Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Claude Williamson - "Claude Reigns"

© James A. Harrod, Copyright Protected; All Rights Reserved

My introduction to the artistry of Claude Williamson occurred when I was in high school in the 1950s. Listening to jazz records with friends was a regular part of my introduction to jazz. We would frequently gather at Bill Emery’s home and he would play a selection from his collection to see if we could identify the tune and the artist performing it. Bill stumped myself and my friend, Jon, when he played Claude Williamson performing “Claude Reigns” with Charle Barnet and His Orchestra.

Bill was especially fond of the Manny Albam composition featuring Williamson as he had heard Williamson and the Barnet orchestra perform the tune when they appeared at the Lodore Resort in Story, Wyoming during a tour in 1949. Thus began my lifelong passion for Claude Williamson as leader and sideman on dozens of recordings that became the core of my jazz library.

Claude’s passing this past July prompted me to review his recordings in my jazz library as leader. My collection includes nearly all of his recordings from the first sessions for Capitol in the 1950s to his last session for the Japanese Interplay label in 1996. I was amazed by Claude’s selection of tunes for his releases. There always seemed to be new tunes that he hadn’t recorded previously with only a few favorites added to the mix occasionally. I decided to set up a database and do a full analysis of all of the tunes that Claude recorded during his career as leader from 1954 to 1996.

The Tom Lord Jazz Discography enumerates thirty-six recording sessions that resulted in thirty-one albums featuring Claude Williamson as leader. The total number of tunes appearing on those releases from those sessions total 287. Only three tunes appeared four times on those recordings: Oscar Hammerstein II and Jerome Kern’s “All the Things You Are,” Ira and George Gershwin’s “Embraceable You,” and Ned Washington and Victor Young’s “Stella by Starlight.”

Six tunes appear three times: Bud Powell’s “Bud’s Blues” and “Hallucinations,” Lorenz Hart and Richard Rodger’s “My Romance,” Johnny Burke and James Van Heusen’s “Polka Dots and Moonbeams,” Oscar Hammerstein II and Jerome Kern’s “The Last Time I Saw Paris,” and Otto Harbach and Jerome Kern’s “Yesterdays.” Twenty-seven tunes appeared twice on those thirty-one albums with bebop favorites by Bud Powell heading the list. When you subtract these repeated tunes from the total recorded it leaves 203 tunes that Claude recorded only once for his albums. A possible exception might be "Curtistan," a variation on "Bean and the Boys" that Claude also recorded. A future post might include an analysis of the tunes by composer and lyricist.

The one album that is not in my collection is the Italian release on the Broadway label, Claude Williamson in Italy, (vinyl only) that Claude recorded during Joe Napoli’s Jazz West Coast No. 3 tour in 1958. Claude’s trio with Don Prell on bass and Jimmy Pratt on drums accompanied Bud Shank and Bob Cooper on an itinerary that took them from the tip of South Africa to northern Europe and Scandinavia.

Bud Shank recorded an album during their stay in Johannesburg with the Claude Williamson Trio. It was scheduled to be released as part of Dick Bock’s regular Pacific Jazz line, but only appeared as PJX 5000, distributed by P.A.R.S.C., Ltd. of Johannesburg. The liner notes by Wilf Lowe describe the live concert with Bob Cooper joining Bud Shank and Claude’s trio at Johannesburg’s City Hall.

History was made in South Africa on the night of April 17, 1958, when the first notes of the "Jazz West Coast No. 3" show were blown into the packed auditorium of Johannesburg's City Hall by Bud Shank and Bob Cooper. For the very first time an all-American Jazz Show was playing in South Africa. With the Claude Williamson Trio as the rhythm section, Joe Napoli's "Jazz West Coast No. 3", certainly "slayed them in the aisles".

The credit for this great occasion must go to the "Rag Committee" of Natal University, especially to Peter Columbine and David Gordon. These intrepid young men succeeded where professional promoters had failed, by bringing to the Union such a galaxy of American Jazz Stars. The University of Natal is formed by two colleges, one in the beautiful coastal city of Durban "The Miami of Africa" the other in Pietermaritzburg, the inland capital of Natal.

As with other South African Universities, custom has it that the Students hold an extended annual drive to raise funds for charity, in what is known as a "Rag Week". There is no doubt that the signing of Shank and Company was, by far and away, the biggest scoop ever pulled off in the history of University "Rags." I am most happy that I was able to associate myself with the University in this novel venture.

This album includes two numbers from the South African concert repertoire; “I’ll Remember April” and “My Funny Valentine.” The only other standard recorded here is Duke Ellington's sensitive ballad, “Squeeze Me.” All other numbers are Bud Shank originals, with Bud finally staking a firm claim as a serious jazz composer.


The penny whistle resembles a length of curtain rod flattened at one end, to provide the mouth-piece, and bored with six tone holes of varying sizes. It is played with the mouth-piece in the cheek and the tone holes facing sideways. It is to the African what the guitar is to the Spanish peasant.

Bud had hardly set foot on the continent of Africa, when a group of admiring African artists presented him with an inscribed silver penny whistle. Like many other musicians before him. Bud was immediately intrigued by this primitive instrument. His leisure hours were spent in mastering the unorthodox fingering necessary for the production of "notes that aren't there"remember that the penny whistle only has six holes!

Bud decided to use a complete range of indigenous African instruments to provide the introduction and coda for "A tribute to the African Penny Whistle". Claude Williamson handled the chopi piano, an ingenious home-made version of the vibraphone, comprising slats of wood suspended above calabash of varying sizes. The piano is struck with mallets, the heads of which are cut from old motor tyres. Jimmy Pratt discarded his drums for a beautiful carved drum, as used by the Avando tribe in South West Africa. With his bass temporarily forgotten, Don Prell manipulated the Nigerian bamboo harp. Measuring 9" x 4", this instrument resembles a miniature raft of bamboo. Fine strands of cane are stretched lengthwise across a shallow bridge and tuned in quarter tones. The sharp biting sounds that help to keep the beat in this number are produced by this interesting instrument. Bud's composition runs into a wailing succession of choruses that last for exactly 8 minutes 6 seconds.

Never before was such music produced on the simple penny whistle. Normally used for producing the popular African Kwela rhythms, Bud has given it that extra something to make this track surely one of the most novel ever to be included in a jazz album of this nature.

One of the most popular items during the Jazz West Coast No. 3 South African tour, this number features Bud on the flute. His exciting conceptions, fluid improvisations and interesting exchanges with the rhythm section make the rendering of this Raye-De Paul-Johnson standard deeply moving.

Bud has dedicated this number to the University of Natal. Playing alto, he romps through yet another jazz "rag"Rag in this case having a real double meaning.

Bud Shank handles this Ellington composition most sensitively. Back on flute again he sets a bouncing earthy tempo launching into brilliant improvisation, inspiring Claude and bringing out the rich pulsating beat of Don's bass.

It was only a matter of time before Bud got around to recording this beautiful Rodgers and Hart ballad. His breath-taking flute performance which was so enthusiastically received during his South African tour loses nothing in its transference to disc.

An original ballad composed by Bud some four years ago. On alto this time, Bud reveals his affection for this delightful melody. Misty Eyes may well rank in time with other great jazz ballads like Monk's "Around Midnight" and Hampton's "Midnight Sun".

The current experimentation with jazz in three-four time makes this track one of the most interesting inclusions in this album. Bud and the boys have been playing it 'for kicks' for more than two years without recording it. The complete rapport between Bud and the Trio is well evident in this number and I am certain that Shanks "jazz waltz" will attract a great deal of attention in the future.

It has been a pleasure indeed for me to write these few lines for an album which will undoubtedly be a treasured souvenir to thousands of South Africans and will undoubtedly bring enjoyment to jazz fans throughout the world.

Wilf Lowe

A recording on the Rave (South Africa) label featuring the Claude Williamson Trio raises the possibility that the April 17, 1958, concert was recorded but never released. The recording on Rave REP. 4 features the trio performing “Tenderly” by Walter Gross. 

The audience applause and other crowd noise indicate that the source of the recording was the April 17th concert with Bud Shank and Bob Cooper taking a break to allow Claude’s trio to be showcased on some numbers. Claude did not include this tune on any of his other thirty-one albums as leader, and the release is not currently part of the Tom Lord Jazz Discography database. Claude’s trio also recorded with a South African artist, Spokes Mashiyane, who rose to prominence as the master of the penny whistle and a style of music known as Kwela. 

I first became aware of Claude performing with Spokes Mashiyane when Bill Emery told me about a rare South African 78 that he recently acquired, Rave R. 28, with the Claude Williamson Trio backing Spokes Mashiyane on “Kwela Claude” and “Sheshisa.” 

Shortly after Bill sent me color copies of the 78 labels I was in one of my favorite vinyl haunts, Atomic Records in Burbank, California. I normally did not browse the World record bins at Atomic, but making my way between aisles I noticed an LP in the front of the Africa bin entitled King Kwela. Upon closer inspection I saw that the two tunes on Bill’s 78 were included on the LP releases and bought the album for around $5.00.

I mentioned my acquisition to Ken Poston during a visit to the Los Angeles Jazz Institute whereupon Ken produced the Rave EP with the trio performing “Tenderly” on one side of the EP with Spokes Mashiyane pieces with Claude on the reverse side. 

“Tenderly” became a jazz standard, and Ted Gioia’s entry for the tune in The Jazz Standards, Oxford University Press, 2012, provides a history of the composition and its journey to becoming a tune embraced by jazz musicians.

During a chance encounter at a publisher's office in 1946, Margaret Whiting told Jack Lawrence about a fantastic melody she had heard that was begging for suitable words. She brought Lawrence to the nearby offices of the Musicraft label, where pianist and record executive Walter Gross sat at the keyboard and played the piece, a winsome waltz with wide, yearning intervals. The song was hardly hit material—then as now, few waltzes showed up on the Billboard charts—and must have seemed more like a parlor piano piece than a jukebox number. But Lawrence asked for a lead sheet, and found that the song's melody stayed in his head over the following days.

He came back a few days later with the words to the song, which he had now christened "Tenderly." But the composer was unimpressed. Alec Wilder would later gripe that the melody is a poor fit with the title word, since it forces the singer to put an unnatural stress on the last syllable of the word: ten-der-leee. Gross, for his part, had a different complaint: he thought the name was better suited to serve as directions to the performer—play this song tenderly—than a formal title. He dismissed Lawrence with some curt words, and that seemed to put an end to the matter.

Yet Lawrence continued to perform the song for publishers, and eventually managed to convince Gross to accept an offer with E. H. Morris Music. A short while later, Sarah Vaughan's vocal recording and an instrumental version by Randy Brooks introduced audiences to the unconventional pop song, and over the next several years, a number of popular jazz musicians—Woody Herman, Harry James, Erroll Garner—embraced "Tenderly." In 1952 Rosemary Clooney enjoyed a surprising crossover success with the song, achieving a million seller with her version of the waltz. The following year, "Tenderly" showed up in the MGM film Torch Song—where it was ostensibly sung by the unlikely torch singer Joan Crawford (although vocals were actually provided behind the scenes by India Adams).

The song has been adopted as a virtuoso piano showpiece, recorded multiple times by Art Tatum, Oscar Peterson, Phineas Newborn Jr., Paul Smith, and other similarly extroverted keyboardists. The song also works for jazz singers, Wilder's reservation notwithstanding, as demonstrated by Nat King Cole, or on the popular 1956 pairing of Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong (with Ella's clever parody of Satchmo at the end). Finally "Tenderly" has enjoyed underground success as a platform for more avant-garde players—hear, for example, Eric Dolphy's solo sax version from 1960, or the titanic 1994 performance by David S. Ware (joined by Matthew Shipp), whose fractious sparring comes across as a deliberate renunciation of the title.

And "Tenderly" doesn't need to stay in waltz time. A number of artists— including Dexter Gordon, Bud Powell, Gary Burton, and Mongo Santamaria— have shown that this composition also works in a range of 4/4 beats, and my friend Jeff Sultanof tells me he has a killing chart of "Tenderly" in 7/4 on his shelf, waiting for the right orchestra to come along and play it.

Copyright © 2012 by Ted Gioia.

Claude Williamson knew “Tenderly” and had recorded it with Bud Shank and Tal Farlow. It was most likely in the book for the 1958 tour, a tune that audiences could connect with due to its popularity.

Walter Gross regularly performed in Los Angeles in the early fifties with a trio. The ad below for the Crescendo is from May of 1952.

The last time I saw Claude was at a Los Angeles Jazz Institute festival entitled “Jivin’ In Bebop.” Claude was featured in a performance of Manny Albam’s “Claude Reigns” - a tribute to Charlie Barnet’s 1949 band. The cream of Los Angeles jazz musicians were assembled for the concert that was directed by John Altman who performed the signature Barnet pieces during the concert. This was Claude’s last public performance and he received a standing ovation from the audience who enjoyed this historic recreation of the Barnet band. I would like to thank Gordon Sapsed for allowing me to share his photos of the concert. Gordon has documented most of the LAJI festivals with his discerning eye as evidenced by these photos of Claude Williamson, John Altman, and John’s set list for the concert. Special thanks to Cynthia Sesso for allowing use of photos from the Ray Avery Archive, and Ken Poston for sharing the Rave EP from the LAJI archive.

RIP Claude.

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