Jazz + Blues = Midnight Blue

January 8, 2017

If you want the perfect album to show the world that jazz and the blues are much more than ‘kissing cousins’, this is it. When B. B. King said, "Jazz is the big brother of the blues. If a guy’s playing blues he’s in high school. When he starts playing jazz it’s like going on to college," it’s tempting to think he might have had Kenny Burrell's Midnight Blue in mind.

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Recorded on 8 January 1963 for Blue Note Records at Rudy Van Gelder’s studio in Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey this album is a beauty. From the very first track, it’s clear why this album was so popular when it was released and has remained so ever since. It oozes early 1960s sophistication, like the soundtrack to a movie about love gone sour in Manhattan’s Upper West Side. Reid Miles album cover is perfection, summing up the mood of this album with just perfect typography.

“I have always had a love for the blues. In my earliest days in Detroit I worked with groups that concentrated a great deal on the blues. I wanted to get a group together for this session that can feel the blues just the way I do.” Kenny Burrell, 1963

Kenny-Burrell-and-Jimmy-SmiIt’s been called ‘as elegant a record as the label ever released’, and it’s impossible to disagree. From the opening of ‘Chittlins Con Carne’, highlighting Turrentine’s distant horn and Burrell’s answering guitar it is moodiness personified. With the exception of ‘Mule’, composed by Holley (Mule was his nickname) and the Andy Razaf and Don Redman standard, ‘Gee Baby Ain’t I Good to You’, all the tunes are Burrell originals. The most personal and intimate is his solo guitar rendition of ‘Soul Lament’. Turrentine plays sweetly throughout, never dominating, always complementing. This was Holley and English’s first, and just about only, date for Blue Note.

Unusually, Burrell made his first appearance for Blue Note as a leader on the appropriately titled Introducing Kenny Burrell in 1956 – unusually, because most musicians played the role of a sideman before getting the opportunity to lead their own session. At that time he was still only 24 years old, having made his recording debut with Dizzy Gillespie’s band when still a teenager. Before his Blue Note debut he toured with Oscar Peterson’s trio – such was his talent – and between that session and this one, he recorded fifteen albums, six of which were for Blue Note.

Released in early May 1963 Midnight Blue was singled out on the Billboard Jazz chart on 11 May under the 'new action LPs' listing, it failed to trouble the mainstream chart, as kenny did a few months later with Jimmy Smith on the album Blue Bash for Verve.

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1 comment

  1. Scott Hedegard
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    I wasn’t very well versed, and probably still am not, in lots of jazz guitarists for a long time. The Sirius satellite channel “Real Jazz” was a godsend, as I would listen on my way to work, and find out so much more besides my usual favorite blues and rock players. I did have Django Reinhardt, Chet Atkins, Charlie Christian and some great blues giants, but besides Wes Montgomery, the aforementioned Reinhardt and a smattering of other players, I was not up to snuff.
    I heard Kenny Burrell and I immediately fell in love with his style – so smooth and tasteful. Plus, he had great tone, so I checked him out on amazon.com and “Midnight Blue” was the first recommended CD. I got it and just about flipped! The blend of blues and hard bop was brilliant, and his sense of swing was untouchable. Every song is legendary, but none more so than the title track, the most groovin’ and swinging guitar song ever, and as great in its rhythm as Brubeck’s timeless “Take Five”.
    Stevie Ray Vaughan covered “Chitlins Con Carne”. Jimi Hendrix said Burrell had the tone he (Hendrix) was going after. I often wonder had he lived, whether Hendrix may have sooner or later gone down the jazz road. One tantalizing jam, “Young/Hendrix”, featuring the B-3 wizard Larry Young appeared on “Nine To The Universe” as a 10 minute portion of a jazz/rock jam that went on for almost thirty minutes and is featured in its entirety on a Hendrix boxed set. This tune remains probably my favorite Hendrix song because it blended jazz, blues, a bit of soul/funk and rock and roll like nobody has ever done before or since. Hendrix wasn’t just whistling “Dixie” when he praised Kenny Burrell – the influence of Kenny and Wes Montgomery both were on display during this jam session.
    I immediately began getting more Burrell music from all over his career, and every one is special and brilliant. You can get boxed sets of five or seven original albums in very reasonably priced packages, and will love every album. “Midnight Blue” is THE greatest Burrell album, and one of the greatest jazz albums period of all time.

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