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Kenny Dorham’s Round About Midnight at the Café Bohemia

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Round About Midnight at the Café Bohemia

Ron Rambach on Kenny Dorham Round About Midnight at the Café Bohemia and Music Matters Reissues

Interview on September 10, 2019 by Cliff Kingston


Cliff:  What stood out to you about the session and the decision to include Kenny Dorham’s Round about Midnight in the Music Matters catalog?

Ron: First of all, I’ve always liked live sessions because Alfred was such a perfectionist and his line and was always “if it didn’t schwing he would do another take”. So, when you’re looking at these tape boxes sometimes to see something like take 46, take 38,take 29 and it’s like wow, 29 times before he was happy with it. There’s something about a live recording where, you might’ve had rehearsal early in the day or whatever but what’s coming out is truly who you are in the moment.

There is something historically magic about that and I always thought that was very cool. The thing about Round About Midnight is that it was just a spectacularly great night at the office so-to-speak for Rudy, who got his mics placed just perfectly. And they blew some incredibly beautiful music, it’s like there was this big thick cloud of ambient smoke in the room that you could cut with a knife.

Cliff:  He’s beautiful throughout.

Ron:  Eat your heart out Phil Spector, it just has this big wall of sound, you got Kenny Burrell and J.R.Monterose who went on to be a big name, big player; J.R. is incredible.  And there was a 19-year-old Bobby Timmons on piano, Arthur Edgehill on drums, and of course the great Sam Jones on bass: it was a really powerful lineup. Kenny really picked the right people for this.

Cliff: And a young Bobby Timmons at that.

Ron: Yeah, and three of the tracks were originals: “Monaco”, “Mexico City” and “Hill’s Edge” – he took the drummer’s last name – Edgehill – and turned it around. You listen to the first track “Monaco” which is just glorious opener, but the one that has always knocked me down was “Autumn in New York” on side 4.

Cliff: Kenny’s intro is just beautiful.

Ron: And the fact he announces that he’s going to play “Autumn in New York” casually, is another reason I love live recordings is because you get to hear these guys, that’s his voice. It’s just a splendid slice of jazz history.

Cliff:  Given the lineup, what was it like the first time you heard the actual master tape?

Ron: Our jaws just dropped; we just went wow there in the room… And I remember saying you know what, I feel like I could just stand up and put my arm around Kenny, he’s just standing there in a three dimensional space,in fact all of them were, and you realize how good that tape sounds and how incredible the music is and not to belabor any of it. There is a reason, that the original recordsell for thousands of dollars, because it is a very special recording and very rare to find a clean copy that hasn’t been played out.

Cliff: You touched on something interesting, you were talking about the quality of the recordings and the quality of the live recording and how you like those, and this was one is in 1956, so kind of early for Rudy and the Blue Note catalog if you will, and my notes said something about this being one of 18 live recordings.  So, when you listen to this and you realize this is one of Rudy’s early live recording efforts, it’s even more amazing, I mean he (Rudy) just nailed it.

Ron: Just nailed it, yeah it was like I said, just a superb night for everyone involved. Some are better than others, but this one just stood out as pure Blue Note historically speaking at its best,the selection of material, the players and the synergy of it all.

Cliff: This is a two-part question.  Was there any special consideration given or confronted in using a live performance tape and how did you decide on an approach, and do you look to standardize an approach across live recordings that you offered up in the catalog?

Ron:  First of all,the original master tape had to exist, we only settled for original master tapes, there’s a lot of things that could have been done, but if you’re going to pay all the royalties and go through all the expense, the work and the drama of doing it all, you might as well work with the bestand start off with the real deal.  I knew the tape existed for this and it remains a special piece of Blue Note history.

Cliff: Talking about the tape, I was reading that June of this year Universal disclosed by way of a New York Time story earlier this year that Kenny Dorham’s was one of the hundreds of artists whose master recordings were destroyed during the 2018 fire in the media vaults at Universal, it seems that this particular tape was exempt from the fire, but knowing this, and it was not lost, how much more special does that make this album to you or to the public?

Ron: Whoa… gosh, yeah, you know what’s amazing about the Universal fire, is the only things that actually survived were tapes that were loaned out to other studios at the time I’m sure they lost plenty of tapes, but there was enough material for us to find to do this series.

Sometimes they threw away the original tape box because it disintegrated, but you could always see Alfred or Rudy’s Crayola mark on the A or B, side of the reels and you knew it was an original. It might have been respooled, but you knew it was an original, it was either Scotch111, or 211.  But if I remember, Round About Midnight, had the box and everything.

Cliff:  You kind of led into another question I have, one of the things that always resonates with me about these audiophile pressings and in particular the Music Matters releases in the 45rpmformat,one has to assume you’re hearing the best audiophile presentationof these tapes. Then considering these tapes deteriorate, I think to myself these 45’s are going to be the truest, most dynamic andfinal analog version of living history… any high quality, preserved vinyl for that matter.

Ron:  Dynamically speaking they probably will be the audiophile analog reference reissues for years to come.  Because you can’t argue physics of the 45: there’s less distortion, greater clarity, and more dynamic contrast. There is an article on the Music Matters website where Kevin Gray writes why we used the 45rpm format.

Cliff: Did you ever consider doing this in 33 at that time?

Ron:  I did consider doing it but you know, I wanted to keep a lot of material only on 45 for those guys who bought them.

Cliff:  You were talking about some of the tracks on the session and I have to say Kenny’s version of “A Night in Tunisia”; this has become my favorite versions of this Gillespie composition. I mean Kenny’s rendition of “A Night in Tunisia”, has even bumped Art Blakey and The Jazz Messenger’s version in my mental playlist.  It’s just a beautiful, mysterious and expressive rendering.

Ron: Yeah, it is just phenomenal, I think Edgehill did a great job of the drumming on that record.  I mean it’s not as thick and forward sounding as Art Blakey’s rendition, but the energy and tempo, it’s just right for this recording.

Cliff: It would have been a totally different session if Art Blakey had been there, there a cohesive sound across the lineup.  Sometimes Blakey can just dominate.

Ron: I mean, yeah. Completely different.

Cliff: Ron, let me ask, you’re a musician, so as a musician what stood out to you about Kenny and this session in particular and his three original compositions?

Ron: Dorham was always (reflecting for the right words), he had incredible personal qualities, he had long flowing praises and a cloudy charm with a predilection for tunes in a minor key. He was just a natural musician.  And that’s one of the reasons he was capable of joining up with Charlie Parker and played with his band from 1948 to 1950.He was a sure-fingered, assertive horn man whose flowing style has left his influences far enough behind to be an immediately recognizable, independent voice.

Cliff: I’m probably going to out on a limb here, but I’m looking at the 19 titles he put out as a leader, looking at Whistle Stop, Una Mas, which you know is a favorite of mine, and Trompeta Toccata,and his later work with Joe Henderson, with In‘n Out, Page One, Our Thing, and looking at Dorham’s resume if you will, it seems like some of the best albums he put out were with Blue Note.

Ron: Yes, that could be argued.  However, he also recorded for Riverside, and he did the Jazz Prophets on ABC, a beautiful record on Jaro and one on the FM label including New Jazz and actually several other fine recordings.

Cliff:  Sure, sure, but looking back on the work he did for Blue Note, it seems like you were actually able present a lot of his music and with Henderson on Blue Note. What stands out to you about his work with blue note?  Where did that synergy come from, especially looking at a lot of the work Henderson and Dorham did together?

Ron: I mean he was just an importantjazz artist.  After Clifford Brown’s unfortunate death in that car accident in September 1956, drummer Max Roach called upon Dorham to play in his quintet, it just seemed he was just always in the right place when opportunity called you know, and people just really respected his talent.You know one of his greatest records, isQuiet Kennyon New Jazz – what a beautiful recording anda very special piece of jazz history.

I think another one of his special recordings is Blue Notes Whistle Stop and plainly put its superb.

Cliff:  Whistle Stop?

Ron: You got it!  I think it’s one of the greatest recordings on Blue Note sonically speaking.

Cliff:  AllMusic rates it as one of his top 2 or 3 records, along with Una Mas. I say that because I know sometimes when we talk titles, you’ll reference AllMusic out of curiosity to see what the public thinks of a given recording by the their rating…

Ron:  When we sat down to listen to the Whistle Stop tape, we all just looked at each other and it was just jaw dropping.  You listen to Paul Chambers on bass, and that double bass he does on one track its mind boggling how good that recording is. I never heard Philly Joe Jones sound so good, I never heard sonic articulation like that on Whistle Stop and yet it remains an overlooked gem.

Cliff:  When I’m listening to Round About Midnight, one of the things that strikes me, and you’re going to have to correct me here with my music and jazz history knowledge, but when I hear Gillespie’s “Night in Tunisia”,“Autumn in New York” and “Round about Midnight”, some of these titles were originally out of the bebop era, and listening to this album I can see the influence from the bebop era. But if I didn’t know the year Round About Midnight at the Café Bohemia was recorded, I would think I am hearing something from much later in the hard bop or even post- bop period.   It just seems very progressive for a 1956 session, these guys just seemed way out ahead… they were far forward in their time…

Ron: Absolutely, that makes total sense. It’s one of the great live recordings on Blue Note. No doubt about it and every one of these guys brought their best to the session that night including Rudy It’s like there in the room, it’s the closest you’re going to get to a being in a live session with these guys.  You just have to listen to it again and again, and go “wow man how special does it get”.

Cliff: Yeah, I mean, what was Bobby Timmons, 21, 19?

Ron:  I believe he was just 19 at the time of that recording.

Cliff: From a technical perspective, are there any challenges when you guys are mastering and cutting a live performance, are there any provisions that you guys take?

Ron: One part of it is I bring the original record, because I have clean copies of most everything, and we listen to it first before we do anything.  Then we talk and then we queue up the master tape and we try to get as close as possible to what we’re hearing on the original record.  I mean you get more information now from the original tape, because it’s the tape and not the record okay, you don’t have any of the challenges you had in those days with the recording equipment, or with the playback equipment more specifically, because the playback equipment is more sophisticated today than it was in the 50s. But it’s all about the tape, and  how amazing these tapes still sound today.

Cliff: So in in terms of the sound you wanted to arrive to, the tape takes precedence over any original vinyl output?

Ron: Oh absolutely.  The tapes are the original source that’s the history.

Cliff: I bring this up because you know there’s the whole conversation about the original Rudy Van Gelder albums and “his sound” and how that’s supposed to be the true sound of the session that day…  And the expectation that the sound of a session of that day is summarized by what a record sounded like from the 1950’s.

Ron:  Simply the playback is more revealing today than it was then.  We don’t try to do anything other than capture what’s on the tape and what it sounded like when they were in the studio or at a live performance. I mean you listen to these tapes and they are everything that you want to honor okay, and you don’t want to change it, you want to do as little to anything as you have to do to make it work.

And there is a reason this label is so legendary and so iconic. It’s because Rudy was a genius and he had master musicians and Alfred was a perfectionist and these guys were all about making jazz.  And they meant business and they made business a pleasure.

Cliff:  Right, A good day at the office, as you said.

Ron:   That’s what we would say when we sat down and we’d listen to some of the original tapes, when we heard Whistle Stop, Round About Midnight, and something like that Una Mas, we looked at each other with a common understanding, “a good day at the office”. You know Kenny was really good friends with Joe Henderson and that was one of Kenny’s standards, you know the Blue Bossa, I mean you listen to Joe on Una Mas and he’s like whoa..and that’s his introduction.

Ron and Cliff are sharing a laugh of common understanding.

Cliff:  Yeah, I think I mentioned to you one time that Joe kind of stole the show on that album Una Mas… but what a team they were Joe and Kenny.

Ron:  Yeah,he was definitely a superb musician and an original voice. That’s why I always say when somebody asks me ‘what’s your favorite album on Blue Note’ I will say it’s the last one I played…  I mean you know it’s like if your house is on fire it’s what you take first.

Cliff:  Yeah that I why I keep my Music Matters records on a rolling case…

Ron:  You know, recently some client purchased Round About Midnight, and I’m thinking to myself as I’m packing it up, “when this guy hears this, he’s just going go how lucky am I and how absolutely savvy is this record.”  I want to kind of put myself in his shoes and what he’s going to think when he drops the needle on that groove and he goes “oh wow what is this”.   You know that happened the other day, somebody picked up Whistle Stop and shared with me how amazing it was and what a magnificent recording it is and I’m thinking they get it.  They got it.

Cliff:  It must be heartbreaking when some people get one of these albums and then they “don’t get it” or it doesn’t resonate with them?

Ron:  Oh well you’re gonna get some of that. I mean some guys are all about just collecting the records and not listening to them…everyone has a focus.  So many records so little time…

Cliff: I have one last question, you guys put this title out of May 2009 that’s about 10 years ago and also interesting considering the session was recorded in May. So, 10 years later, looking back on the Music Matters journey and all the titles you’ve put out since then, do you have any special memories or stories about putting out this title, ‘Round about Midnight?

Ron:  The singular thought that was so visceral, it was like they were in the room.  And that was when we heard the tape for the first time and I don’t know how much more of a compliment you can give Rudy Van Gelder. Rudy cut this in May of 1956 on quarter-inch tape, live and you play it back and these guys are in the room.

Cliff:  Given that, were there any artists or tapes that you wanted to produce but when you listened to the tapes you had to decide not to?

Ron:  Yeah of course.  It had more to do with the condition of the tape, we went after the best of the best.

I think this ‘Round About Midnight is somewhat overlooked, I think it’s one of the greatest Blue Note recordings. I defy anyone to listen to this recording and not say it’s remarkable. It’s worth owning just for the track “Autumn in New York” alone. And I love the fact that you love this version of ANight in Tunisia, that’s pretty cool.

-End of Interview-


Dagogo wishes to thank John Dark for introducing the author Cliff Kingston to us.

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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