Modern Jazz in Milwaukee
and the Wisconsin Conservatory
While some of the recorded work below has little to do with Wisconsin, I wanted to give a representation of some of the major figures in this chapter – Billy Wallace, Willie Pickens, Buddy Montgomery, Melvin Rhyne, Bunky Green and Frank Morgan – even if it was work unrelated to their time in Milwaukee. But I have made no attempt to give anything like a complete picture of their recorded music.
Billy Wallace’s album with Max Roach is Jazz in 3/4 Time. It was recorded in 1957 with Roach’s quintet (with the great Sonny Rollins on tenor and Kenny Dorham on trumpet) on EmArcy Records; it was re-released as recently as 2005.
As noted below, Manty Ellis is on Buddy Montgomery’s album This Rather Than That (see Montgomery below). Ellis also released a self-produced album in 1999 with his old friend Willie Pickens on piano, in his own sweet way. Milwaukeean Carl Allen (see Chapter 9) and longtime Milwaukee resident Mel Rhyne (see below) make guest appearances.
Willie Pickens and I talked about a number of albums he’s on, but he didn’t really tell me his preferences. Listed here are a variety of different things he played on. The album that introduced Eddie Harris – and Willie – to most jazz audiences was 1961’s Exodus To Jazz. That album was released on CD in 1997 on Vee Jay (Blue Moon) along with Harris’s next album (also with Pickens) Mighty Like a Rose. Willie’s album It’s About Time! (Southport, 1998) is a straight-ahead trio album of jazz tunes. Piano veteran Marian McPartland played duets for years on her syndicated radio program Piano Jazz. She and Pickens made a whole album of duets in 2001, Ain’t Misbehavin’: Live at the Jazz Showcase (Concord). Pickens’s 2006 album for Southport, Jazz Spirit, Volume 1, is described as “Sacred Music in a Jazz Setting by Pianist Willie Pickens.” Hymns from a variety of traditions are performed by Willie alone, a duet and several trios and quartets with various Chicago musicians.
Bunky Green’s 1965 Testifyin’ Time and 1966 Playin’ For Keeps are available on a single CD on Lone Hill Jazz. Fellow Milwaukeeans Billy Wallace and Willie Pickens are the pianists on the two albums. The music is a mix of standards, popular tunes and originals.
1990’s Healing the Pain was recorded for the Delos. The much heralded Apex (Pi Recordings, 2010), with Rudresh Mahanthappa, should still be widely available. It will be challenging listening for some.
Frank Morgan’s first recordings as a leader were most lately available on GNP Crescendo and Fresh Sound Records. His comeback album was Easy Living (Contemporary, 1985, re-released on Original Jazz Classics). A popular album was his first release for Antilles, in 1990, Mood Indigo. By all reports, his recorded work for the last 20 years of his life was remarkably consistent. Unfortunately, very few of Morgan’s recordings are currently in print or in legal mp3 files; however, used copies are relatively common on the internet.
The Mastersounds’ first album, Introducing the Mastersounds: Water’s Edge, on which Buddy Montgomery and Rich(ie) Crabtree played, was released in 1958 on World Pacific Records. It has been re-released as recently as 2008 on CD. A double-CD of two of the popular Mastersounds albums, jazz interpretations of music from the Broadway hits Kismet and The King and I, has recently been available on Cherry Red Records. (Wes Montgomery is on the Kismet album.) Montgomery’s Impulse! album, recorded during his stay in Milwaukee, This Rather Than That (with Manty Ellis and Melvin Rhyne) has never, to my knowledge, been released on CD. With serious searching, one can find copies of the original LP. Another Montgomery album that will be of interest to Wisconsin jazz fans is Remembering Wes, an ode to Montgomery’s celebrated brother. This Japanese release, recorded in 2000 and last put out by M & I in 2013, along with a West Coast trio, features two long-time Milwaukee percussionists, Dumah Safir and Luis Diaz (see Chapter 15).
Melvin Rhyne made few records while he was in Wisconsin. However, he had a distinguished recording history during his career. In particular, he was associated with the early work of the great guitarist Wes Montgomery. Recently, some of earliest of that activity, from 1957-1958, was released on a beautiful historical set on Resonance Records, Wes Montgomery: Echoes of Indiana Avenue. Rhyne was also on Montgomery’s first national release, Wes Montgomery Trio, (Riverside, 1959). Rhyne recorded again with Montgomery on Boss Guitar (Riverside, 1963), when Montgomery was on the brink of big fame.
Rhyne cut an album called Tracks sometime in the late 1990s for the Milwaukee label LaDonna Records. It featured guitarist Jack Grassel, trumpeter Jeff Pietrangelo (both in Chapter 15), and drummer Andy Lo Duca. This is an extremely rare item, but well worth seeking out.
Rhyne’s “comeback” album, The Legend, on Criss Cross (with Brian Lynch on one track), is still in circulation and available as a download at iTunes and amazon.
The Wisconsin Conservatory issued an album by We Six in 2005. It features Berkeley Fudge, Mark Davis, Jeff Hamann, David Bayles, and Mike Plog on trumpet and Paul Silbergleit on guitar. The tunes are by Davis, Silbergleit and Plog. The music is the skillful straight-ahead jazz that one would expect from these fine players.
In 2013 (on Holistic MusicWorks), Eric Schoor and Eric Jacobson (see Chapter 17) produced Combinations: Live at the Estate, with their co-led quintet (with Barry Velleman, Jeff Hamann and David Bayles), with guest Brian Lynch (see Chapter 9).