In the liner notes to the album “Blues’ Moods,” where you’ll find today’s song, trumpeter Blue Mitchell is referred to as the “middleweight champion of the trumpet.” This was actually stolen from a line someone used about the tenor saxophonist Hank Mobley, but I think it suits both men well. The gist of the comment is that while neither of these players were necessarily innovative or boundary-pushing, they could each play the heck out of their respective instruments!
Blue is one of my favorite trumpet players of all time. The ease with which the seemingly endless lines of eighth notes come streaming out of his horn is really something to behold. He had incredible command over the instrument and was an extremely sophisticated yet funky player, and this made him in high demand for people like Horace Silver, John Mayall, Louie Bellson, Tony Bennett, the aforementioned Mobley and many more.
Horace Silver’s band was his big break. He joined in 1958 and along with tenor man Junior Cook created one of Silver’s best frontlines. These guys could blow, get funky, play at breakneck speeds — everything Silver could ask of them.
Mitchell left Silver in 1964 and went on to release a string of great records on the Riverside label, among them “Blues’ Moods.” A stellar record from start to finish, it’s the first song, “I’ll Close My Eyes,” that made me fall in love with Blue, along with Wynton Kelly, who’s piano-playing I first heard on this record. Check out the amazing flow of ideas from both men in their solos, and the incredible swingin’ groove:
I can’t help but smile every time I heard this song, regardless of my mood at the beginning. It’s “happy jazz” in the best sense of the phrase.
Here’s an example of Blue and Junior tearing it up with the Horace Silver Quintet from 1961 recorded live at the now-defunct Village Gate in New York from the album “Doin’ the Thing.” This one is called “Filthy McNasty.”
Blue also had an amazing way with a ballad. For evidence of that, we return to “Blues’ Moods” for this take on “When I Fall In Love:”
If you don’t already own this album, do yourself a favor and pick it up!
Jason Parker is a Seattle-based jazz trumpet player, educator and writer. His band, The Jason Parker Quartet, was hailed by Earshot Jazz as “the next generation of Seattle jazz.” Find out more about Jason and his music at jasonparkermusic.com.