…’Tis the season for all things spooky. Here at the ARChive, we have dug up a very appropriate album cover out of our deep dark vaults to display in our front window during Halloween week: Blues for Dracula by the legendary drummer Philly Joe Jones (AKA, The Be-Bop Vampire) (Riverside 12-282; 1958).
Apparently, Jones was a major fan of actor Bela Lugosi and was able to break up the house whenever he went into his impersonation of Lugosi’s vampire persona. Thus, for Jones’ first album as a leader, he performed his schtick during the beginning of the title track, a spooky blues composed by tenor saxophonist Johnny Griffin.
Jones made his first records as the drummer for a group under the leadership of Joe Morris—a trumpet player who started his own orchestra after working for about a year in that of Lionel Hampton, taking a tenor saxophonist named Johnny Griffin with him. Griff and Morris wanted to play the new be-bop, but they got caught up making R&B records because that’s what they were paid to do, especially once Morris signed to Atlantic Records in 1947, the year of the label’s birth. Morris’ greasy R&B instrumental “Lowe Groovin’” was the fifth single issued by Atlantic.
On September 19, 1948, Joe Morris, with Johnny Griffin still in the band, cut “Wow,” a novelty be-bop vocal number very much in the style of Dizzy Gillespie’s “Oo Bop Sh-Bam” records. After the trombone solo by Matthew Gee (who would join Dizzy’s orchestra the next year) there’s a cool solo by Griffin. The pianist was Elmo Hope, who would go on to become a highly respected player. The bass player was Percy Heath (who would also soon join Dizzy’s orchestra, meet Milt Jackson at a Howard McGhee session, and subsequently form The Modern Jazz Quartet). The drummer was Philly Joe Jones, our Be-Bop Vampire!
These were very talented young men cutting their teeth with a rockin’ R&B unit before pushing jazz forward with their abilities on their respective instruments—especially Griffin (20 years old) and Jones (25).
Griffin went on to become one of the top tenor saxophonists of the fifties and sixties. His second LP, A Blowing Session is a hard bop classic that showed that he could keep up with his competition: Hank Mobly and John Coltrane, who both played on the album. He then joined Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers and finished a stint with Thelonious Monk just before the Dracula session.
After leaving Morris’ group, Jones returned to his hometown Philadelphia for a while, where he was top drummer in the clubs. In 1953, he returned to New York City for a Miles Davis session. In 1955, Jones became a permanent member of Davis’ working quintet (that included Coltrane) and played on a myriad of recording sessions that involved some of the biggest names in jazz at the time.
Two days short of the tenth anniversary of the Joe Morris “Wow” date (September 17, 1958), Philly Joe Jones gathered a group of musicians to cut an album under his own name: Blues for Dracula. Since their experience with the Joe Morris band, Jones and Johnny Griffin had played on at least five other sessions together. They were well acquainted when they stepped into a New York City recording studio with cornet player Nat Adderley, trombonist Julian Priester, pianist Tommy Flanagan and bassist Jimmy Garrison to make the scary hard bop sounds heard on the album.
Paul Bacon, who made a LOT of distinctive covers for Riverside Records, designed the jacket, using a photo by Paul Weller, who he often worked with. This duo was also responsible for the great cover to Thelonious Monk’s Monk’s Music the year before. We were unable to determine if Blues for Dracula was in the stores in time for Halloween 1958 or not!
This week, when you walk by the ARChive and look into the window, please don’t think that we have succumbed to the recent vampire rage, but instead are trying to bring to light a cool album that deserves more recognition.
–Ben Sidran: Talking Jazz, an oral history
Philly Joe Jones “Blues for Dracula”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lz3d8C6xnmU&list=RDlz3d8C6xnmU#t=5
Joe Morris “Wow” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vqDv_zL20l8
Philly Joe Jones discography: http://www.jazzdisco.org/philly-joe-jones/discography/
Check out more covers by Paul Bacon here: http://www.birkajazz.com/archive/riverside.htm
More on Philly Joe Jones: http://www.drummerworld.com/drummers/Philly_Joe_Jones.html