“I didn’t find the baritone saxophone, it found me.”
Gary Smulyan – Smul’s Paradise
As you might suspect, not all albums I receive and listen to are wonderful, let alone review worthy. As fate would have it, I recently listened to three separate albums that each, independently, piqued my interest. Curiously they all had the one unifying factor, the gutsy baritone saxophone sound of Gary Smulyan. Smul’s Paradise is Gary Smulyan’s most recent album as a leader, and a smoking hot representation of one of my favorite formats, the organ trio. This one has the added twist of including Smulyan’s brash baritone as a fourth instrument in this proven format, and it works amazingly well. When you enter the door to this imaginary lounge, Smul’s Paradise, you are entering a smoke-filled world of dimmed lights and red velvet fabric. A world of pleated leather lined booths, dingy, plush carpeting and a compact bandstand stuffed into a corner opposite the shiny mahogany bar where peroxide ladies wait anxiously for the next song or the next prince charming to sweep them off their feet. In this world of late nights and cheap drinks, the classic guitar/organ/drums format ruled and was often the lounge’s only redeeming reason for staying in business. In Smul’s edition it is comprised of Mike LeDonne on Hammond B3, Peter Bernstein on electric guitar and Kenny Washington on drums, with Gary Smulyan’s big, bad baritone shaking the place with his brash soulful sound. The group starts out with a rip-roaring take of the Bobby Hebb classic “Sunny.” Despite the innumerable versions you might have heard of this one, you haven’t heard it with Smulyan’s throaty baritone leading the way. His facility on this awkwardly sized horn, that seems to be as big as he is, is amazing. He handles its breathy demands like he has learned to harness the gust of a hurricane. Where as players like Pepper Adams, Serge Chaloff, Harry Carney or the large and lanky Gerry Mulligan seem to fit their horn, Smulyan somehow makes the horn fit within his more compact stature. One unified inspiration for this particular group of musicians is the music of the late and under appreciated organist Don Patterson, and on Patterson’s “Up In Betty’s Room” we find Smul’s aggressive attack on his horn to be the perfect foil for Peter Bernstein’s mellow guitar lines. Organist Mike LeDonne and drummer Kenny Washington create a swinging undercurrent that allows Smulyan the perfect canvas on which to create his exploratory dablings. He does this with a palpable exuberance that carries you into the cyclonic swirl of his playing. On his self-penned “Smul’s Paradise,” the Pepper Adams connection is apparent. The complex opening is played in tight unison with Peter Bernstein’s fluid guitar. Smulyan breaks into a rousing baritone solo, charging in delivery, but with a buoyancy that defies the gravitational pull often associated with the low register that dominates this instrument. The brilliant exchange of ideas between Smulyan’s horn and drummer Kenny Washington’s brushes is an example of almost telepathic interplay.
On tenor George Coleman’s “Little Miss Half-Step,” Smulyan starts off in a medium tempo and slowly accelerates to a heart racing double time, pushing his rhythmic partners into a frenzy. The baritone master makes his lumbering instrument sing with exquisite grace and nimbleness. He belts chorus upon chorus of rapidly forming ideas with a seemingly inexhaustible reservoir of energy. Some fine interplay between Washington and Bernstein and then Washington and LeDonne complete this multi-layered conversation. The group revisits Don Patterson’s work with his composition “Aries.” This evocative ballad is the perfect vehicle for Peter Bernstein’s honey toned, semi-hollow bodied guitar work, reminiscent of Kenny Burrell. B3 master Le Donne plays a wonderfully soulful solo that you find yourself shaking your head “yes” to as it unfolds. Smulyan somehow manages to get just the right emotional balance from his horn, part wailing and part yearning and then in a dramatic ending he creates a torrent of musical ideas that envelop you like low-lying fog coming off a distant shore. On “Blues for DP,” a dedication to Don Patterson, the group gains its stride. Bernstein’s solo work is particularly tasty and LeDonne seems in his element with his mastery of the nuances of the soulful B3. “Heavenly Hours” is a Smulyan composition that is a play on “Seven Steps to Heaven” intertwined with he melody from “My Shining Hour.” This is perhaps the most impressive display of the intuitive interplay between Washington and Smulyan. The baritone leads the way and the drummer instantly responds in kind creating an extraordinary dialogue that feeds off each others ideas so perfectly it’s hard to imagine it was created on the spot. Reviewed by, Ralph Miriello, huffingtonpost.com (October 8, 2012)
Hyperbole haunts me on this one, but I’ll risk it: The music on Gary Smulyan’s Smul’s Paradise [Capri Records 74113-2] represents Jazz being played at the highest levels of creativity. Every thing about this recording is glorious: the context which finds the baritone saxophone paired with the organ trio, the tune selections, the pacing, the musicianship, the inspired soloing – it really does come together to form a listening paradise for Jazz lovers. In retrospect, its hard to believe that, as Neil Tesser points out in his insert notes: “Up until this album, though, Smulyan had never placed the bari in the format of the classic organ-jazz combo.” Yet, not surprisingly, if baritone saxophone was going to be recorded in the context of an organ trio, Gary Smulyan would be the one to do it for as Neil goes on to say: “Gary Smulyan dresses sharply, sports attention-getting eyewear, and stands barely taller than the baritone saxophone on which he has built his reputation. He plays with a granite tone and a suitably raspy attack that suit the instrument well; that, along with his eminently refined technique, has made Smulyan the outstanding baritone player of his generation. Despite the mischievous glint in his eyes, he appears to be a perfect gentleman. You don’t take him for a party crasher. Yet throughout his career as a recording artist, Smulyan has made it his business to bring the baritone sax to gatherings where it has rarely been invited – string orchestra, brass ensemble, a woodwinds-only nonet, his pianoless trio – and in each case, the big horn has proved a most welcome guest.” It seems that Gary is blessed with an adoring [and very curious] muse, one that has guided him through an interesting Jazz quest. Thomas Burns, the proprietor of Capri Records puts it this way: “Gary is a veritable whirlwind of ideas. He is always thinking of different approaches and has an incredible idea for what will work.” This gift for “thinking outside the box” dates back to how it all began for Gary in the Jazz world. As Geoffrey Himes recounts in a February 2012 interview with Gary that appeared in Downbeat magazine: “A bebop fanatic, he had always played Charlie Parker’s horn, the alto sax. He was such a Phil Woods disciple that he had never even thought of playing any other instrument. But here was Byrne, misled by Smulyan’s friends in the band, offering the chair, but needing an answer right away. Smulyan knew it was a chance that might not come again. He knew it would be easier to switch to the baritone than the tenor, which is tuned in the key of B-flat, while the alto and baritone are both in the key of E-flat. So he gulped and said yes. ‘I went out and bought a student-model baritone sax,’ he recalls today. Smulyan, a short, wiry man with a salt-and-pepper soul patch beneath his lip and a silver-and-black print shirt, leaned his elbows on the dining-room table of an Upper West Side condo in Manhattan, musing on the month that changed his life forever. ‘I practiced as hard as I could, and two weeks later, on May 25, 1978, I joined the band in Bridgeport, Connecticut. I found myself sitting next to Joe Lovano. When I left the band two years later to the day, the baritone had become my main voice. I was deeper into it than I had ever been with the alto. It completely changed how I heard music.’ ‘It’s an octave lower, obviously, and it requires more air because there’s more tubing to fill up. It requires a different kind of articulation because if you don’t articulate crisply, you won’t hear specific notes; you’ll just hear a low rumble. But the baritone is in the range of the human voice; it can play anything that a baritone vocalist can sing. No one on any instrument has played a more beautiful ballad than Harry Carney; no one has been more lyrical than Gerry Mulligan. If you listen to a great baritone player like Ronnie Cuber or Nick Brignola, you hear a different conception on the horn than you hear from an alto or tenor player. You hear a sonic personality that’s particular to the baritone.’ Today Smulyan personifies that distinctive sound.” Gary’s peers also eschew hyperbole when talking about Gary and simply shower him with the highest compliments: Joe Lovano [saxophonist]: “Gary’s always been the voice on the baritone for a long time. Gary digs deep inside himself when he plays, so his delivery touches you. Some baritone players get lost in the lower depths, but Gary has a real presence. He has clear articulation both in the section and on his solo flights, where you hear his beautiful harmonic flow. Gary lifts a rhythm section; he captures you with his ideas.” Bob Belden: “When I replaced Joe Lovano in Woody’s band, I looked over to see Gary’s book of the band’s arrangements to get some tips, but he was no use because he didn’t even have a score. He had memorized the entire book; that’s how smart he was. The way he played also indicated how smart he was. He didn’t waste notes. He picked all the good notes and left all the bad ones behind. For him, it was a puzzle to be solved.” Along the lines of puzzle-solving, Gary is always “… intrigued by projects that aren’t likely Jazz projects. What can I do to separate myself from the hundreds of other Jazz combo albums that are going to come out?” According to pianist-organist, Mike LeDonne, one way Gary does this is by digging into his lifelong stash of obscure Tin Pan Alley tunes. “I don’t know where he finds them,” mused LeDonne, “but Gary’s got a treasure chest of pop songs that no one else knows. Melodically and harmonically these songs stand-up with the best known standards. But no one is sick of having heard them a million times.” Smul’s Paradise was originally planned as a tribute to the late Hammond B-3 organist, Don Patterson, whom Mike LeDonne refers to as “the greatest unsung player out there. According to Gary, the theme “… just morphed into something else, although two of Patterson’s tunes remain as well as one that Gary wrote for the date in memory of Don entitled “Blues for DP.” Whatever formed the initial motivation for the date, the resultant collaboration between Gary, Mike, Peter and Kenny becomes a real treat for the ears. And while we’ve put the emphasis on Gary in this review, the contributions of Mike, Peter and Kenny to the exciting and energetic music on this recording should not be overlooked. Toward this end, the editorial staff at JazzProfiles has previously discussed guitarist Peter Bernstein in a two-part feature, as well as, doing a past write-up on drummer Kenny Washington. A feature of Mike LeDonne is in the works. You can listen to the Sunny track from Smul’s Paradise while viewing the following video montage which appropriately enough features images of people smiling. Sunny, a pop hit from the 1960s, is played as an up-tempo, funky waltz and offers inspired solos from all concerned. Be sure and checkout Gary’s solo on the closing tag over a nine-note vamp played by Mike. It kicks in at 6:58 and continues until the fade-out at 9:01 minutes You don’t often hear a tag played in this manner. Gary just never stops thinking. Reviewed by, Steven A. Cerra, jazzprofiles.blogspot.com. (August 10, 2012)
Here is a unique set-up: a melodious mingling of baritone sax and Hammond B3. From the first bouncy, upbeat notes of Sunny, Smul’s Paradise will draw you into a jazzy mood. Gary Smulyan (baritone sax), Mike LeDonne (Hammond B3), Peter Bernstein (guitar) and Kenny Washington (drums) have recorded a massively entertaining album. Of the eight tracks, Smulyan has authored three, and the other tracks could well have been written especially for him. Ed Blanco says in his All About Jazz review that it’s “an exciting, compelling post-bop sizzler of a recording”. I stem completely saam. These musos work well together and are very tight. I had only slight knowledge of Smulyan’s recordings and then remembered his DownBeat listings when I read Scott Albin on JazzTimes.com: “This Cd offers yet another firm explanation as to why Smulyan has been named the best baritone saxophonist in the last fiver DownBeat critics polls.” At last, somebody to fill Gerry Mulligan’s place in Baritonia! Now, we only need to find a Johnny Hodges lookalike to marry baritone and alto. Reviewed by, Brian Hough, Tonight, www.IOL.co.za. (May 31, 2012)
Hot off the press is Smul’s Paradise from Poll Winning baritone saxophonist Gary Smulyan. Filling out the quartet is organist Mike LeDonne, guitarist Peter Bernstein and drummer Kenny Washington. The music is unpretentious and based on the organ trio groove of the 60s. Smulyan brings that sound right up to date, but in place of the usual tenor sax, this time it’s a baritone. Smulyan’s sound is tough and edgy and he plays inventive long lines with bop phrases and seems to be having a good time, especially on his own composition “Heavenly Hours” on which he really explodes with just drums backing his solo outburst. Exciting stuff. Reviewed by, Don Albert, Artslink.co.za. (April 19, 2012)
According to Neil Tesser’s fine liner notes, baritonist Gary Smulyan’s Smul’s Paradise (Capri 74113-2) is a kind of tribute to the original sound and style of the not well-remembered organist Don Patterson, especially as heard in those marvelous Prestige albums from the ’60s. I only read things like liner notes, press sheets, etc., after I have formed my own judgement on an album. And there was something lurking at the back of my mind about this one that percolated underneath and did not come to the surface until I read the notes. “Aha,” I said to myself, “that’s what was poking at me as I listened to this.” Don Patterson is a favorite of mine and it was that vibe I was picking up on without naming it in my mind. The hard bop, hard swinging funk of Lonnie Smith, Don Patterson and early Larry Young is the fulcrum point for this one. Mike LeDonne on the Hammond, Peter Bernstein, guitar, and Kenny Washington’s swinging drums give Gary the context for Gary to hold forth on his baritone. The music includes a couple of Patterson-penned burners, the perennial “Sunny,” and a couple of game Smulyan originals. It’s a great band to do this and they pull it off with their own stylistic integrity intact. Meaning they are not just copping a style. They are co-opting it and making it what they will of it. Everybody sounds great and the music SWINGS, brothers and sisters. It’s hands down one of the best and most convincing organ jazz revival disks I’ve heard in years. And Smulyan gets a showcase where he can nail it. Nail it he does. Reviewed by, Grego Applegate, gapplegatemusicreview.blogspot.com. (April 6, 2012)
From the opening number—the insistent, jumpy, lock-step strut of the Stevie Wonder hit “Sunny”—it’s clear that Gary Smulyan’s latest quartet offering is far from just another saxophone album. In fact, the baritone master (yep, that’s baritone sax in a leading role) originally set out to pay tribute to the oft-overlooked organ-heavy Don Patterson, and he lands nicely on the mark with an album more in stride with Groove Holmes or a small Jimmy Smith combo than anything overly breathy or reedy. Full of hard-swinging, dusty grooves, Paradise is a hodgepodge of two Patterson compositions, three originals (including standout cut “Blues for D.P.”) and an unerring vibe of smoky, late-night head-nodding. Guitarist Peter Bernstein’s economical touch—ripe with gutsy, bluesy feel—shows he’s an old pro of organ combos, while Smulyan’s own breathless, tasty runs always stay just rooted enough in the get-down. Kept chugging by Kenny Washington’s drums and old-school by the Hammond B-3 plunkings of Mike LeDonne, the album approaches the consummate marriage of musical opposites: tightknit and laid-back. Paradise is also powerful proof, or maybe revelation, that the Soul Jazz of today can stay just as in-the-pocket as anything pored over by the Blue Note crate-diggers at your nearest record store. Reviewed by, Todd Lazarski, expressmilwaukee.com. (April 2, 2012)
“Gary Smulyan dresses sharply, sports attention-getting eye wear…He plays with a granite tone and a suitably raspy attack that suit the instrument well; that, along with his eminently refined technique, has made Smulyan the outstanding baritone player of his generation…Despite the mischievous glint in his eyes, he appears to be a perfect gentleman.” (Liner notes: Neil Tesser – Chicago News Cooperative and the Examiner.com)
In reality, this review of the CD “Smul’s Paradise” could end right here…that is, until you hear the man and his band play. Then Neil Tesser’s glowing assessment becomes…an understatement. Bobby Hebb’s popular 1963 hit (“Sunny”), starts the date like the Space Shuttle rocketing off from the Florida coast into Earth Orbit; with no need for the customary ‘countdown.’ Peter Washington’s drums achieves immediate, flawless ignition; Mike LeDonne’s surging B3, provides effortless lift and thrust; Gary Smulyan’s baritone sax applies the after burners, and that stuff you see in the Shuttle’s wake is not burning rocket fuel; it’s the smoke coming from Peter Bernstein’s fingers as he burns through his fret! As luck would have it, Smulyan finds a smoldering gem written by organist Don Patterson, (“Up In Betty’s Room”) that has a swaying, unpretentious melody, perfectly constructed for Peter Bernstein’s wonderfully understated and logical guitar solo. Bernstein eschews crowding his solos with piles of notes; the result is a persuasive technique, that is sonically very intelligent. Smulyan’s baritone sax and LeDonne’s Hammond B3 appear very relaxed in playing the melody; coloring the musical domain with charming familiarity; meanwhile Kenny Washington describes the beat and maintains the time with immaculate precision bordering on celestial. “Smul’s Paradise” swings uncontrollably with an effervescent emotional character, evenly distributed between the musical bookends of a “Sunny” disposition, and the rapturous delight of “Heavenly Hours.” It is a date made with pride, and earmarked for enjoyment; remarkable in its bold concept, yet familiar and accessible (Pistaccio) on which LeDonne’s B3 simply roasts the nuts to a crisp, and Kenny Washington adds a funky left brain bossa beat. Smulyan’s baritone sax sound is coated with a signature golden-crusted patina developed through discipline, dedication, commitment to a high standard, and plain old big “chops.” The classic format for organ is usually – organ/tenor sax or, organ/guitar (musical rum and coke, or whiskey and soda), take your pick! But organ/baritone sax, not very often; even Smulyan admits that this is a first for him. Smulyan grew up on a steady musical diet of guitarist George Benson, organists Lonnie Smith, Larry Young, Don Patterson, and alto/tenor saxophone titan Sonny Stitt. It follows that Smulyan knows a thing or two about organs, organists and what he likes to hear. His players have been around good music and iconic jazz musicians for their entire careers. In this regard they are kindred spirits. Peter Bernstein studied jazz at Rutgers University with Ted Dunbar and Kenny Barron. He has played with tenor saxophonists Sonny Rollins, , Joshua Redman, Eric Alexander, Joe Lovano, alto saxophonist Lou Donaldson, organist Jack McDuff, pianist Brad Meldau, singer Diana Krall, drummer Jimmy Cobb, trumpeter Roy Hargrove, and many, many more. His guitar solo on Smulyan’s swinging, bopish composition (Smul’s Paradise) is clean, clear, warm and evenly melodic. He always knows where he is going, and proceeds confidently. In the drummer’s chair, (probably still playing those “K’s” Mel Lewis gave him long ago) is every body’s current percussionist of choice, the very peripatetic Kenny Washington. Kenny is a thrill to listen to, but he’s downright sensational to see live. He gets so much bounce, rise and rhythm out of his drum set, that it seems he has more than two hands; just listen to his blistering two-handed attack on hard bop saxophonist George Coleman’s (Little Miss Half Step), and a Smulyan-composed burner (Heavenly Hours). Kenny studied at the Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts. He has been in bands with alto saxophonists Lee Konitz, Phil Woods, Sonny Stitt; singer Betty Carter; tenor saxophonist Johnny Griffin; trumpeters Dizzy Gillespie, Clark Terry; pianist George Cables; bandleaders Benny Goodman, Lionel Hampton, Ahmad Jamal; and pianist Tommy Flanagan. Organist Mike LeDonne graduated from the New England Conservatory of Music at 21. He has played with his share of jazz giants; the great vibraphonists Milt “Bags” Jackson & Bobby Hutcherson; bandleaders Benny Goodman & Benny Golson; tenor saxophonist Sonny Rollins; trumpeters Art Farmer & Dizzy Gillespie. He is regarded as one of the leading players on the Hammond B3 organ, and is also a pianist of acclaim, having been described by the late, great pianist Oscar Peterson, “as one of the most promising and talented pianist of this era.” Listen to the emphatic exclamatory fashion in which he ends each track. It’s like a stinging knock out punch delivered short and sweet, that is never seen coming. His is the voice that creates that bright emotional character and deep, unbridled, sense of swing throughout the CD. The sound colors (timbre) that he paints with Gary Smulyan’s baritone saxophone are seamless as a cloud. Smulyan’s voice has just enough of a muscular knarly, raspy edge and attitude that fits snugly with the percussion and preempts any stolidness or predictability in the music, Don Patterson/Sonny Stitt’s (Aires) is the tune on the CD that brings this all into clear focus; it is by far the most down reaching and beautifully fulfilling selection on the date: it cries with longing. It maybe simply a case of outrageous, fortuitous serendipity that makes this CD such a tour de force of tonal warmth, familiarity, modernity; not running afoul of the laws of good texture, or turning out an unrecognizable experiment. It seems patently obvious, to me at least, that Gary Smulyan’s brain child of pairing the “granite tone” of his baritone saxophone, and “his eminently refined technique” with Mike LeDonne’s warm Hammond B3 organ has in it’s own way elevated serendipity to stirring genius.There may be a new bird in paradise, and Smulyan’s “raspy” baritone saxophone might be its tweet! Reviewed by, C.J. Bond, Jazz Music, jazmuzic.com. (March 25, 2012)
Going back to Jimmy Smith, jazz recordings featuring the Hammond B-3 organ make the best party music: The B-3′s marvelous harmonics send this delicious buzz through your coccyx (“Heh heh! He said ‘coccyx!’”) and drives you either onto the dance floor or straight for the bar. By substituting baritone sax for tenor sax (the B-3′s more traditional ally), Gary Smulyan applies a tumbling Tim Wakefield knuckleball to the organ-jazz concept, and the results are truly outstanding. When properly applied, the bari sax has a great little buzz of its own, so when you combine Mike LeDonne’s vibrant skills on the B-3 with Smulyan’s peerless ability to play effortless, cascading solos that never fail to thrill, an overcooked chestnut like Bobby Hebb’s “Sunny” jumps up and waltzes smartly around the room. Smulyan and LeDonne give grateful nods to the late B-3 master Don Patterson with a finger-snapping version on Patterson’s “Up in Betty’s Room” and a luscious take on his ballad “Aires.” It’s not all standards in “Smul’s Paradise,” even though the overall vibe would make “Brother” Jack McDuff proud: Smulyan originals like “Blues for “D.P.” and the flying title track are eminently solid citizens, and “Heavenly Hours” (Smulyan’s epic re-work of “Seven Steps to Heaven”) really kicks out the jams. Peter Bernstein’s tasty guitar harkens back to Grant Green’s 1961 release “Grantstand,” a Blue Note classic which featured McDuff and tenorman Yusef Lateef. When the going gets tough, it’s a brave soul that can kick back and party, and Smul’s Paradise is how you do it the jazz way. Reviewed by, J. Hunter, nippertown.com. (March 1, 2012)
Making his debut for Capri Records, baritone saxophonist Gary Smulyan mixes the power of his instrument with the light, swanky flavour of organ jazz. The resulting vibes of Smul’s Paradise are intoxicating and different. It’s not every day that one gets to hear a baritone saxophonist fronting what is essentially an organ trio, yet that’s the setup here. B3-Hammond player Mike LeDonne, drummer Kenny Washington and guitarist Peter Bernstein complete the group and their repartee clearly helps the album win its name. Washington and Bernstein are largely tasked with holding the rhythm down, but they offer so much more than time-keeping. Washington’s fills are animated and his tempo is fluid, while Bernstein pops up in all the right places with bright, expressive soloing. The back-and-forth between Smulyan and LeDonne certainly matches the aforementioned pairing punch-for-punch. LeDonne draws the group together with his proficient playing and articulate chording, while Smulyan powers the locomotives with a gallant and distinguished performance. “It was a first for me,” Smulyan says of working with an organ trio. “But I’ve been wanting to do this for a long time. It’s such a favourite format of mine; I grew up listening to George Benson with Lonnie Smith and Don Patterson on those albums by Grant Green and Larry Young – incredible swinging music.” Smul’s Paradise is, in fact, a tribute to Patterson and three tracks pay tribute to the Philadelphia-born organist. Two are Patterson compositions (“Aries” and “Up in Betty’s Room”) and the third (“D. P. Blues”) is a Smulyan ode to the artist. Other tracks take different paths to the same swinging destination, like Rhonda Scott’s “Pistachio” with its slinky funk or the spacious, solo-ready title track. George Coleman’s “Little Miss Half Steps” is a welcome addition that packs potent drumming from Washington. Smul’s Paradise came together in a matter of hours with no rehearsal time. The music, as a result, sounds incredibly fresh and almost unbelievably energetic. There are no strained passages and no tawdry solos. Smulyan and the group deliver purely for the pleasure of it, honouring Patterson by playing as one. Reviewed by, Jordan Richardson, Blindedbysound.com. (February 8, 2012)
The jazz quartet format can be such a versatile thing, with any permutation of instruments you can think of. Baritone saxophonist Gary Smulyan has settled on Hammond B3, guitar and drums for his new quartet recording – and that makes for quite a beefy sound. In fact Smul’s Paradise is a very muscular jazz album, with all four instrumentalist playing in synch throughout yet having the space to solo where appropriate. Mr Smulyan has a strong presence on his baritone sax, yet for me I found the Hammond organ, whether solo or duelling with the sax, to be equally exciting. There’s a bit of a retro feel to the music, it oozes 60s/70s chic – dark, underground smoke-filled clubs full of chilled out people. Mind you, I find the retro feel and sound adds resonance to the music. The musicians supporting Gary Smulyan are: Mike LeDonne – Hammond B3, Peter Bernstein – guitar, and Kenny Washington – drums. The album contains eight tracks, three by Gary Smulyan, the rest by a variety of jazz composers such as Sonny Stitt and George Coleman, and I found Mr Smulyan’s music stood the test of comparison with the covers. Smul’s Paradise is an amiable hour of good jazz, excellent musicianship from all four musicians, and full of good vibes. Recommended. Reviewed by, John M. Peters, the-borderland.co.uk. Musicwatch #19.
O’s Notes: Saxophonist Gary Smulyan leads a quartet with Mike LeDonne manning the B3, Peter Bernstein on guitar and drummer Kenny Washington. These are all first call musicians and they blend well as an ensemble. For this release Gary plays the baritone sax and works it like a charm giving a different character to this grouping. Whether rejuvenating tried and true standards like “Sunny” or swinging on their own groove with Smul’s Paradise, Gary and his team make a strong statement. Reviewed by, D. Oscar Groomes, OsPlaceJazz.com. (March 2012)
Smulyan is one of those standout, all-around musicians who toils under the radar more than he should but contributes mightily to a great many ensembles. It’s not that he isn’t a recognizable force – since the Long Islander hit the scene in the late 1970s, he has landed on recordings issued by a variety of ensembles, large and small. Known for his work dating to the Mel Lewis Orchestra, Smulyan also can be heard with the likes of Dave Holland, Joe Lovano, Kevin Mahogany, John Scofield, Tom Harrell and too many more to name. For his latest, Smulyan decided he wanted to front a so-called classic organ trio. This format mostly has been left to tenor or alto saxophonists or simply has been comprised of guitar, organ and drums. In Smulyan’s case, he brought together musicians he has worked with in different settings during his career. Mike LeDonne, probably known more as a pianist than an organist, absolutely tears it up on Hammond B-3 here; guitarist Peter Bernstein swings with the best of today’s six-string players; and drummer extraordinaire Kenny Washington, who will be performing here with pianist Benny Green on Thursday at the University Club as part of the “We Always Swing” Jazz Series, holds down that chair. As for content, Smulyan draws from seminal organist Don Patterson’s 1960s material with “Up In Betty’s Room” and the ballad “Aires.” He then offers a tribute, “Blues for D.P.,” along with interpreting saxophonist George Coleman’s “Little Miss Half Steps.” The session opens with Bobby Herb’s “Sunny” while the title track stands as one of three Smulylan originals. The challenge to issuing such a recording is to somehow pay homage to the organ trio/quartet idiom of a half-century ago but make it sound fresh and bluesy and, above all else, have a swingin’ groove that tugs at you. With their musical acumen, Smulyan and company are decidedly up to the task. Grab this puppy. Reviewed by, Jon Poses, ColumbiaTribune.com. (February 19, 2012)
Continuing the recent Hammond B-3 trio and quartet soul jazz renaissance, baritone sax veteran, Gary Smulyan, goes one better. Substituting the bari for the requisite tenor sax, Smulyan adds the funky bottom-end bari growl to the mix which increases the funk quotient. Along to give the soul jazz mix a solid pedigree are three New Yorkers that have played together in various combinations, but never recorded together as a quartet. Each is a master of their instrument, with Mike LeDonne active in New York clubs and also having an strong career as a recording leader for Savant Records. Peter Bernstein is in my opinion the top choice as a guitarist for ANY Hammond session. Kenny Washington is busy playing with all the cats in New York, as first choice drummer, and has been especially busy with pianist Bill Charlap. Gary Smulyan’s distinctive baritone sax tone and phrasing comes closest of present day players to Pepper Adams, one of the bari sax true masters, which is a distinct complement. Not a copyist, he just has the bottom end baritone sax range that few can match. His 1997 Strings album recorded for Criss Cross is a masterpiece, and I eagerly awaited this release after enjoying his Pepper Adams tribute a few years ago at the Detroit Jazz Festival. I can happily report that Smul’s Paradise is the real deal. It includes two Don Patterson compositions and Gary’s tribute to Don, “Blues for D.P.” Smulyan has included three tracks of originals, and also Rhoda Scott’s “Pistaccio.” Both Rhoda and Don Patterson are woefully unrecognized as among the true Hammond B-3 giants. “Sunny” opens the CD with light fare, fully recognizable, but not in the league with the other selections. However, LeDonne has a way of elevating most any song to a higher level with his prodigious Hammond talents. “Up in Betty’s Room” from Don Patterson is more like it, and Smul digs in prodded by LeDonne. Bernstein has his usual tasty solo and all is well. “Pistaccio” has a light bari-meets-Latinesque vibe, and Peter and Gary make it their own. The title track follows, and we get a boppish feel, appropriate to the title’s play on words to Small’s Paradise, the famous Harlem jazz club which was active from the 1920s through the 1940s. “Little Miss Half Steps,” written by George Coleman, whose muscular tone on tenor brings to mind Smulyan’s prowess on bari, is next, and gives Smulyan and Company a chance to go out of the Hammond box to explore some more bop territory. Kenny Washington has some assertive drum solos playing off LeDonne. “Aires” is a gorgeous ballad for Gary to sweetly emote while the Hammond swirls around him. Smulyan honors Don Patterson on “Blues for D.P.” It’s a cooker, and continues the soul jazz party. Only Ronnie Cuber, has had the Hammond B-3 featured besides Smulyan (Cuber was active with Lonnie Smith and George Benson back in the day), and Smulyan reminds us that it’s not just the tenor sax that fits in a Hammond B-3 setting. Smul’s Paradise is a welcome addition with bottom end grease lubricating the mix. Pick this one up and prepare to groove to a funky mix. Reviewed by, Jeff Krow, Audiophile Audition, audaud.com. (February 13, 2012)
First things first. Ya gotta love the title, a reference to the famous New York jazz bistro, “Small’s Paradise.” Furthermore, I’m convinced that there isn’t much of anything that Smulyan can’t impressively pull off playing that sometimes unforgiving beast, the baritone saxophone. Smulyan has demonstrated over the years a rare versatility among today’s musicians. And this time around, he gathers in a sympathetic Gotham group to produce some hip, swinging, soulful sounds. On board are Mike LeDonne, Hammond B3; Peter Bernstein, guitar; and Kenny Washington, drums. Smulyan is much more a disciple of the Pepper Adams in-your-face style than, say, the more lyrical whimsies of Gerry Mulligan or Serge Chaloff. But you know how I feel about these “organ and guitar” records. Month after month, issue after issue, they’re like the flavor of the month. The only difference here is that Smulyan and his playing mates are so “in the pocket” that this soul-drenched session comes out better than nearly any other. The tunes are mostly blues lines from contributors such as Don Patterson, an admired purveyor of this style from the past, as well as Smulyan’s own intriguing changes on a surprising combination of the changes to “My Shining Hour” and “Seven Steps To Heaven.” That sort of “craziness” is what makes Smulyan such a compelling jazz musician! Reviewed by, George Fendel, Jazz Society of Oregon, jsojazzscene.org. (February, 7, 2012)
On Smul’s Paradise, baritone saxophonist supreme Gary Smulyan finds perfection by dropping his deep, badass sound into the heart of a groove-or-die organ combo. With Mike LeDonne on Hammond B3, Peter Bernstein on guitar and Kenny Washington holding down the drums, Smulyan and company began recording this project as a tribute to the sound of Don Patterson, one of the great under-sung heroes of the B3. While the final project morphed into a broader love affair with the organ combo, Patterson’s music remains a key component. There are two Patterson tunes on the record-”Up In Betty’s Room” and “Aires” (which Patterson wrote with Sonny Stitt)-as well as Smulyan’s “Blues For D.P.,” a joy-ride of a tribute. Smulyan penned two other originals for the set, the uptempo title track-which turns into a rapid-fire, attack groove with killer soloing by all four band members-and “Heavenly Hours,” a comical mashup of “Seven Steps To Heaven” and “My Shining Hour.” Smulyan’s ridiculously fine solo on the tune demonstrates one simple fact: There’s no finer baritone saxophonist on earth. Reviewed by, Frank Alkyer, Downbeat.com, Editors Picks. (February, 2012)
Smulyan is one of the top baritone saxophonists in the world, yet he’s under the radar in popularity when he should have the name recognition of a Gerry Mulligan or Pepper Adams. Smulyan can bop with the best of them, as he proves here on the opener, “Sunny,” which clips along to the beats of Kenny Washington and vibrato chords of organist Mike LeDonne. Peter Bernstein adds depth and fine soloing on guitar, but it’s Smulyan who really shines in this setting. The title track, by Smulyan, harkens back to earlier days, when hard bop and soul jazz ruled. But Smulyan can also play a lovely ballad, with a rich, lightly reedy tone, as he tenderly does on “Aires,” while LeDonne’s chords waver under his melody. This disc is a must for fans of straight ahead jazz and those who enjoy melodies done right. Reviewed by, Kyle O’Brien, Jazz Society of Oregon, jsojazzscene.org. (February 7, 2012)
Gary Smulyan is perhaps best known for his associations over the years with both big bands and large ensembles, such as Woody Herman, the Mel Lewis Jazz Orchestra, the Mingus Big Band, Joe Lovano’s Nonet, and Dave Holland’s Octet and Big Band. Yet one of his unfulfilled desires has been to play in a jazz organ combo. Outside of Ronnie Cuber with Lonnie Smith (and George Benson), one would be hard-pressed to come up with another baritone saxophonist who was part of such a group. With Smul’s Paradise, Smulyan has finally had his wish, as he is joined by organist Mike LeDonne, guitarist Peter Bernstein, and drummer Kenny Washington. The CD is partly a tribute to Sonny Stitt’s favorite organist, Don Patterson, with two Patterson tunes and Smulyan’s original, “D.P. Blues,” among the selections. The title Smul’s Paradise, of course, is a play on the name of the famous Harlem nightclub, Small’s Paradise, where Jimmy Smith was among the organ players who entertained the patrons. Bobby Hebb’s “Sunny” is taken at a soulful waltz tempo, with LeDonne cooking brightly on all burners. Smulyan then weaves lines that rise and fall succinctly and authoritatively, funky but without any hackneyed phrases. Bernstein also gets to stretch out appealingly before Smulyan trades with the on-the-money Washington. The drummer and organist make a locked-in and inspiring supporting team. Smulyan’s out chorus is the icing on this delicious nine-minute confection. Patterson’s “Up In Betty’s Room” is remindful of Oscar Brown, Jr.’s “Dat Dere,” and is just as good a vehicle for preaching improvisation from Bernstein, Smulyan, and LeDonne, with Washington’s pulsating back beat propelling them forward determinedly. “Pistaccio,” the Pee Wee Ellis tune that expatriate organist Rhoda Scott liked to play, has overtones of “There Will Never Be Another You” in its structure, and Smulyan, Bernstein, and then LeDonne build concise but meaty solos in front of the ever-engaging Washington. At this point it must be said that LeDonne was at his very best on 4-23-11, the date of this session, at times even outshining both Smulyan and Bernstein. The leader’s “Smul’s Paradise” is a streamlined, very hip theme that is a launching pad for Smulyan’s grooving, upbeat solo, his rich, slightly raspy tone only adding to his expressiveness. The dancing lines of Bernstein’s improv are in turn enhanced by his light, floating sound. LeDonne’s statement acknowledges all that preceded him while going its own merry, multi-faceted way. Washington’s exchanges with his confreres are compellingly to the point. “Little Miss Half Steps,” which Smulyan may have played while a member of composer George Coleman’s Octet, is handled by the baritone saxophonist in a relentlessly driving, brawny manner similar to that of Coleman. Washington is again endlessly inventive in his fruitful conversations with first Bernstein and then LeDonne. “Aires” is a dreamy Patterson-Stitt ballad that Smulyan plays with tender longing, as LeDonne’s organ lays down a luxurious harmonic foundation. Bernstein’s solo combines graceful delicacy with bluesy intonation. LeDonne sermonizes in classic Patterson-like fashion. Smulyan’s narrative is a master lesson in thematic improvisation, complete with declamatory coda. “Blues for D.P.” is an attractive, logically constructed Smulyan piece. No organ combo set is satisfactory without at least one blues workout, and this one is gratifying thanks to a string of passionate, flowing solos. Smulyan’s clever original, “Heavenly Hours,” borrows liberally form both “Seven Steps to Heaven,” and “My Shining Hour” with winning results. The leader’s extended solo is probably his most adventurous and intricate of the date, with just Washington’s expert commentary along for the ride. This CD offers yet another firm explanation as to why Smulyan has been named the best baritone saxophonist in the last five DownBeat Critics Polls. Enjoy. Reviewed by, Scott Albin, JazzTimes.com. (January 22, 2012)
While the tenor saxophone is no stranger to organ group gatherings, its big brother rarely comes to the party. It’s hard to say whether a lack of interest amongst baritone saxophonists, insufficient opportunities for such combinations, or a paucity of players capable of pulling it off is responsible for this issue, but Gary Smulyan won’t stand for it any longer. Smulyan, best known for his work with the legendary Vanguard Jazz Orchestra, has never been one to shy away from an opportunity to explore new surroundings. While he initially put his alto away and took on the mantle of a baritone saxophonist for the opportunity to join Woody Herman’s band in the late ’70s, it proved to be a career-altering experience and he’s been one of the busiest baritones in the business ever since. He has blended his instrumental voice into the fabric of big bands, piano-less trios and various other ensembles both big and small, but Smul’s Paradise marks the first time that he fronts an organ group on record. His capable comrades on this mission are some of his closest friends, who also happen to be the cream of the crop on the New York scene. While this marks the first time that Smulyan, guitarist Peter Bernstein, organist Mike LeDonne and drummer Kenny Washington have teamed up to form a quartet, shared experiences between some of these musicians on and off the bandstand make this a comfortable fit from the get-go. The entire album may have been recorded in one day, with no rehearsal time and minimal retakes, but the finished product never betrays these facts. The eight tracks on the album hit on all of the stylistic touchstones to be expected in this setting. Balladry (“Aires”), bop-ish saxophone lines (“Smul’s Paradise”), Brazilian-flavored fare (“Pistaccio”), swaggering, hard bop-based music (“Up In Betty’s Room”) and more come into play, as Smulyan explores the possibilities that live within this format. He also toys with preexisting material, as he re-imagines Bobby Hebb’s “Sunny” as a waltz and creates a hybrid of “Seven Steps To Heaven” and “My Shining Hour” on the album-ending “Heavenly Hours.” Along the way, Smulyan also pays tribute to a pair of oft-overlooked organists. Don Patterson gets his due with performances of two of his songs (“Up In Betty’s Room” and “Aires”) and an original written in his honor (“Blues For D.P.”), while Rhoda Scott gets a nod with “Pistaccio.” Smul’s Paradise features some first-rate music, while showing off another facet of Smulyan’s musicianship and filling a musical void left open by many baritone saxophone bearers of the past and present. Smulyan and company succeed on all fronts here, making this a sequel-worthy session. Reviewed by, Dan Bilawsky, AllAboutJazz.com. (January 22, 2012)
A baritone saxophonist leading an organ trio is certainly a rarity; the results of Gary Smulyan’s Smul’s Paradise is, in sixties hip, a “gas.” This slang seems especially appropriate here because the CD pays tribute to an often-overlooked organist, Don Patterson, who came on the scene in that decade. Fronting a quartet behind his big bari, Smulyan contributes his tribute, “Blues for D.P.,” in addition to including two tunes by Patterson in the eight-song set. Smulyan has said that this format was a favorite from his youth, and that he has wanted to make a recording with an organ group for a long time. He got his professional start in the seventies with Woody Herman’s New Thundering Herds, and currently plays with the celebrated Vanguard Jazz Orchestra. In addition to section work, he leads his own trio, which includes bassist Ray Drummond and drummer Kenny Washington. Smulyan has been consistently ranked as the number one baritone saxophonist inDownbeat Magazine Readers and Critics polls and cites the influence of the late Pepper Adams. Here, the saxophonist’s sound demonstrates a sonorous quality rarely heard on baritone—more like a tenor—and contributes crisp, punchy solos, with his trio mates also making significant contributions. Smulyan’s pithy phrasing stands out in Patterson’s up-tempo “Up in Betty’s Room,” layered over Mike LeDonne’s inspired organ work on Hammond B3. Likewise appealing, the melodic Patterson/Sonny Stitt “Aires” features a beautiful bari opening, followed by a beguiling solo from guitarist Peter Bernstein, with LeDonne floating, this time, over the rhythm section. Another highlight, Smulyan digs in on “Blues for D.P.” after Bernstein’s intro, leading to LeDonne, with all stops pulled out, bringing the tune to a rousing finish. Smulyan is front and center on his closing “Heavenly Hours,” the saxophonist dexterously taking a lengthy run and improvising with abandon. A logical choice in the midst of an organ trio, hopefully, Smul’s Paradise will open more possibilities for the often-overlooked baritone sax as a lead instrument. Reviewed by, Larry Taylor, AllAboutJazz.com. (January 14, 2012)
Baritone saxophonist Gary Smulyan’s debut recording, entitled Smul’s Paradise, which will be released by Capri Records on Jan. 17, is a tribute to the classic jazz organ trio format. The album has Smulyan on baritone sax, Kenny Washington on drums, Mike LeDonna on the organ and Peter Bernstein on guitar. Three of the eight tracks on the album are an homage to organ great Don Patterson while two of the tracks were originally penned by Smulyan. In addition, Smulyan is among the first baritone players to front such a group. The opening track is the trio’s version of the quick-tempo pop hit, “Sunny.” Throughout the track, all four instruments blend together beautifully. It’s incredibly danceable and LeDonna makes his organ’s presence known with bubbly notes while Washington beats the drums boldly in the background. “Up in Betty’s Room” is the second track on the album and it honor’s Patterson’s legacy as a genius on the organ. Smulyan’s baritone sax work is playful as Washington’s drums and LeDonna’s organ follow the same melody with Bernstein’s guitar playing faintly in the background. Gospel-themed organist Rhonda Scott’s “Pistaccio” is the album’s third track. LeDonna’s organ play mimics Scott’s holy organ groove as Smulyan brings his baritone sax into the melody very coolly with a smooth and silky tone. “Aries” is the sixth track on the album and is another tribute song to Patterson. LeDonna again gives his organ play a gospel/holy rhythm as Smulyan’s baritone sax then enters the melody slowly and methodically, which could hypnotize listeners. In addition, Bernstein strums his guitar low in the background, which adds to the soulful vibe of the track. The eighth and final track on Smul’s Paradise is entitled “Heavenly Hours.” It’s the second track on the album that was originally written by Smulyan. It’s got a peppy flow as Smulyan’s baritone sax notes are swift as Washington’s drum play keeps up seamlessly. Meanwhile, Bernstein’s expert guitar work can be heard lightly in the background, giving the track a slow jazz rhythm. In the end, Smul’s Paradise from Gary Smulyan is a true testament to the classic musical genre of organ jazz. Each member of the trio portrays their instrument in its purest form, giving every track its own flavor and unique style. Reviewed by, Sari N. Kent, celebritycafe.com.(January 13, 2012)
Recognized as one of the premiere baritone saxophonist in jazz today, Gary Smulyan has long had an affinity for the classic jazz organ trios and on Smul’s Paradise he finally pays tribute to the format joining forces with Mike LeDonne, a master of the Hammond B3 organ. Not since saxophonist Ronnie Cuber performed with Lonnie Smith in the early ’70s, has a baritone saxophonist led a typical organ trio. One major difference with this recording however; that the saxophonist fronts a quartet rather than a standard trio for this purpose, enlisting the help of guitarist Peter Bernstein and drumming sensation Kenny Washington to realize this long-awaited homage. Though the theme here is to remember the music of organ trios in general, with “Up In Betty’s Room,” “Aires” and Smulyan’s own “Blues For D.P.,” the album also serves as a tribute to the late Prestige Records organist Don Patterson, a favorite of both Smulyan and LeDonne. The duo present a dynamite combination forging powerful solo moments throughout the session revealing just how exciting the baritone sax and organ grind can sound. The opening swinging salvo is proof enough as Smulyan and LeDonne provide blistering improvised solo moments on a furious treatment of the Bobby Herb ’60s pop classic “Sunny,” so unique that the melody is a challenge to discern. The rendition of organist Rhonda Scott’s “Pistachio” is definitely one of the brighter highlights of the album featuring sprite solos from Bernstein, LeDonne and the leader firing up an already funky tune. The original title track features the saxophonist at his best letting it all hang out with one steamy solo after another. Of course he’s not the only one who sounds off on this piece; the other players also take turns displaying their hard-bop chops. Washington is especially pronounced on the George Coleman standard “Little Miss Half Step,” while Smulyan’s light bluesy dedication piece to Patterson, “Blues For D.P.” finds both saxophone and organ voices providing the meat of the melody. Arguably the defining piece of the tribute has to be Patterson’s “Aires,” a slow-moving sensitive balladic piece serving to highlight the husky burly baritone and the grinding organ sounds as perfectly suited to interpret beautiful warm-toned ballads. The fast-paced moving burner “Heavenly Hours” closes the album delivering one last burst of fire from the sax man. Though not a typical tribute album where the focus is usually on paying homage to one musician, Gary Smulyan’s broader organ trio theme, actually began as a tribute to Don Patterson. Nevertheless, Smul’s Paradise is a special album where the talents of four jazz luminaries are harnessed to produce an exciting, compelling post-bop sizzler of a recording. Reviewed by, Edward Blanco, AllAboutJazz.com. (January 17, 2012)
The weekly online radio series Jazzed and Blue: Profiles in Blues and Jazz is back and is now available for download at Rockwired.com and features an exclusive interview with Grammy-winning baritone saxophonist Gary Smulyan regarding his brand new release Smul’s Paradise. In the opening segment, Smulyan discusses the inspiration behind the tracks of his new CD, working with Mike LeDonne, Peter Bernstein and Kenny Washington and his affinity for the organ jazz trio sound. Smul’s Paradise, baritone saxophonist Gary Smulyan’s debut recording for Capri Records, is a tribute to the classic jazz organ trio format. Operating in nearly unchartered waters as a baritone player fronting an organ trio, Smul’s Paradise gets its name and direction from saxophonist Smulyan, and he is almost certainly one of very few baritone players to front such a group. The CD will be released January 17, 2012. “It’s the first time for me,” Smulyan acknowledges, “but I’ve been wanting to do this for a long time. It’s such a favorite format of mine; I grew up listening to George Benson with Lonnie Smith, and Don Patterson on those albums by Grant Green, and Larry Young – beautiful, incredibly swinging music.” Prior to Smul’s Paradise, the quartet featured on this album had never played together as a group, though both Hammond B3-player Mike LeDonne and drummer Kenny Washington have recorded several times with Smulyan, and guitarist Peter Bernstein has played weekly gigs at Smoke in New York for the past decade as part LeDonne’s organ quartet. All are close friends outside the recording studio and you can hear the camaraderie among the players. The impeccable rhythmic and harmonic give-and-take among the band is indeed paradise for an expressive baritone player like Smulyan, but the other players get ample time to show off their solo chops as well. Gary Smulyan has long been recognized as a major voice on baritone saxophone. Winner of the 2011 DownBeat Critics Poll and Jazz Times Readers and Critics Polls for baritone saxophone, Smulyan is known for his aggressive rhythmic sense, intelligent and creative harmonic vocabulary, and a strong and incisive wit. He’s been a member of Woody Herman’s Young Thundering Herd, and was part of the Mel Lewis Jazz Orchestra under the direction of Bob Brookmeyer, as well as the Mingus Big Band and the Smithsonian Jazz Masterworks Orchestra. He currently performs with the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra, Joe Lovano’s Nonet, the Dave Holland Octet as well as Big Band, as well as George Coleman’s Octet and the Dizzy Gillespie All-Star Big Band. In addition, he has shared the stage and recording studio with a wide range of luminaries including Freddie Hubbard, Dizzy Gillespie, Stan Getz, Chick Corea, Tito Puente, Ray Charles, and Diana Ross, among many others. Smulyan is a six-time Grammy award winner for his work with B.B. King, Joe Lovano, Dave Holland and the Vanguard Orchestra. Reviewed by, Brian Lush, Rockwired.com. (January 29, 2012)
Rhythmic articulation, style, hard driving harmonic statement, group symbiosis……..It’s all there! And, it edifies us, the listener……Your literally drawn in, and you’re glad to be part of this musical journey!! I relegate my readers to Gary Smulyan’s Hammond B-3 jazz quartet. Nothing reinvents the blues idiom more than a burnin’ B-3 capably driven by the likes of this group’s sideman, Mike LeDonne……..Nothing for Mike to apologize here for! His Blues for DP is smokin’ and no jockin’ and ain’t this what were talkin’ about? This group anticipates well the meaning and the aesthetic of what they proffer, and they expound their art to our sensibilities profoundly, eloquently, and most important………convincingly!! By default therefore, their combined musical overture prepares us, the listener to assimilate their craft intelligently, thus widening our artistic circle of understanding. It’s easy to almost become overwhelmed by the level and utter virtuosity of the hidden talent(s) that are part of our artistic ethos. That said, I for one always appreciate this type of skilled musical drama. Reviewed by, George W. Carroll, The Musicians’ Ombudsman, NightlifeExchange.com.
GARY SMULYAN/Smul’s Paradise: In which we find a sax man that’s in love with organ trio jazz so he does the only thing he can do, serve up a real smoker. The sax and the organ are given equal weight and a big tip of the hat underlies the proceeding in giving some new love to Don Patterson, the organ man who made his bones with Sonny Stitt, himself at the edge of a renaissance. With old man jazz coming back to the fore because of things turning public domain in England and being finally re-released by the pound, Smulyan is in the vanguard of a back to the future movement. An absolute gasser, even the originals take you back to the day. Killer, hard hitting jazzbo stuff that just doesn’t quit. Reviewed by, Chris Spector, MidwesternRecord.com. (January 8, 2012)
With all of the controversy surrounding jazz in 2011, I believe everyone is looking towards a fresh start in 2012 full of good music and hopefully some new bonds being formed between musicians (maybe..?). We often hear complaints about the lack of ‘soul’ or ‘feeling’ in today’s jazz, but baritone saxophonist Gary Smulyan’s newest release proves, amongst other releases, that this simply isn’t the case. Rather than trying to re-invent the wheel, (not that there’s anything wrong with that…) Smulyan’s group is excavating the possibilities of an expanded organ trio group which of course includes Smulyan’s sax and the guitar expertise of Peter Bernstein. This is a feel good record, and it has everything from groovy shuffle beats to smoky organ riffs in the style of classic Jimmy Smith recordings. Mike LeDonne’s playing reminds one of Larry Goldings at times, but it’s clear that LeDonne’s style relates closer to classic jazz recordings while Goldings sometimes ventures into uncharted Impressionistic territory (check out Goldings’ work with Trio Beyond. His intro on “I Fall in Love too Easily” sounds like a Debussy composition). Peter Bernstein is the perfect fit for this group. His tone is reminiscent of Grant Green, but his playing is more refined harmonically. Bernstein’s ability to maintain just the right amount of grit in his playing is interesting and may leave some guessing as to just what generation he belongs to. The vast majority of compositions on this record are original. Smulyan isn’t an overly adventurous composer, however, it is refreshing to hear some new tunes within a traditional format. I for one enjoy hearing some standard sounding material on a non-standards record. It’s recordings like this that demonstrate that anyone who thinks modern jazz is abandoning tradition just isn’t digging deep enough. This record will be released in early 2012, so look for it online in a couple of weeks. Reviewed by, RJJohnson, Tumblr.com. (January, 2012)
Gary Smulyan is certainly one of the major voices on the baritone saxophone today. He was voted as best in the Jazztimes 2011 Readers Poll. He has carried the heavy horn through the bands of Woody Herman, The Vanguard Jazz Orchestra, and Mel Lewis Jazz Orchestra. Smulyan has worked with Freddie Hubbard, Dizzy Gillespie, Stan Getz, Ray Charles and B.B. King. He’s recorded a baritone’s dream – a Gerry Mulligan tribute, with fellow greats Ronnie Cuber and Nick Brignola. Gary Smulyan’s new release Smul’s Paradise is just that for him. Growing up listening to organists Lonnie Smith, Don Patterson and Larry Young, Gary always thought “one day I’ll do this myself”. The burning trio of organist Mike LeDonne, guitarist Peter Bernstein and rhythm master Kenny Washington on drums provide the pace for Smulyan, who cites Charlie Parker and Phil Woods, instead of Gerry Mulligan and Harry Carney, as early influences. This CD is a joy to hear once, pure pleasure to revisit again and again, enjoying standards like “Sunny” alongside classic choices of Don Patterson/Sonny Stitt and Rhoda Scott. Gary’s originals further illustrate his desire for the organ trio setting comes from deep inside. WBGO.org, New Releases. (January 2012)
Following James Carter’s baritone-led organ band, Gary Smulyan joins forces with the formidable band of organist Mike LeDonne, guitarist Peter Bernstein and drummer Kenny Washington. In doing so, Smulyan revisits the heady heyday of Blue Note records in he 1950′s and ’60s, when jazz musicians would come together with little or no prior warning and sit down and play. Introducing the disc with a jaunty “Sunny,” Smulyan sets a brisk neo-hard bop pace that never lets up. The baritone saxophone provides a muscular melodic motor to a standard organ trio. Reviewed by, C. Michael Bailey, about100wordson.blogspot.com. (January 13, 2012)
Charlie Parker made only one recording with an organ trio, a 1953 aircheck of “Groovin’ High” with the Milt Buckner Trio. It’s not a very good pairing: Parker and Buckner seemed to have opposing rhythmic concepts and the quartet fails to find a suitable groove. Had Parker lived into the sixties, when organ trios became immensely popular, he might have tried again with better results. Of course, the traditional organ combo features tenor sax rather than alto, and the lower pitch adds a darker sound to the group. But no one ever said that it had to be a tenor sax, and baritone saxophonist Ronnie Cuber proved that point through several memorable recordings with the combo of Dr. Lonnie Smith. Gary Smulyan, a baritone player with strong musical ties to Parker, has just released his first album with organ trio, “Smul’s Paradise”, and it is a delightful recording filled with excellent tunes and superb solos. The album was originally conceived as a tribute to organist Don Patterson, whose style combined the harmonies of hard bop and the rhythms of deep-groove swing. Two of Patterson’s originals are included, and one of those tracks, the smartly swinging “Aires” (co-composed by Sonny Stitt) is a highlight of the album. Smulyan’s sound can be rough-edged and his swing at fast tempos is stunning, but on the medium-slow tempo of “Aires”, he softens the edges and caresses the melody over the velvet-draped chords of Mike LeDonne. I first heard LeDonne as a pianist on an album he made with saxophonist Michael Hashim of songs from “Guys and Dolls” (Full disclosure dept: I wrote the liner notes for that disc). However, he has made quite a reputation as an organist with a long-running gig at the New York club, Smoke. LeDonne has his own unique style, which is based in the subtle, advanced harmonies and styles of Patterson and Larry Young. LeDonne’s longtime guitarist at Smoke is Peter Bernstein, and in his solos on the Smulyan album, he plays in a uncluttered, soulful style that is free from clichés. Drummer Kenny Washington plays with great taste and displays a deep appreciation of the style. His finest moment is on the last track, “Heavenly Hours” where he plays a fiery duet with Smulyan’s baritone. The album also includes a spritely jazz waltz version of the old AM radio hit, “Sunny”, a rarely heard George Coleman composition “Little Miss Half Steps” and a tune ascribed to organist Rhoda Scott, “Pistachio”. Three of the eight tracks were penned by Smulyan, including the previously mentioned “Heavenly Hours” which is an ingenious combination of Harold Arlen’s “My Shining Hour” and the Miles Davis/Victor Feldman jazz classic “Seven Steps to Heaven”. The entire album was recorded in New Jersey on a single day. It was produced by Thomas Burns, who has a knack for capturing superbly executed straight-ahead jazz, and the liner notes are by the esteemed writer Neil Tesser. Even if organ groups aren’t within your normal listening habits, give “Smul’s Paradise” a try. It offers a fresh approach to a classic format. Reviewed by, Thomas Cunniffe, JazzHistoryOnline.com. (2012)
Gary Smulyan is considered the greatest baritone saxophonist since Gerry Mulligan and one of jazz’s all-time finest. Smulyan has won the Downbeat Critics Poll for Baritone Saxophone in 2011 and previously in 2009. Moreover, Gary was named the 2011 Jazz Times Readers and Critics Poll for Baritone Saxophonist of the Year plus many other citations for his skills over the years. While still in high school in Bethpage, Long Island, NY ‘Smul’ sat in with legendary artists such as Chet Baker, Jimmy Knepper, Ray Nance and others. Upon finishing Hofstra University, Gary embarked on his professional career that landed him stints with Woody Herman, Dizzy Gillespie, Freddie Hubbard, Chick Corea, Tito Puente and many other prominent jazz players as well as venturing into the blues and R ‘n’ B. Besides his busy touring and recording schedule as a leader and a sideman, Smulyan lives in Amherst, MA where he’s an educator at the Amherst College as well as serving as Artistic Director of the Berkshire Hills Music Academy. For his newest recording, Gary inked a deal with Bailey, CO’s own Capri Records which has released Smul’s Paradise. In the history of jazz, it is very infrequent that one can find a bari sax led organ trio due to the limitations of the baritone sax, however in the hands of Smulyan, these barriers are overcome due to the mastery he is known for. Recording an organ trio album has been an ambition of Gary’s for a long time because as a teenager it was his favorite format. To ensure this accomplishment would be of the highest caliber, “Smul’ enlisted the very talented Mike LeDonne to play the B-3, the gifted guitarist Peter Bernstein and the always tasty drummer, Kenny Washington. The 8 swingin’ selections of this CD will undoubtedly make you a toe tapper while transporting you to a jazz lover’s paradise. CD of the Month, Arturo Gómez, KUVO.org. (January, 2012)
Baritone saxophonist Gary Smulyan hits the groove right out of the gate in this tribute to the classic jazz organ combo by playing the immediately recognizable, funky “Sunny.” The bari sax is not usually associated with the organ trio sound, but Smulyan makes a place for it by fronting a band of drummer Kenny Washington, guitarist Peter Bernstein and Hammond B3 player Mike LeDonne in an eight-tune set that includes three Smulyan originals, including the tasty title track. This is not a regular working band, but the musicians sound as tight as if they just came off an extended tour of one-nighters. The music is fun, funky and the great bari playing gives it a new twist. Three and a half stars. Reviewed by, Chris Smith, WinnipegFreePress.com. (January 14, 2012)
Interview: Jazz Inside Magazine, Gary Smulyan and Joe Patitucci JazzInsideMagazine.com. (February, 2012)
JI: Talk about your new CD release, Smul’s Paradise, and how the album developed from concept to completed product.
GS: My new recording, Smul’s Paradise on Capri Records was inspired by all of the great organ records I loved to listen to as a young up and coming musician. Larry Young, JimmySmith, Shirley Scott, Don Patterson, Rhoda Scott, and Milt Buckner are all musicians whose playing I love. I would have to say the George Benson Cookbook recording with Lonnie Smith and Ronnie Cuber was particularly inspiring and one of the few recordings to feature the baritone saxophone / guitar / organ instrumental combination. My recording came about as a result of a long desire to play in this format. I have been musically associated with Mike Le Donne for many years and we have appeared on a number of each other’s recordings. He is an accomplished organist as well as a great pianist and he came to mind immediately for this project. Peter Bernstein is one of my favorite musicians and I’ve wanted to play with him for years and am so glad he could make this date. Kenny Washington and I go back many years and have played and recorded together countless times. For me, this was the perfect combination of musical personalities for this project and I’d like to thank them for their beautiful playing and creative contribution. The idea was to present music that was in some way connected to the lineage of swinging organ records both in the past and by current players such as Larry Goldings and Joey DeFrancesco. This recording was a dream come true and I hope to tour with this band and present this music in a live setting.
JI: What do you think might be an immensely powerful way to attract significantly more fans to this music – to buy recordings and admissions to clubs and festivals?
GS: There is still no substitute for hearing live music. The internet is great and an important tool for networking and getting people to listen to you through recordings and video but for me the most important thing is to play before a live audience and experience this music in person, both as a player and as a listener. When I heard Phil Woods live for the first time at The Jazz Museum in NYC when I was 16 years old. I was an avid collector and a huge fan but having the opportunity to listen to him play in person and actually meeting and speaking with him was the most beautiful experience which I remember to this day and it happened almost 40 years ago. I guess I’m old fashioned in the belief that even though technology has an important place in the world today, the face to face interaction between performer and audience is still the best way to nurture and develop a fan base for this music. There’s a misconception that jazz is not popular any more but my experience at gigs all over the world show a different experience. People are coming out to clubs and festivals in huge numbers and I believe that if one presents sincere music from the heart and soul people will want to come out and listen.
JI: How does jazz overcome one of it’s biggest challenges which is also one of its biggest strengths – namely the wide array of styles that are encompassed in this musical landscape -which can both be tempting to some listeners and confusing for other possible jazz fans?
GS: Jazz has always been a music in which different cultures and styles meet and interact. It’s a restless, open minded, and curious art form. Think Dizzy Gillespie and the development of Afro-Cuban Jazz…..Lennie Tristano was playing completely free improvised music in the late1940’s, way before Ornette Coleman came on the scene. Think Third Stream Music which blended classical and jazz music. Duke Ellington’s Jungle period in the 1920’s and 1930’s.Today there is Vijay Iyer and Rudresh Mahanthappa creating amazing music that blends jazz and Indian traditions to create something totally unique and personal. Don Ellis playing in odd meters in the 1960’s paving the way for Dave Holland and other practitioners of that particular craft. Miles Davis, Chick Corea, and Herbie Hancock creating fusion combining jazz, funk, and soul sensibilities. Jazz is in constant flux and development and I don’t think one can say it’s any one thing as it’s never been any one thing, but an amalgam of different cultures and influences. One has to approach jazz with an open mind and an open heart and not be so quick to dismiss something unfamiliar or challenging. This is the true beauty of this music for me but I do have to say that I am partial to jazz that swings hard and is based in bebop and post bop traditions. This is the music that grabs me the most and makes me feel good. I still listen to Charlie Parker every day and am inspired and awestruck by his playing. For me he represents the pinnacle of this music and I find inspiration to try to be the best musician I can possibly be through his playing. A big piece of this picture is, of course marketing. What’s the next big thing? Who’s the next big star? If you read jazz magazines and listen to jazz radio one can be easily swayed and influenced by what you see and read. That’s why it’s especially important to keep your ears and mind open to find the music that makes you feel good.
GS: My approach to jazz is deeply rooted in the harmonic, melodic, and rhythmic sensibilities of the bebop tradition. For me the singular, most challenging thing about improvisation is how to spontaneously create a beautiful melody. I love playing tunes with difficult chord changes, as I’m fascinated with harmony and how chords move. The older I get the more I enjoy playing ballads as well. I was a regular speed demon when I was younger and still enjoy playing fast tempos but I really love ballads these days. I continue to study harmony and it’s application and possibilities and am deeply humbled by how much more I have to learn in this regard.
JI: What do you say to fans who are curious about improvisation and the process?
GS: When fans approach me about the music they are most definitely interested in how the music is put together. I tell them that jazz is a language and that once you become fluent you can play with anyone anywhere in the world. I enjoy playing with certain musicians because we speak the same language and are most comfort-able in common musical environments. There is an unspoken, nonverbal, and psychic communication that happens on the bandstand and you know right away when that happens or doesn’t happen.
Smul’s Paradise Quotes:
“Baritone sax is not an instrument easy to wrestle into lyricism – but you wouldn’t know that listening to Gary Smulyan.”
Winner of 2009 and 2011 Downbeat Critics Poll for Baritone Saxophone!
Winner of the 2011 Jazz Times Readers and Critics Polls for Baritone Saxophonist of the Year!
Winner of the 2009 and 2010 Jazz Journalist Award for Baritone Saxophonist of the Year!