Bob James was born on December 25th, 1939. On December 22nd, 1979, at the peak of his career, James had the last of a series of concerts in New York City to celebrate New York City and to show off the different styles he could work in. Three different venues, three different configurations, quartet, trio and big band. This post contains three live sets reconstructed from five reel-to-reel recordings of those concerts.
The post also includes a syndicated article about Bob James, released to support the concert series; a John Wilson review of the events from the New York Times on December 24th; the original press release to promote the events from Tappan Zee that includes the declaration “Now freed from the executive duties of administrating Tappan Zee, he is devoting more time and attention to the creation of new music and live performances.”
Finally, I’ve borrowed heavily from Leonard Feather’s wake for the decade, published the same week as the James tour, in the Los Angeles Times. All around town it is then.
Jazz Hands and Feel Like Making Live
It’s worth pointing out Bob James has a new, 2023 studio album, “Jazz Hands”. It is GRAMMY nominated for the 66th ANNUAL GRAMMY AWARDS® for the category of “Best Contemporary Instrumental Album”. It follows on from his 2022 album “Feel Like Making Live”. As Bob says in a youtube video released to support “Jazz Hands” – “I like to keep coming out with albums, as many as I can, I love doing it. I love the process.” “Jazz Hands” is available on most streaming services, go here.https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q0YOpSM00LY
By December 1979, Bob James had become a (divisive) force to be reckoned with. After his emergence from Sarah Vaughan’s band, working as pianist and arranger, Bob was signed by Creed Taylor as one of a series of house arrangers, with a view to modernizing the sound Taylor’s portfolio of stars. The James produced, more modern jazz sound was very successful for others and by 1977, James become something of a star himself.
A New York State Of Mind
(You can play all three track continuously here, otherwise they are included individually later with their tracklists. Follow Bob James All Around Town for 4-hours, 35-minutes.)
Bob James left CTI and moved to Columbia with another former CTI executive, David Snyder. James also brought Peter Paul, ex-CTI A&R talent manager, with him. CReed Taylor had lost both his battle with Columbia the label, and artists, many of whom had moved to Columbia, including Hubert Laws, Freddie Hubbard, and others, as well as Bob James. James had been offered his own Tappan Zee label imprint at Columbia, and he’d set about both emulating his style of groupings and arrangements from CTI. Tappan Zee is, of course, for those that don’t know, the name of a bridge across the Hudson River in Westchester County, just north of New York City. Suffice to say, Westchester is the home of the “Westchester Lady”.
Out on the west coast, in the Los Angeles Times, Leonard Feather was bemoaning the state of jazz. He’d contacted leading jazz voices, and together they were saying farewell to the 70s, and for another decade, jazz was dead. Bill Watrous made no bones about it: “The worst thing that ever happened to jazz was, I believe, Bob James.” (At the same time, Bill told Feather this, the Bob James-Earl Klugh album “One on One” was No. 1 on the jazz charts.)
Watrous, who died in 2018, was a bop-style trombonist who recorded on a couple of CTI albums as a sideman, most notably Deodato’s 1973 “Prelude” album which included “Also Sprach Zarathustra (2001)”, an album was Bob James was not involved with.
If the seventies was the decade jazz died(again!), the question is, was Bob James the architect of its death? We know now the answer to that is a resounding NO. It wasn’t so clear at the start of the eighties. In his 1995 book “Jazz: the 1980s resurgence” – Stuart Nicholson wrote:
The 1980s was a decade when jazz buzzed with an excitement that took even the most seasoned observers by surprise. It had all begun innocuously enough. Towards the end of the 1970s, the avant-garde, after almost two decades of blood-letting, began creeping inside the changes; musicians from what had been regarded as the “cutting edge” began producing albums that were dubbed “in tradition.” Although no one knew it at the time, it would provide a kind of leitmotif for the decade. At the same time there was general disenchantment with fusion, despite a seal of respectability bestowed on it by Miles Davis at the beginning of the 1970s that had once made it seem like the way ahead.Jazz : the 1980s resurgence by Nicholson, Stuart, ISBN 0-306-80612-6
In the book, Nicholson describes JoAnne Brackeen’s Tappan Zee, Bob James produced album “Keyed In” with Eddie Gomez and Jack DeJohnette as a “superlative trio album”, and her 1980 “Ancient Dynasty album, also on Tappan Zee and produced by James as “jazz of a high order, uncompromising, powerful and with plenty of shape edges.” – JoAnne Brackeen, along with Gomez and Gadd would make up the core of the “All Around The Two” concert at Town Hall, along with Richard Tee.
All Around The Town – The album
Tappen Zee released a double-vinyl album from the concert serieshttps://www.discogs.com/master/43669-Bob-James-All-Around-The-Town, but the full sets have never been available. The album was not released until February 1981, probably to avoid clashing with James “Touchdown” and “Lucky Seven” studio albums. “Touchdown was awarded a gold record the same month. Also in 1980, Bob James & Earl Klugh got the #2 jazz for another Tappan Zee album, “One On One” which made #52 of pop albums in the year end chart for 1980.
“All Around The Town” reached #3 in the jazz album charts and remained in the jazz album charts until August 1981. The album did break into the album chart, with #73 being the highest position, also in April.
The album, co-produced by Bob James, former CTI A&R and Talent manager Peter Paul, and engineer Joe Jorgenson, won Holland’s Edison Awards competition for Bob James in the MOR/instrumental category Cash Box Magazine – August 8th, 1981 – Page 33
The live recordings are first class, lead recording engineer at the Record Plant, Dave Hewitthttps://www.discogs.com/artist/300113-David-Hewitt who recorded many live sets for Creed and other producers. I plan to interview Dave in 2024 about his work.
The double-vinyl album contained 8-tracks including
- “Angela”(the theme from taxi)
- “Westchester Lady”
plus four less well know tracks. What was really interesting is that “Night Crawler”, possibly the best live track from these sets in my opinion, was not included on the official album. “Night Crawler” was from James 1977 album “Heads”https://www.discogs.com/master/43681-Bob-James-Heads.
The double album release contained 4x tracks from Carnegie Hall; 2x from the Town Hall concert and 2x from the Bottom Line. Comparing the versions of “Angela (The Theme From Taxi)” from two Bottom Line live sets and the original album live version, it’s clear that one of two things is true, or possibly both. There was some overdubbing, or the “Angela” track came from one of the two other recordings. Even without the tracks from Town Hall, which you can hear were very different, the album doesn’t hang-well together, and is more like a “live Jazz at the end of the seventies” sampler than a coherent live album.
When I first heard the individual sets, they were so much better.
It would seem to me that a 45th anniversary reissue is due which includes the complete recordings of each performance in a presentation case. Bob, Sonny, Evo Sound?
For Collectors Only
For Bob James collectors, there is a promo/EP copy with 4x edits from the album. The edits were done for radio play and are very different from the live album cuts or the recordings I have from the tapes.
A1 Stompin’ At The Savoy 3:39; A2 Farandole (L’Arlesienne Suite #2) 3:15, B1 Westchester Lady 3:46; B2 Kari.
Arguably, the live version of “Westchester Lady” on the promo EP does exactly what it should. Short, punchy, and would have been very popular if more widely available. Very few copies (50?) of this EP were pressed as far as I’m aware.
While the US reissues on CD, included the same set as the original vinyl album, a 2002 Japanese CD reissue added “Women of Ireland” from one of the Carnegie Hall concerts.
ALL AROUND THE TOWN — Bob James — Columbia/Tappan Zee C2X 36786 — Producers: Bob James, Joe Jorgensen and Peter Paul — List: $10.98 — Bar Coded
This is the vinyl document of producer/composer/pianist James’ three N.Y. concerts given within one week. The different musical settings include a piano triumvirate with JoAnne Brackeen and Richard Tee, a duet with guitarist Earl Klugh, and groups featuring Steve Gadd, Billy Hart, Mike Lawrence, Idris Muhammad, Tom Scott, Tom Browne and others. A varied look at the James book.Cash Box magazine – February 28th, 1981 – Page 32
According to Tappan Zee, they recorded 4-hours worth of shows from the Bottom Line; about 1-1/2 hours at Town Hall and 3-hours of 2 shows at Carnegie Hall. I received 5x recordings on reel-to-reel 7 1/2 IPS tapes from a follower/fan/contact in Atlanta.
To create digital sets, the reel-to-reel tapes were played on a TEAC A-1500U tape deckhttps://reel-reel.com/tape-recorder/teac-a-1500-2/, analog to digital through a Musical Hall PA2.2 Phono Preamplifier (with Analog to Digital Converter); captured on a Windows 10 PC using the open-source digital audio editor, Audacityhttps://www.audacityteam.org/. After that the digital files were carefully stripped of any hum, hiss and noise artifacts from the tapes; equalized, normalized and finally edited into a cholent mixed sets. The album artwork was created using Google Slides; the final MP3 files were tagged with MP3TAGhttps://www.mp3tag.de/en/.
The tapes I received, came with only pencil track lists written on the inside of the 7 1/2 reel-to-reel tape boxes, no formal details. They came from a larger selection of live sets, I hope to be able to feature here over the coming year. They are NOT the full live performances and had already been edited. The tapes I worked from consisted of chopped up tracks, some with run-ons into the next track. I’ve done my best to preserve the ‘live’ feel, but taken a few liberties.
Enjoy a trip all around the town of New York without having to hail a cab!
The Bottom Line
December 18-19th, Wilbert Longmire, Mark Colby, Idris Muhammad, Hiram Bullock, Gary King.(Ticket prices anyone?) Two shows per night for a total of four shows.
Probably where I have gone if I was in NYC in December 1979.
- Warmup (19th, late set)
- NightCrawler (19th, late set)
- Scat Talk (18th late)
- Diane’s Dilemma (18th late set)
- Take Your Time (18th late set)
- Song For My Daughter (18th late set)
- Angela (19th late set)
- Heads (19th late set)
- Westchester Lady (19th late set)
Playing Time 1-hour, 11-minutes.
*Applause, where added, taken from Dec. 21st Town Hall concert
December 21st, a formal acoustic evening with Richard Tee and JoAnne Brackeen, also Steve Gadd and Billy Hart on drums and Eddie Gomez on bass. Tickets were $9.50 and $11.50, show started at 6pm
- Bob James on-stage +warm-up
- Intros / Stompin’ at the Savoy
- Joanne Brackeen – Piano Solo
- El Mayorazgo
- Richard Tee -Paino Solo
- Take the A Train
- New York State Of Mind
- The Golden Apple
- Haiti B
- (Encore) It Don’t Mean A Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing)
Playing Time 1-hour, 34-minutes.
December 22nd big-band included Earl Klugh, Tom Browne, Idris Muhammad, Hiram Bullock, Gary King, Tom Scott. Tickets were $8.50 and $12.50, shows at 8pm and midnight.
Notably, the early set included both “Farandole” and “Rush Hour”, these seem to have been replaced in the late set with “Blue Lick” and “Big Stone City”. In the live set presented here I include all four tracks. I think it fits as it was the same location and same lineup. Let me know what you think in the comments below.
According to the original liner notes for the Tappan Zee album, Tom Scott’s instruments were delayed by the airline and only just arrived in time.
All tracks are from the December 22nd late set, unless noted.
- Touchdown (from the Dec. 22nd early set, to differentiate from the album version.)
- Blue Lick
- Big Stone City
- Women Of Ireland
- Night Crawler
- Love Lips
- “Angela” – The Theme From Taxi
- We’re All Alone
- Rush Hour (from Dec. 22nd early set)
- Farandole (from Dec. 22nd early set)
- Westchester Lady
- Comfort and Joy Encore (from Dec. 22nd early set)
- God Rest Ye – Silent Night Medley (from Dec. 22nd early set)
Playing time: 1-hour, 50-minutes
Music man Bob James jazzing up his Christmas
by Holly Hill, freelance, syndicated, this version – The Daily Argus – Sunday Dec. 16th, 1979
The Manhattan studio looked like a modern version of run-the-gauntlet. Giant cables stretched from huge trucks through the halls, daring performers and technicians to negotiate their way without falling. Through the gauntlet with an easy Stride came all-around music man Bob James, explaining that he was cutting a record with Richard Tee. Tee, Paul Simon’s pianist and a featured player in Simon’s first film, was alternating recording and filming the shooting of which had called forth the cables and attendant hoopla.
James, whose dark hair, beard and mustache lend his benign expression a kindly Mephistopheles air, has lived in Ardsley-on-Hudson since 1968. His wife, Judy signs with the Hudson Bells. and their 13-year-old daughter, Hilary, is am eighth grader at Irvington Middle School.
The family is planning to celebrate the holiday season in a unique manner. with James giving not one but six jazz concerts in three different Manhattan settings between Dec. 18 and 22.
A native Missourian who has been playing the piano since he was 4, James put together a jazz trio and landed his first recording contract while earning his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in composition at the University of Michigan.
Coming to New York in 1963, he remembers that “I saw many of my dreams of being a jazz musician collapse because the times were tough for jazz.” James experimented briefly with electronic compositions and improvisations, was Sarah Vaughan’s musical director for four years, and was pianist and arranger for albums by Dionne Warwick, Morgana King, Roberta Flack and Aretha Franklin.
Quincy Jones, who had helped James win his first record contract then involved him with his album, “Walking in Space,” for the CTI label.
James worked on a wide range of CTI albums, including Grover Washington’s gold albums. “Mister Magic” and “Feels So Good.” For these he arranged, conducted and contributed several original tunes. He also released four successful albums under his own name. Subsequently, for CBS Records, James arranged and produced for such award-winning, best-selling pop artists as Paul Simon, Neil Diamond and Kenny Loggins. Among James’ most successful compositions are “Westchester Lady,” featured on his album “Bob James 3” and the theme for television’s “Taxi” series. “I realized that since I had a real broad back- ground. I was tempted to spread myself too thin.” James reflects. “I decided that if I had anything special to offer, it wasn’t that I was the best at any one thing — pianist, arranger, composer, producer — but that I was one of few who could do all. I decided to make this an asset rather than a liability.”
The result was Tappan Zee Records, James’s own label, which is distributed by Columbia Records. “I prefer my own small company where I can concentrate on my own influence and taste — which is in what we would loosely consider jazz. The whole field is changing so much that we may have to come up with a new word for jazz, though I like the word so much that I’d be quite happy if my music were accepted as jazz of the ’80s, even if it is only indirectly related to the jazz of 20 years ago.”
Among its releases Tappan Zee boasts “One for One,” a collaboration between James and guitarist Earl Klugh, which is currently the bestselling jazz album in the country, and James’s seventh solo effort, “Lucky Seven.” Many of Tappan Zee’s artists will join James for his upcoming concerts, which have the umbrella title “Follow Bob James: All Around the Town.”
At Bottom Line
On Tuesday and Wednesday, Dec. 18 and 19, at both 8:30 and 11:30 p.m., James will perform with his quartet at the Bottom Line in Greenwich Village. Special guests with the quartet will be Mark Colby on tenor saxophone and Wilbert Longmire on guitar. “I’ll use different combi- nations of the musicians, playing my arrangements of compositions by me and by others.
“A unique event for me will be a three-piano evening at Town Hall, at 8 p.m. on Friday, Dec. 21. Richard Tee, JoAnne Brackeen and I will play three concert grands solo and in tandem, accompanied by bass and Completing “All Around The Town.” James will lead his 13-piece band at 8 p.m. on Saturday, Dec. 22, at Carnegie Hall. Among the prominent soloists will be Earl Klugh and trumpeter Tom Browne.
All of the performances, which will be recorded for a possible “New York Live” album, and organized as a tribute to New York. “I cut my teeth on the music business in New York and did all my recording here.” James says. “This week of concerts is my own way of saluting the New York music scene. I’ve had a lot of New York sentiment for a long time — except for the weather.”
Jazz: Bob James 6 Times
John S Wilson, New York Times, December 24th, 1979
Last week, Bob James, a pianist, composer, arranger, record producer and president of his own record company, Tappan Zee Records, who has been one of the most successful “crossover” artists in recent years, gave a series of six concerts in four days in three different halls that showed three different aspects of his work.
On Tuesday and Wednesday, he led a small combo twice each night at the Bottom Line. On Friday he took part in an evening of three-piano acoustic music (as a rule, Mr. James plays electric piano) at Town Hall. And on Saturday night, he appeared at Carnegie
Hall with a big band.
The small combo and big band performances were in line with Mr. James’s customary work on records. But the acoustic piano evening at Town Hall showed him in a different light. Although Mr. James is not noted as an acoustic pianist, he did not stack the
cards in his own favor. The two pianists with whom he shared the bill were Joanne Brackeen and Richard Tee, and, although they have brilliant solo performances, Mr. James held his own with them in three-piano selections, backed by two drummers, Billy Hart
and Steve Gadd, and the bassist Eddie Gomez, that made up half the program.
But it was Miss Brackeen and Mr. Tee who made the evening memorable. Miss Brackeen played an unaccompanied solo, “Again and Always,” with a searching, reflective, romantic flavor that served as a provocative contrast to her “Mayorazgo,” an eruption of swirling, dazzling virtuosity on which she was supported and propelled by by Mr. Hart and Mr. Gomez.
Mr. Tee followed Miss Brackeen’s display of facility within complexity by going in an opposite direction — using strong, root rhythms for most unusual effects. He transformed the familiar “Estralita” from its customary cerulean airiness with an unaccompanied gospel style that appeared faintly at first and grew in power without losing the essence of the song.
And then, with tremendously strong and vitalizing drumming from Mr. Gadd, Mr. Tee brought the audience up cheering by giving Billy Strayhorn’s “Take the A Train” a driving, traditional jazz train rhythm, weaving beautifully placed nuances into a juggernaut of rollicking sound.
Tappan Zee Press Release
ARTISTS NOTE: HIGHS, LOWS OF THE 1970’S
Leonard Feather’s end of the decade, state of the nationThe Los Angeles Times – Sun Dec. 23, 1979 opened with “It was the hippiest of times, it was the squarest of times, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair. For the artist seeking aesthetic freedom, the 1970s in many instances became a decade of frustration; yet judged by the opportunities to study jazz, to find and examine new directions, the period was rich.”
Feather sent out a questionnaire to 22 jazz luminaries, among those who responded was Joanne Brackeen, who was part of the James NYC Event. Brackeen noted “hailed the wider recognition of more recently established contributors such as Cecil Taylor, McCoy Tyner, Keith Jarrett, George Adams and Betty Carter.” Brackeen deplored the use of the word jazz for “predetermined, uncreative, passive music requiring little or no talent, and presented to the public as ‘jazz’ on radio stations . . .”
Dave Brubeck mentioned the wide appeal of Jarrett, along with several others (Al Jarreau, George Benson, Herbie Hancock, Chick Corea) who, he says, have brought jazz-based music to a young audience “who will now, we hope, go back to the roots and learn to appreciate the entire spectrum with its rich history.”
Herbie Hancock said “the jazz/rock fusion was both the best and the worst thing that happened. The best, because it helped us to reach out to a broader public and rid jazz of the stigma of not being commercial; the worst, because it became difficult for musicians to play pure jazz; also because club work fell off while fusion mu sic drew people to concerts.”
Bill Evans lamented the pressure on artists “to reach for sales by formula— especially since the people bringing the pressure are notoriously unqualified in most cases.” Hubert Laws’ comment: “For reasons of commercial viability, the record companies signed many new people who are unskilled in the art of improvisation. This trend serves to lower the standards set by the Ellingtons, Parkers, Coltranes and Tyners.”
In a decade that saw the deaths Cannonball Adderley, Louis and Lil Armstrong, Don Byas, Harry Carney, Paul Desmond, Duke Ellington, Don Ellis, Bobby Hackett, Hampton Hawes, Stan Kenton, Roland Kirk, Charles Mingus, Frank Rosolino, Lennie Tristano, Joe Venuti, Ethel Waters and Ben Webster among many jazz lost. Of the few memorable events for the seventies was apparently Jimmy Carter’s 1978 jazz party at the White Househttp://www.fainebooks.com/blog/president-carters-white-house-jazz-festival, broadcast nationally on NPR, was unique in the prestige it brought to a music that had spent so many years beyond the fringes of respectability.
Interestingly, Bob James spell as label manager, producer, artists and A&R man for his own Tappan Zee label is quietly abandoned in May 1981. James announced his next album would come out on Columbia and that he was working with Rod Temperton.
That album would be the 1981 “Sign Of The Times”.
“Sign of The Times” album would include ex-CTI/KUDU alumni Eric Gale, Airto, Grover Washington Jr and Doc Gibbs from Washington’s Locksmith backing band.
In an interview with Billboard magazine’s Elliot Tiegel, James said “the decision to phase out Tappan Zee was made almost a year ago. The label, in three years, had released nearly 20 LPs via CBS distribution. Among the artists let go are Wilbert Longmire, Richard Tee, Mark Colby, and JoAnne Brackeen.” “They’re all free and have gone their own ways,” James notes.
James described running a record company as more or less an experimental venture, according to James. “I didn’t know how much time it would take. But it was a fantastic learning experience.” Billboard May 30th, 1981 – Page 48
I imagine Creed Taylor was sitting in his empty office, nodding sagely.
|“Jazz Hands” is available on most streaming services, go here.
|Cash Box Magazine – August 8th, 1981 – Page 33
|The Los Angeles Times – Sun Dec. 23, 1979
|Billboard May 30th, 1981 – Page 48