Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Curtis Fuller

            Even at a jazz Mecca like Marciac, trombone players are seriously under represented at the CD tables. Even so, I found a Curtis Fuller album that wasn't in my collection (Blues-ette) and as I listened to it thought, "Damn, I've got to put Curtis on more often." I probably have more of his recordings than anyone except J.J., even Urbie Green, but I hadn't had them out in a while.
            Curtis Fuller is another one of the people I've been trying to hear in person for years. He must have played in New York during the time I worked there but I can't remember ever seeing an ad for him. Back then, Steve TurrĂ© was about the only guy you could hear with any degree of regularity, at least as far as I knew. If you wanted to hear trombones, you had to catch them playing with somebody else, as usual.
          At USF I took a class in small group jazz and one of the tunes we did was an arrangement of "Time Off", something Curtis Fuller wrote while he was with Art Blakey and is on the album, "Ugetsu". I must of listened to Curtis' solo a hundred times but never got tired of it. It's still one of my favorite tunes and I don't know why you never hear it. Trying to learn it and play a solo that just made the changes had me wondering why I thought I could ever actually play this thing.
            When I picked up my trombone again after so many years, all I wanted was just to play and be in the company of musicians again. But my years of neglect were hard to overcome and my practice sessions then and now are like one of those scenes with the good and bad angels. Only with me it's Eeyore, "No hope of things getting better" or Yosemite Sam, "I ain't a givin' up without a struggle". When we moved to France, I knew I'd have time on my hands and did my best to get into "Sam" mode to work on my jazz chops.
             Before we left the States, I stocked up on a lot of musical things that could have been hard to find or a lot more expensive over here. One of these was an arrangement of "Time Off" in the hope of being able to perform it again sometime. Another was a copy of Armin Marmolejo's inexplicably out of print book of Curtis Fuller solo transcriptions that I had found at an online used bookstore. Every trombonist knows there's a serious shortage of transcriptions for us so I couldn't believe my luck in finding this one. After Marciac, I pulled it and my J.J. books out and have been working on a few transcriptions.
            A couple of things strike me about Curtis Fuller and these transcriptions. First, all of them come from albums recorded early in his career. In fact, his first album as a leader, "New Trombone", from which this cut, "Transportation Blues" is taken, was recorded in 1957 when he was only 23. And according to Ira Gitler's liner notes, Curtis took up his first instrument, the baritone horn, his senior year in high school and didn't start trombone until after he graduated. So when this recording was made he had been playing trombone all of six years and had already recorded with John Coltrane on "Blue Train".
            The other thing is that, through the 10 solos in this book, Curtis' highest note in one high D flat and rarely does he go below a D on the staff. Everything is right in the meat of the horn and nothing is wasted. Not something you'd expect from a kid with 6 years under his belt.  Now, if I can just get some of this into my own horn - but it probably ain't goin' without a struggle.

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