circumstances in which they were recorded. They also serve as a fine tribute to The Jazz Couriers as a unit. The bands legend has never been merely apocryphal, but within these grooves is music that makes it more tangible than ever. - Simon Spillett

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