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Kenny Dorham’s Round About Midnight at the Café Bohemia

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Kenny Dorham, A Texan trumpeter born in 1924, was arguably one of the most underrated trumpet players of the bop Jazz era.  An amazing band leader and natural talent, he was also one of the busiest side men of his time.  He recorded with Monk, Rollins, Blakey, Hank Mobley, Oliver Nelson, Max Roach and host of architects of Bebop and Hard Bop Jazz.

As a leader, he put out more than nineteen albums, five of those with Blue Note and as a sideman almost another fifty albums.  In listening to many of his albums, I feel his recordings with Blue Note are some of his finest and most entrepreneurial work.  In each of these five instances, Dorham is at the forefront of the shifts in jazz from bebop to hardbop to post-bop, and all the variations within.  This is evident with such as albums as Round About Midnight at The Café Bohemia, Whistle Stop and one of his most highly praised albums, Una Mas.  He was a gifted musician whose fluidity and focus seemed to bring compositions into a structured and unified ‘singleness’ with all players equally presented.

One gets the impression when listening to early Kenny that he was well influenced by and respectfully carried forward a refined Clifford Brown sound.  As fate would have it, Kenny would eventually step into these shoes with the Max Roach Quintet in 1956 after Brown’s tragic death. Dorham’s evolution quickly moved on with skill and a style that was constantly evolving and would fully develop alongside the post hardbop movement.

One of the great partnerships to emerge out of Blue Note was the Dorham-Joe Henderson relationship that resulted in a series of great albums.  First with Dorham as leader; there is the spectacular Una Mas which is a powerhouse of talent, musicianship and a must in everyone’s collection.  Then a personal favorite, the mildly Latin influenced Trompeta Toccata.  Originally released in 1965, this would also be Dorham’s last as a leader. In each of these albums, the emerging collaboration between Dorham and Henderson was pure jazz enjoyment at its best.  Touching on their partnership with Henderson as a leader, the two worked together on a trio of Blue Note recordings that culminated in Page One, Our Thing and In ‘n Out.  All these sessions are an amazing display of two jazz legends, each at different apexes in their career, putting together what could be considered some of the best post hard-bop that Blue Note had to offer.

I came to the unfortunate realization in preparing this first episode on specific Music Matters Jazz releases and Kenny Dorham’s Round About Midnight, that I wanted more Kenny as a leader on Blue Note.  I felt his amazing contribution of five original titles simply wasn’t enough.  I’m left wanting more.  These five Blue Note titles span the core of Kenny’s career and each demarcate key way points along his progression.  Considering this, Round About Midnight becomes even more special as a prelude to Dorham’s amazing career.


The Session and Personnel:  Round About Midnight at the Café Bohemia, 1956

One of only eighteen early Blue Note jazz titles recorded live by Rudy Van Gelder and only four in the Music Matters catalog of live performances, Round About Midnight at the Café Bohemia was recorded over two sets in Manhattan on February 26, 1956.  The evening featured Kenny Burrell on guitar, Bobby Timmons at the piano, Sam Jones playing bass, Arthur Edgehill on drums, and J.R. Monterose on Tenor Sax.  Returning to the Café Bohemia nine months after recording with Blakey for the iconic Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers at the Café Bohemia album, Dorhan was primed and ready for his second recording with Blue Note.

Having this very talented group of young men playing together this night is exceptional in itself and worth the album alone.  However, what came out of that night musically is one of the rare diamonds in a fertile period of jazz history.  As Ron later shares, everyone was on their “A” game and a great tape was produced capturing a magical set.  The music that evening was electric and the MMJ double LP 45rpm set delivers the raw reality of that night some 60 years later.

The opening track,“Monaco”, a Dorham original, sets the tone for the evening with wonderful exchanges by all members.  Captured that night is a young and raw Timmons who does not disappoint on Hill’s Edge or throughout.  Kenny was no stranger to the Café Bohemia and he played his heart out, it was his night.  He put on a spectacular show and true to his endearing qualities as a leader, set the expectations for all players, and they followed.

One of many things making Round about Midnight at the Café Bohemia so vital, is not just the eloquent mix of standards and three original compositions by Dorham, but the progressive aura to the set. While three of the tracks are historically bebop and the session was in 1956, you feel as though this set was performed much later in the arch of the bop jazz era.  It’s clear that night the musicians were thinking and moving forward, pushing the envelope of bop and providing a glimpse into the future.  It has a modern and sophisticated sound, a prelude if you will.


The Album: Music Matters Jazz MMBLP-1524, Double LP in 45 RPM

It’s safe to assume Blue Note and Jazz enthusiast are fans of Rudy Van Gelder and all the wonderful sessions he recorded. If there is one album in his early career that is a testament to his skills, IT IS Round About Midnight at the Café Bohemia with Kenny Dorham.  Having recorded such an important and spectacular night on Scotch quarter inch tape with amazing results, allows us to relive and enjoy well into the 21st century a truly special performance of Blue Note artists.

The recording and this reissue is simply jaw dropping, it has a presence and intimacy rarely found from live performances or even studio sessions.  The tape was well preserved yielding beautiful results in the hands of Music Matters Jazz.

If you’re thinking you “already have” this album in another version or in digital media, think again.  This is a gem of a recording in the Music Matters offering with a rich and dynamic sound.  It is a reissue not to be missed and as we discuss later, special attention was paid to extract as much detail and accuracy from the tape, then from the lacquer.  The last stop vinyl rendering of this session in 45rpm is stunning.

With regard to the 45rpm’s in the MMJ catalog, you can be sure you’re hearing the best possible analog presentation of this recording or any other.  As Ron later discusses, you simply can’t argue with physics, the nature of 45 just renders a ‘truer’ and sonically superior sound.  The detail, soundstage, openness and musicality you hear creates an experience.  While sometimes it is preferable to enjoy the long play of a 33rpm, there is just something extra special with the 45’s.  It is the final destination in a vinyl experience.

In this reissue, Music Matters offers you a front row seat at the Café Bohemia circa 1956.  Look to the right and you’ll see Rudy working the tape machine, look over to your left and there’s Frank squeezing in here and there for the best shot, then a quick look back over your shoulder into the small room packed with people.  Finally, your gaze returns to the stage, and there is the man on stage, horn in hand, ready. Right in front of you he hits the first notes of “Monaco”.

This title is still available at:


This fall in September, I had a chance to sit down and talk with Ron Rambach about the release in particular, and other things related to Music Matters Jazz.  What follows is the transcript portion of talk about Kenny Dorham’s Round About Midnight at the Café Bohemia.

One Response to Kenny Dorham’s Round About Midnight at the Café Bohemia

  1. James Connolly says:

    Very good article and interview.
    Insightful and informative

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