If you don’t have a copy, press play and read on, it’s a 1:52 sampler of the album tracks

I’m delighted to have an exclusive long form review from CTI and Jazz Historian Doug Payne. I’m lucky to have been able to rip a copy of this album from a loaner a couple of years ago. It’s amazing. I’m heading to Barts Records in Boulder CO at lunchtime on the 24th to get my copy. I’ll update this post with images from the release when I get back.

This 1969 A&M/CTI recording by the trombonists J.J. Johnson and Kai Winding – known here as J & K – was originally scheduled for release in early 1970. But that never happened, at least nowhere outside of Japan. Universal Music finally scheduled this long-awaited gem for its 2020 Record Store Day release in April. But the pandemic forced them to push back Stonebone’s release until October 24, 2020. Here, Doug Payne weighs in on the record – and what happened to it.

Before you jump on ebay and consider paying over the odds for a copy, don’t. While the Japanese pressing has been sold for more than $1200, and one is listed now on discogs for $500, there is no panic. If your local record store can’t get, or has sold out of Record Store Day copies, bide your time. The #RSD2020 release is record store day first album, which means it should be on standard black vinyl and in the catalogue by the end of the year.

Meanwhile, enjoy this amazing review of an album only the fans know existed, and few have heard.

The album Creed Taylor left behind

Anyone buying a record in the fifties by these two trombone titans knew what to expect: bebop lite and novelty touches (“Gong Rock,” really?). But Stonebone is something altogether different – and certainly not what anybody expected.

Here, two of bebop’s foremost pioneers – for those who didn’t know, they were both part of Birth of the Cool, too – traverse an electric landscape with a younger generation of up and coming fusion pioneers. The result is a genuine jam-band gem that was worth the excruciating half-century wait.

Originally scheduled for release in early 1970 (as A&M SP 3027), Stonebone was briefly issued only in Japan. There was never an American or European release. This is likely because, by this time, producer Creed Taylor had left A&M to take his CTI imprint to independence. Plus, the now-dubbed J & K just weren’t selling any records at the time.

Trombonists J.J. Johnson (1924-2001) and Kai Winding (1922-83) first recorded together as Jay & Kai for a 1954 Savoy date pitting the two horns against heavyweights Charles Mingus and Kenny Clarke. Then, in January 1955, the pair recorded as K + J.J. for a Bethlehem album produced by Creed Taylor, also known in various pressings as East Coast Jazz Series #7, The Finest of Kai Winding/J.J. Johnson and Nuf Said.

The album was a surprise success and launched the two trombonists to a brief run of records for Columbia through 1956.

In 1960, Taylor brought them back together (with pianist Bill Evans) for The Great Kai & J.J., the very first record on Taylor’s Impulse label. Throughout the sixties, the two did sessions together for albums by Lalo Schifrin, Quincy Jones, Benny Carter, Urbie Green and Sarah Vaughan – including her final recording, Sassy Swings Again, which also features Stonebone’s Bob James.

When Taylor moved to Verve in 1961, he took Winding with him. “Kai was a personal favorite of mine,” the producer said. While at Verve, Winding recorded a dozen extremely diverse albums between 1961 and 1967, scoring an unlikely hit in 1963 with “More (Theme from Mondo Cane).”

Taylor left Verve for A&M, forging his own CTI imprint in 1967. He then reconvened the two trombonists for one last time on the albums Israel (as K. & J.J. in 1968) and Betwixt & Between (as J & K in 1969) – two particularly uneven albums that strived to “fit in” in a way that this album has no problem with at all.

The Q Effect

Stonebone sounds like nothing Winding or Johnson had ever done before, on their own or together. It’s hard to believe it’s a Creed Taylor production, too. We’re a long way from those records of the fifties – and light years past the tightly arranged, radio-friendly LPs Taylor had been churning out the previous few years.

This makes me think the impetus for Stonebone came not from the producer, but rather from the multi-talented and visionary Quincy Jones. Q had known J & K for years: Jones and Johnson were in Dizzy Gillespie’s band together back in the 1950s and both Johnson and Winding factored in many of Jones’s East Coast recordings.

By 1965, Jones had moved out to Hollywood to work in film and television, but returned to New York briefly in June 1969 to wax his jazz “comeback,” Walking in Space, for CTI.

But Walking in Space, also featuring Bob James and Grady Tate, was something new for him – and for CTI. The songs were longer, electric, more improvised and less “arranged” than Taylor’s previous productions. The CTI formula was noticeably altered with this one release, thereby paving the way for records like Stonebone and, significantly, Freddie Hubbard’s landmark CTI debut Red Clay (1970), which also features Herbie Hancock and Ron Carter.

(It’s difficult to say what impact Miles Davis had on this music. The seismic shift of In A Silent Way occurred on its release in July 1969, one month after Walking in Space was recorded but two months before Stonebone. Trumpeter Donald Byrd was also headed in the same direction around this time, too.)

While Q was in town, it’s easy to imagine he convinced CT to let J & K do an album closer in spirit to his own Walking in Space. It’s an envelope he pushed even further on 1970’s Gula Matari. Bob James’s appearance here pretty much confirms this: Jones was something of a “father figure” to James. Thus, began James’s long tenure with Creed Taylor at CTI and the birth of the keyboardist’s successful solo career.

Giants For Sidemen

Taylor likely brought in Herbie Hancock and Ron Carter, both of whom had recently come out of Davis’s second great quintet and also had spots on Johnson and Winding’s previous two A&M efforts. Ross Tompkins (1938-2006), who was Winding’s pianist at the time, appears on several tracks as well, giving this album an amazing three keyboardists (Winding was a master of packing albums with multiple trombonists, and with his exceptional and hugely underrated Penny Lane & Time, a choir of flutes).

But it was unquestionably Taylor’s genius that brought George Benson to the party. And Benson really delivers here; he helps makes this album worth every minute and every penny.

Stonebone was recorded over three days in September 1969 at Rudy Van Gelder’s Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, studio. Recording logs show that seven tracks were waxed, while only four were issued. The unissued tracks are listed as Johnson’s “Taurus” (September 23), “Anticipation,” Johnson’s “Ballad in C Minor” (24) and Winding’s “Ding” (25). The title “Musings” doesn’t appear in the logs, so it is likely a retitling of one of the three unissued tracks.

The record opens with Rudy Stevenson’s relentlessly funky “Dontcha Hear Me Callin’ to Ya?” The song had previously been covered by pianist Wynton Kelly in 1966 (released in 1968) while Benson himself had notably waxed the tune a few months before this for his CTI album Tell It Like It Is. The 5th Dimension put their version of the song on the flip side of the hit single “Aquarius/Let the Sun Shine In” and pianist Junior Mance gave it yet another funky spin in 1970.

Here, the rhythm section casts a hypnotic spell with a spacey organ (oddly recalling Dick Hyman) weaving throughout the tune. Johnson and Winding alternate solos so seamlessly as to be one (catch the “Fever” quote) but when Benson steps up to the stand, the vibe gets a little looser, with a bit more of the freedom that Hancock’s Mwandishi band would soon begin to explore.

James and Hancock seem to trade fours here, too, as elements of their electric styles are present throughout. At around fourteen minutes, the song simply fades out, though it could have easily kept going through bolder paces.

Although “Musings” is too generically named (it was probably slapped on at the last minute), the title is appropriate for this contemplative piece, another of Johnson’s typically lovely melodies. It is a feature for the two trombones and an apt reminder of what made these two horns together so appealing in the first place.

Johnson’s “Space”-y “Mojo” opens side two and is similar in its seductive sinew to the two best songs from Hubert Laws’s CTI debut Crying Song, “How Long Will It Be?” and Pink Floyd’s (!) “Cymbaline.” Perhaps that’s because all three songs were recorded on the same day, with James, Benson, Carter and Tate working up a heady and intoxicating groove all along the way.

Concluding the record, Joe Zawinul’s “Recollections” – really little more than a riff – gets more of a Cannonball Adderley Quintet shuffle here than the longer, ruminative version the composer recorded with Miles Davis five months later (with the same rhythm section, sans Zawinul, that factored on Joe Farrell’s 1970 CTI debut, Joe Farrell Quartet).

While the funk comes back, the hue of the record changes here with the triage of the organ, Rhodes (sounding very much like a celesta) and clavinet keyboards. Johnson and Winding roll over top of all this like a warm wave on a sandy beach.

Everyone is at the top of their game here. The two trombones haven’t sounded this compatible since their earliest records – which makes it surprising they never recorded together again. While the dueling keyboards earn repeated listens, it’s easy to forget just how much Ron Carter and Grady Tate contribute to both the foundation and, surprisingly for a Creed Taylor production, the freedom of the music.

But it may well be George Benson who is the star of the show. Here, the guitarist is given space to unleash a torrent of melodic genius he was seldom afforded later (and one he’s kept to himself for most of the past four decades). Even his comping has an edge to it that stokes the other players on to more.

And In The End

It’s hard to believe everybody involved in Stonebone walked away from these sessions and simply went about their business. Creed Taylor went independent (leaving J & K behind), recording albums far more planned and structured than Stonebone, thereby making CTI the only significant jazz label of the 70s.

Quincy Jones persuaded J.J. Johnson to join him in Hollywood, where he scored the Blaxploitation classics Across 110th Street, Cleopatra Jones and Willie Dynamite and worked on episodes of the TV shows The Mod Squad, Starsky & Hutch and The Six Million Dollar Man. Kai Winding went on to tour briefly with the Giants of Jazz and seemingly went off the radar, never recording for a major label again.

Stonebone, however, survived and it’s back for the first time to ears that will marvel at how two bebop veterans waxed such a monster of experimental electric jazz.

Doug Payne’s CTI Discography Entry for Stonebone

Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: September 23, 24, 25 1969
unknown personnel including J.J. Johnson, Kai Winding (tb); Herbie Hancock, Bob James (key); George Benson (g); Ron Carter (b); Grady Tate (d).
a. (tk. 1) Taurus (J.J. Johnson)
b. (tk. 3) Dontcha Hear Me Callin To Ya? (Rudy Stevenson)

same or similar, add Ross Tompkins (key).
c. (tk. 20) Mojo (J.J. Johnson)

same or similar.
d. (tk. 22) Anticipation
e. (tk. 24) Ballad In C Minor (J.J. Johnson)

same or similar, add Ross Tompkins (key).
f. (tk. 27/30) Ding (Kai Winding)

same or similar, add Ross Tompkins (key).
g. (tk. 37,43,44) Recollections (Joe Zawinul?)

same or similar.
h. Musings

Note: (1) STONEBONE was scheduled for American release as A&M SP-3027, but it was never issued in the United States using that number. (2) Above data comes from Creed Taylor’s recording logs and do not include the title “Musings,” which is a title that appears on A&M (Jap) 330 and most certainly an alternate title for one of the unissued selections listed above (a, d, e, f).  (3) Details courtesy of Arnaldo DeSouteiro, Eumir Deodato and Dan Skea.

Issues: b, c, g & h on A&M (Japan) 330.
Producer: Creed Taylor
Engineer: Rudy Van Gelder
Notes: unknown
Jacket: unknown

More Information/References

Marc Myers on Why Stonebone Wasn’t Released outside of Japan [via jazzwax.com]

Update 10/31/20: Actual RSD images added

3 Replies to “Stonebone – Finally!”

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.