Friday, February 17, 2023

The Queen and Mister T: Shirley Scott with Stanley Turrentine

The music of Shirley Scott is not often heard or talked about much these days. Twenty-one years after her sudden and far-too early March 2002 death, the one-time “queen of the organ” is barely even remembered today, despite Scott being one of the few headlining females in mid-century jazz. She recorded an amazing 50-some albums from the fifties to the seventies and then added more to her discography during the nineties.

Imagine, then, my surprise and joy to hear Kevin Whitehead review the recently-released Cookin’ With Jaws And The Queen, a compilation of Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis’ 1958 “Cookbook” sets with Shirley Scott, on NPR’s Fresh Air.

In his enthusiastically positive review, Whitehead claimed to prefer those recordings to the many recordings Scott waxed with tenor saxophonist great Stanley Turrentine (1934-2000), to whom she was married from 1960 to 1971.

Great as those Lockjaw records may be – and they are – Shirley Scott’s work with Stanley Turrentine is, to these ears, much more soulful, more engaging, often more striking – not to mention the music she said she preferred to make – and well deserving of considerably more consideration than it has really ever had.

Shirley Scott was born in in 1934 in Philadelphia, which was the birthplace of other such organ greats as Charles Earland, Jimmy McGriff and, of course, the legendary Jimmy Smith. She often accompanied John Coltrane – on piano – before he broke out of Philadelphia, switching to organ when a club owner asked her to. She took to the mighty Hammond B-3 immediately, developing a sound, approach and style that no one else had ever had. It wasn’t rinky-dink or overwhelming: it was airy, thoughtful and even spiritual.

”Ms. Scott emerged in the mid-1950’s,” wrote the New York Times in its obituary of Scott, “with a quick, punchy sound that merged bebop, gospel and the blues. She had a lighter touch than Jimmy Smith, the leading organist in jazz and relied on the blues less heavily than he did.“ That summary leaves out Scott’s mastery of soul-infused jazz and the fact that she coaxed an entirely different sound out of the very same organ Smith played at Rudy Van Gelder’s studio.

Indeed, the great bulk of Shirley Scott’s discography was waxed at Rudy Van Gelder’s New Jersey studios – an important part of her particular legacy. She always said that Van Gelder’s organ was her very favorite. And for all the organists who recorded there, no one ever sounded as warm or as vibrant as Shirley Scott had.

Stanley Turrentine and Shirley Scott toured, performed and recorded often during their years together. But they also maintained nominally individual recording careers. Turrentine recorded with the Three Sounds, fellow Pittsburgher Horace Parlan, Oliver Nelson and a series of bracing records with Coltrane pianist McCoy Tyner.

Meanwhile Scott made more than her share of notable discs with the Latin Jazz Quintet, Oliver Nelson and Gary McFarland, to name just a few. She eventually earned the title “queen of the organ” (also the name of one of the albums featured here), although she had little competition: only fellow B-3 ladies Gloria Coleman (1931-2010) and Trudy Pitts (1932-2010), also from Philadelphia, even spring to mind. And their records were few and far between.

Not Scott. Shirley was highly prolific, from the mid-fifties through the mid-seventies, when the organ fell out of favor in jazz. Eventually, she went into education and briefly reappeared in the nineties on a series of fine discs that sometimes brought her back into Rudy Van Gelder’s studios.

The records that Shirley Scott waxed with Stanley Turrentine evince a remarkable chemistry. They brought out each other’s natural feel for gospel, the blues and soul. Their mutual love of jazz, if not always the same (Scott seemed to dig the Basie and Ellington bands while Turrentine was into other bands), brought it all together.

Even though Scott had little problem holding court on melody lines on her other recordings, she was perfectly content letting Turrentine carry the tunes on most of their records. But listen to how she backs her husband: it’s no less than a witty conversation; all give and take. It sparkles throughout. Scott is never “the little woman”: she’s a full partner. Then, when she solos, she doesn’t merely grab attention. She commands it.

For the following set, I’ve selected at least one highlight from each of the fourteen records the couple waxed between 1961 and 1968. These are what I believe are the best of the bunch. But there is so much more worth hearing here. Shirley Scott and Stanley Turrentine very rarely made a dud. But what do you expect? This is royalty here.

Hip Soul - Shirley Scott (Prestige – recorded June 1961, released April 1962): The couple’s earliest recording together, with Turrentine billed as “Stan Turner” due to contractual concessions. While Stanley’s originals (“Hip Soul” and “Stanley’s Time”) are nice features for the saxophonist, the pair cooks more meaningfully on this long take of “Out of This World.” Dig Ms. Scott’s fiery yet encyclopedic solo here. Hip Soul is part of the 1998 CD set Legends of Acid Jazz – Shirley Scott.

Dearly Beloved – Stanley Turrentine (Blue Note – recorded June 1961, released February 1962): Recorded just six days after Hip Soul, where Ms. Scott is billed as “Little Miss Cott.” Not very subtle or particularly respectful to 21st Century sensibilities. This album is unusual in Shirley Scott’s discography as there is no bassist on board. She is therefore required to “man” the bass pedals of her Hammond B-3, as she did in many of her live performances. And “man” them she does; she positively dances over those pedals. Consider the little-known Jerome Kern-Johnny Mercer title track, “Dearly Beloved,” which originated in the forties with Fred Astaire in the film You Were Never Lovelier. Hardly the coolest song choice – until Shirley swings in. The album’s opener “Baia” cooks nicely, too.

Hip Twist - Shirley Scott (Prestige – recorded November 1961, released April 1962): At this point, Prestige was putting out about five Shirley Scott albums a year. Surprisingly, Hip Twist was released at about the same time as Hip Soul, but with Stanley Turrentine given credit under his own name here. The album’s typical Turrentine title track and Scott’s “Rippin’ and Runnin” are worth checking out but nowhere near as interesting as the curiously-titled “Violent Blues” heard here. Hip Twist is part of the 1998 CD set Legends of Acid Jazz – Shirley Scott.

The Soul is Willing - Shirley Scott with Stanley Turrentine (Prestige – recorded January 1963, released August 1963): An album of mostly jazz standards and two blues riffs Turrentine could – and probably did – knock off at will. Both of the Turrentine pieces are of interest but the title track is textbook finery for Stanley and Shirley. The Soul is Willing is part of the 1994 CD Soul Shoutin’.

Never Let Me Go - Stanley Turrentine (Blue Note – recorded Jan.-Feb. 1963, released November 1963): Trumpeter and composer Tommy Turrentine (1928-97) contributed many songs to brother Stanley’s albums over the years. Tommy’s “Sara’s Dance” is the highlight of this 1963 album that Mr. and Mrs. Turrentine waxed for Blue Note. Another highlight here is the addition of Ray Barretto’s congas. The leaders’ co-composed “Major’s Minor” is a fine runner up as well.

A Chip Off the Old Block - Stanley Turrentine (Blue Note – recorded October 1963, released August 1964): This not altogether successful album serves as a tribute to the Count Basie Orchestra and adds the trumpet of Blue Mitchell to the proceedings. Ms. Scott would seem to have more affinity to Basie and his band than either Mitchell or Turrentine. Indeed, her features are among the album’s most interesting. “Blues in Hoss’ Flat” is my favorite tune here, but the performance seems stilted and backgrounds Scott far too much. Perhaps “Midnight Blue” best accomplishes what they set out to do here but it is “Cherry Point” that makes this one worth hearing.

Soul Shoutin’ - Shirley Scott with Stanley Turrentine (Prestige – recorded October 1963, released July 1964): A significant improvement over A Chip Off the Old Block (this disc was recorded on October 15, a day after and six days before Chip’s two sessions), Soul Shoutin’ is undoubtedly the Turrentine team’s best outing to this point. “Their teamwork is faultless and deeply evocative,” wrote Record World. Billboard additionally enthused that Mr. and Mrs. Turrentine “make beautiful jazz together.”

From Turrentine’s rousing title track to Cole Porter’s closer “In the Still of the Night,“ everything here simmers, cooks and burns. While Turrentine’s galvanizing gospel groover “Deep Down Soul” is magical, the album’s title track ranks among the pair’s very best performances. This Soul Shoutin’ is also on the CD compilation titled Soul Shoutin’.

Hustlin’ - Stanley Turrentine (Blue Note – recorded January 1964, released May 1965): Perhaps sensing a glut of Scott/Turrentine titles in 1964, Blue Note held this one back for more than a year – when there really was a glut of Scott and Turrentine albums released. This is the first of several Turrentine/Scott records with Ms. Scott’s regular rhythm section of Bob Cranshaw on bass and Otis “Candy” Finch on drums. It’s a well-oiled machine that hums and swings with drive and soulful energy. Taking it up a notch here is guitarist Kenny Burrell, who had previously teamed with Turrentine on “The Incredible Jimmy Smith” classics Back at the Chicken Shack and Midnight Special.

Hustlin’ is a consistently enjoyable set that yields at least two memorable burners: “Trouble No. 2” (“number one” is heard on the earlier Never Let Me Go) – without Burrell – and Scott’s splendidly “airy” blues waltz “Ladyfingers.” Both contain not only imaginative support by Lady B-3 but especially remarkable solos that beautifully bear Ms. Scott’s superb signature. Turrentine’s fine minor blues “The Hustler” is noteworthy – with first-rate solos from Burrell, Scott and Turrentine – but not a stand-out in the saxophonist’s pantheon of blues-drenched swingers of the time.

Blue Flames - Shirley Scott and Stanley Turrentine (Prestige – recorded March 1964, released June 1965): A strangely backwards-looking album, the only real stand-outs here are the two Scott compositions, “The Funky Fox” and “Hips Knees an’ Legs.” Both are low-key “compositions,” but the former is the real stand-out here, yielding to one of Ms. Scott’s amazing gospel-blues solos. Turrentine slays those “Hips.” But…as lovely as Scott is there (and she really is), her “Fox” creeps ahead.

(The Shirley Scott-credited “As it Was” was recorded during these sessions but left off the original LP issue of Blue Flames. While the song eventually appeared on the 1967 Scott compilation Now’s the Time (never issued on CD), “As it Was” was surprisingly not added as a bonus track on the 1995 CD issue of Blue Flames.)

Everybody Loves a Lover - Shirley Scott (Impulse – recorded September 1964, released May 1965): This is an absolutely lovely album that has – amazingly! – never found its way on to CD. Every single piece here is a joy. On three of the album’s very best tracks, guitarists Howard Collins and Barry Galbraith and Latin percussionist Willie Rodriguez are added. Of these, “Little Miss Know It All” makes you wonder how much Brazilian organ player Walter Wanderley borrowed from Ms. Scott. Also, among these, “Blue Bongo,” (without Turrentine) is especially notable. But it is surely Turrentine’s amazingly wonderful Latinate “Shirley” that stands out most of all. Turrentine didn’t often work this groove, but he excels in this then-fashionable and still-riveting tribute to his then-wife.

(The standard “Time After Time” was recorded during these sessions and included on the 1965 LP compilation The Definitive Jazz Scene Volume 3. This track – plus three tracks from Everybody Loves a Lover - were added as “bonus tracks” to the 1992 CD release of Stanley Turrentine’s Let it Go.)

Queen of the Organ - Shirley Scott (Impulse – recorded December 1964, released August 1965): Recorded live at The Front Room club in Newark, New Jersey, Queen of the Organ is likely Shirley Scott’s best-known of all her records. It is, surprisingly, also that rare live album in either leader’s discographies. Curious, though, that Impulse denied Stanley Turrentine equal cover credit. (Perhaps Impulse – or Scott? – was getting back at Blue Note for not giving Scott equal credit on the previously-issued Turrentine/Scott Blue Notes?) The original album featured obscure themes from Broadway musicals and one piece each by Ellington/Strayhorn and Miles Davis. A later reissue added several more tunes (including two worthy blues by the organist) but this live set’s highlight is surely trumpeter Dave Burns’ “Rapid Shave.” The song seems to have been written for this date. It’s a real cooker that lives up to its title. Both Scott and Turrentine burn through this one and the audience enthusiastically cheers them on.

(In 1978, Impulse issued the five tracks from Queen of the Organ with five previously unissued titles from the set as The Great Live Sessions. The 1993 CD release of Queen of the Organ contained all the tracks from the 1978 LP except, for some reason, “Shirley’s Shuffle.” Also, three tracks from Queen of the Organ, including “Rapid Shave,” can be heard on the terribly-curated 1998 “Priceless Jazz” CD compilation Stanley Turrentine/Shirley Scott.)

Let It Go - Stanley Turrentine (Impulse – recorded April 1966, released March 1967): Let it Go was my first taste of Shirley Scott and I still can’t get enough. This may well be the most consistently joyous record Mr. and Mrs. Turrentine ever waxed. Perhaps that’s because it falls somewhere between the rehearsed formalism of Blue Note and the jam-session quality of so many of the Prestige records. And something about the addition of the formidable bassist Ron Carter (with Miles Davis at the time) raises the stakes too. (I contend that Rudy Van Gelder always gave Ron Carter a very special place in the sound mix of any record he was on, particularly the CTI recordings.)

Ms. Scott had already waxed six dates (two with her husband) for Impulse by the time Mr. Turrentine waxed Let it Go, his sole Impulse date. Its opening salvo is the superb title track, a sixteen-bar blues that, if slowed down a bit, immediately suggests Stanley Turrentine’s better-known signature tune, “Sugar.” To these ears, “Let it Go” is, without question, the Queen and Mr. T’s finest moment together. While there is no dud in the bunch here, the saxophonist’s “Good Lookin’ Out” is another winner, with Scott nicely front-lined here too. “Let it Go,” backed with “Good Lookin’ Out,” was also the album’s sole single, one that surprisingly never caught on.

(Five tracks from Let it Go, including both featured here, can be heard on the terribly-curated 1998 “Priceless Jazz” CD compilation Stanley Turrentine/Shirley Scott.)

Common Touch - Stanley Turrentine featuring Shirley Scott (Blue Note – recorded August 1968, released August 1969): Although the Turrentines were always steeped in “soul jazz,” Common Touch veers toward what “soul jazz” was becoming in the late sixties. The funk quotient is upped considerably with Bob Cranshaw on electric bass, drummer Idris Muhammad (fueling Lou Donladson’s similar records of the period) and the addition of guitarist Jimmy Ponder. Indeed, Ponder is part of the front line with the leaders and solos just as often.

While there are no Turrentine originals, trumpeter Dave Burns – whose “Rapid Shave” reigned on Queen of the Organ - contributes three originals. Of these, only the on-and-off funk of “Buster Brown” stands out. Also included is a gorgeous take of “Lonely Avenue” and the first of the couple’s two bluesy takes on Bob Dylan’s “Blowin’ in the Wind.” Ms. Scott’s only contribution, the appropriately titled “Boogaloo,” is the album’s most memorable moment. (The generic title was likely a place holder for a song to be titled later as there is no song titled “Boogaloo” among Ms. Scott’s published works.)

There are plenty of signs here – not the least of which is the strangely inscrutable cover photo of the couple – that the times were indeed a-changin’ and neither leader was quite sure where to go with the music…or, possibly, each other.

(An abandoned Turrentine-Scott recording session from May 1968 yielded a cover of Carolyn Franklin’s “Ain’t No Way” that was first included on the 1981 Turrentine compilation Ain’t No Way, then later added as a bonus cut to the 1997 CD release of Common Touch.)

Soul Song - Shirley Scott (Atlantic – recorded September-November 1968, released March 1969): The last album collaboration of Shirley Scott and Stanley Turrentine, Soul Song is the first of Shirley Scott’s three albums for Atlantic. This is also the only recording featured here not recorded by Rudy Van Gelder.

Perhaps one of the biggest disappointments, though, is the album’s opener, “Think.” It’s not Aretha Franklin’s hit of the same year (also on Atlantic) but rather Lowman Pauling’s 1957 hit for the “5” Royales, and also a 1960 hit for James Brown (the song had also recently been covered by Booker T and the MG’s). One can only imagine what Scott and Turrentine would have made of the Queen of Soul’s tremendous song.

The outstanding number here is the album’s title track, Shirley Scott’s sole original. Amply guided by Bernard Purdie’s rhythmic driving and, to be fair, Stanley Turrentine’s absolutely spot-on soulful soloing, “Soul Song” is all that and more. This is one that carries this musical and matrimonial union out on a positively high note.

The Queen – or, “The First Lady of the Organ,” as she is unfortunately billed here – went on to pursue a career in academia and occasionally returned to the studios and bandstand later on, while Mister T., of course, went on to greater fame at CTI Records and other labels. Their albums, apart from each other, are already celebrated and well worth cherishing. But their work together is magical and may be their best work ever.

(One title from the Soul Song sessions, “I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel To Be Free” – without Turrentine – appears on Scott’s next Atlantic album, Shirley Scott and the Soul Saxes. For several reasons, I think this is a beautiful note to go out on.)

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