Friday, March 3, 2017

Bill Jennings - Architect of Soul Jazz

Once a pejorative in jazz purists circles, the term “soul jazz” describes a populist strain of music that germinated and evolved in the 1950s. Indianapolis-based guitarist Bill Jennings was one of its progenitors, parsing elements of R&B, swing and bop into a potent personalized combination. Pundits dismissed the work of Jennings and his peers as simplistic and commercial. He found an audience instead with the kind of party-minded club and bar clientele initially encountered during his formative experiences as a member of Louis Jordan’s Tympany Five in the Forties.
Architect of Soul Jazz gathers the guitarist’s first recordings as a leader made for the Gotham and King labels out of Philly and Cincinnati, many of them now highly prized collector’s items on vinyl. In the six sessions contained in the set, he covers soul jazz’s multiple stylistic bases with persistent creativity and poise.
Much of the music sounds like the jukebox-geared sides saxophonist Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis was recording around the same time and the results are often just as exciting. Jennings’ general toolbox echoes contemporaneous R&B stylists like Pee Wee Crayton and Tiny Grimes but with a strong Charlie Parker influence audible as well. Compositions are mostly quartets and quintets, and Jennings’ strings claim the majority of solos. The exceptions are three-fold. First, a session with baritone saxophonist Leo Parker shows off the guitarist’s bop bona fides most bracingly through slashing unisons and exchanges on eleven tracks. Parker blows alternately raw and raucous and lush and amorous on the strapping horn, and the rhythm section keeps pace, but only rarely intercedes. The format of lead instruments remains rare both for the time and since.
Second and arguably even more intriguing, a duo date on the second disc teams Jennings with his brother Al on vibraphone. Again, it’s anomalous instrumentation for the era (and even today) and an excellent opportunity to hear the guitarist operating in a comparatively unadorned setting. Standards like “Nature Boy,” “Ja-Da” and “Mood Indigo” aren’t rocket science, but the Jennings brothers put original timbral spins on each tune through canny and fine-spun interplay. Several other group tracks feature vocals, “You Came a Long Way from St. Louis” with Jennings taking the mic and on a pair of other numbers vocalist Nita Lore. Some of the other personnel details for the collected sides have been lost to time, but all of Jennings sidemen — anonymous or not — acquit themselves well. The tunes, though mainly riff numbers that rarely stray beyond the three-minute range, repeatedly get the job done within those constraints.
The set concludes with four sides featuring Jennings in the employ of saxophonist Willis Jackson, the start of a partnership that would usher in the next phase of the guitarist’s career. The guitarist would go on to gig as a sideman with organist Jack McDuff, but largely retired from activity once funk elements started to infiltrate the soul jazz sound at the close of the 1960s. He passed away in obscurity in 1978, a victim of stomach cancer and a life-long struggle with heroin addiction.
Far from a desirable dénouement that and one that led to him hardly being known even within soul jazz (now acid jazz) fandom today. These exceptional collected sides show just what the fuss over Jennings was all about.
Derek Taylor

Source :

Bill Jennings
Architect of Soul Jazz
(The Complete Early Recordings 1951-1957)


Cd. 1

1 Alexandria, Virginia (Clanton, Jennings)  2:55
2 You Came a Long Way from St. Louis (Russell, Brooks)  2:48
3 Stompin with Bill (Jennings)  2:44
4 The Lonesome Traveller (Hays)  3:05
5 Piccadilly Circus (Jennings, Parker)  1:59
6 There Will Never Be Another You (Gordon, Warren)  2:51
7 What Will I Do ? (Berlin)  3:46
8 Billy in the Lions Den (Jennings)  2:52
9 Fine and Dandy (Swift, James)  2:27
10 Just You, Just Me (Greer, Klaces)  2:45
11 Down to Earth (Jennings, Parker)  2:20
12 May I ? (Jennings, Parker)  2:50
13 Get Hot (Jennings, Parker)  2:25
14 Stuffy (Hawkins)  2:56
15 Solitude (DeLange, Ellington, Mills)  2:48
16 Whats New ? (Haggart, Burke, Whitmark)  3:29
17 They Cant Take That Away from Me (Gershwin, Gershwin)  2:15
18 Sweet & Lovely (Arnheim, Daniels, Tobias)  3:27
19 Blue Grass (Parker, Jennings)  3:55
20 Soft Winds (Goodman)  2:56
21 Sophisticated Lady (Ellington, Parish, Mills)  2:16
22 Big Boy (Jennings)  2:11
23 633-Knock ! (Doggett, Jennings)  2:27
24 Danny Boy (Weatherly)  2:30
25 Darn That Dream (DeLange, Van Heusen)  2:39
26 Alexandria, Virginia [alt. take] (Clanton, Jennings)  2:53
27 Stomp (Stompin with Bill) [alt. take] (Jennings)  2:39
28 Stompin with Bill [alt. take] (Jennings)  2:43


Cd. 2

1 Willow Weep for Me (Ronnell)  2:46
2 Day Train (Jennings)  2:33
3 Glide On (Wilson)  2:36
4 Three Little Words (Ruby, Kalmar)  2:35
5 Have You Ever Had the Blues (Jennings, Lenoir)  2:30
6 Better Ask Somebody (Jennings)  2:43
7 Sea Breeze (Jennings)  2:27
8 A Good Un (Jennings)  2:22
9 Easy Living (Robin, Rainger)  3:50
10 Nature Boy (Ahbez)  2:06
11 Ja-Da (Carlston)  4:02
12 Angel Eyes (Dennis, Brent)  3:20
13 You Dont Know What Love Is (Raye, DePaul)  2:03
14 Medley (Gershwin, Gershwin)  4:05
a. It Aint Necessarily So
b. Summertime
15 Answer Me My Love (Winkler, Rauch, Sigman)  3:16
16 What Is This Thing Called Love (Porter)  2:39
17 Its Easy to Remember (Rodgers, Hart)  3:09
18 One for My Baby (Mercer, Arlen)  3:51
19 You Go to My Head (Coats, Gillespie)  2:52
20 Mood Indigo (Bigard, Mills, Ellington)  2:14
21 Wishbone (Jennings, Jackson)  2:35
22 Blues in My Heart (Carson, Foley)  2:37
23 Roses of Picardy (Weatherly, Wood)  3:00
24 Down Boy (Jennings, Jackson)  2:37


[Cd. 1, # 1-4, 26-28] Bill Jennings Orchestra
Bill Jennings - g
unknown - as
unknown - ts
unknown - p
unknown - b
unknown - dr
Recorded in Philadelphia ; circa 1951
[Cd. 1, # 5-15] Bill Jennings - Leo Parker Quintet
Leo Parker - bs
Andrew Johnson - p
Bill Jennings - g
Joe Williams - b
George DeHart - dr
Recorded in Cincinnati, Ohio ; July 6, 7 & 8, 1954
[Cd. 1, # 16-21] Bill Jennings Quartet
Same as above except
Leo Parker is out
Andrew Johnson - p & org [# 16]
Recorded same place as above ; July 8, 1954
[Cd. 1, # 22-25] Bill Jennings Quartet
Bill Doggett - org
Bill Jennings - g
Jimmy Glover - b
Sherp Shepherd - dr
Recorded in Cincinnati, Ohio ; October 1954
[Cd. 2, # 1-8] Bill Jennings Quintet - Nita Lore
Nita Lore - vc [# 5 & 6]
Jack Wilson - p & clst
Albert Jennings - vb
Bill Jennings - g
Paul Henry Sparks - b
Phillip Paul - dr
Recorded in Cincinnati ; July 24, 1955
[Cd. 2, # 9-20] Bill Jennings
Bill Jennings - g
Albert Jennings - vb
Recorded in Cincinnati ; December 4, 1955
[Cd. 2, # 21-24] Bill Jennings - Willis Jackson
Willis Jackson - ts
James Orville Johnson - org
Bill Jennings - g
Alvin Johnson - dr
Recorded in New York ; September 7, 1957


Melanchthon said...

Grover Gardner said...

Wow, thank you.

francisco santos said...


neil said...

Mel, you had me as soon as Leo Parker was mentioned! Many, many thanks for this...

Anonymous said...

This looks absolutely fantastic

Thank you Melanchthon for this outstanding post

Pedro del Castillo Alonso said...

Big Hi,
Big Thanks, Big Mel

sep troelstra said...

Thanks a lot!!

deGallo said...

Absolutely marvelous!! Thank you.

Jazz Padd said...

Looking forward to checking this out. Thank you!

erasmus said...

this is not the first time i've been amazed and somewhat embarrassed by one of your postings. i just don't know how it's possible that i, not only haven't heard, but not even heard of a jazz player of this caliber--especially a guitar player.

this is such a great share, and i'm so grateful for it.

Fred Archtop said...

Mel's site = horn of plenty. Thanks a million.

Eric said...

I know Bill Jennings only from his work on Prestige so hearing these recordings should be interesting and probably very enjoyable. Thanks as always.

Kovina Kris said...

This is really a treasure trove. I love soul jazz. Thank you very much!

AmyBRAINS said...


Otis Foster said...

Outstanding - many thanks

tdelyon said...

Thanks, Mel :)