Saturday, March 21, 2015

Lost Detroit Session

© Gary Carner. Copyright Protected. All rights reserved.

For years I've wondered about the eighth entry in Pepper Adams' Joy Road. I first learned about that mysterious 1955 live recording from a concert program I found in Pepper Adams' materials. Program notes written by drummer Rudy Tucich referred to a live recording with a numbing array of Detroit's finest musicians. What happened to it? Now, thanks to Tucich, I finally have some news.

On 28 March 1955 the New Music Society produced a spectacular concert at the Detroit Institute of Arts to showcase its members. Tucich and singer/vibist Oliver Shearer, co-officers of the Society with Kenny Burrell, invited many of the greatest players then living in Detroit to participate in the concert, including Burrell, Tommy Flanagan, Pepper Adams, Barry Harris, Curtis Fuller, Elvin Jones, Yusef Lateef, Bernard McKinney and Sonny Red. Detroit elders Sonny Stitt and Milt Jackson, not Society members per se, were invited as very special guests. "This concert," wrote Tucich, "is being recorded and will be the first release on our own label, Free Arts Records. Your cooperation in the recording will be greatly appreciated. We would also like to have you give us your suggestion for the name of our first concert album." 

In 1955 most of the musicians at the concert performed on Monday and Tuesday nights at the World Stage. The World Stage was a theater above Paperback Unlimited at the northwest corner of Woodward Avenue and Davison. On weekends, World Stage put on plays. Lily Tomlin was one of its actors. Early in the week, however, the theater was dark, so a perfect venue for the New Music Society's members to have sessions.

The Society recorded the 28 March concert on three ten-inch reels. A quintet comprised of Pepper Adams, Kenny Burrell, Tommy Flanagan, Billy Burrell and Hindall Butts opened with a tune based on the changes of Undecided, then performed Afternoon in Paris. After Flanagan's trio feature on Dancing in the Dark, the quintet returned to play Someday, If Not in Heaven (with Kennny Burrell singing!) and Woody'n You.

A local group, The Counterpoints, performed three numbers before Sonny Stitt's quintet (with Curtis Fuller, Barry Harris, Alvin Jackson and Elvin Jones) performed Loose Walk, a ballad medley (I Can't Get Started, If I Should Lose You, Embraceable You and Lover Man) and a closing blues.

After a likely intermission, Oliver Shearer gave a speech about the New Music Society, then Kenny Burrell introduced Yusef Lateef's ensemble. Lateef, Bernard McKinney, Sonny Red, Barry Harris, Alvin Jackson and Elvin Jones played four tunes: Wee, Three Story's, a ballad medley (This Love of Mine, But Not for Me and Darn that Dream) and a closing blues. 

After two tunes by pianist Jerry Harrison and three by pianist Bu Bu Turner, Sonny Stitt returned with Milt Jackson, Kenny Burrell, Barry Harris, Alvin Jackson and Elvin Jones to finish out the show. They stretched out on Billie's Bounce, then did Stardust and an ending blues. 

Oh, to hear this music! What happened to it? Tucich told me a week ago that he and Barry Harris decided to mail the tapes to a guy in Los Angeles, who would edit the tapes and transfer them to LPs for release. Did they think to make a backup copy? No. "It never occurred to us. We were naive," admits Tucich. Woefully, the engineer went backrupt and, after a concerted attempt to track him down and rescue the tapes, Tucich and Harris finally admitted that the material was lost. "I've waited 60 years to find out about them," said Tucich. Hopefully, it will turn up. Weirder things have happened.

DETROIT, 1958, courtesy of Lonnie Hillyer. Barry Harris (fourth from left), Rudy Tucich beside/behind him, Charles McPherson at far right. Others include Donald Walden, Lonnie Hillyer and Ira Jackson. Three are unidentified.

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