One of my favorite male vocalists is out with a new album—Everything Is Cool (Savant). I last wrote about Giacomo when his Miles Tones was released (here). And before that The Revolution Will Be JazzL The Songs of Gil-Scott Heron (here). Giacomo's groovy baritone is a throwback to a time when jazz vocals didn't just mean the American songbook.
Here's an excerpt from my liner notes...
"Nobody sings like Giacomo Gates these days. Back in the late 1940s and 1950s, when cool ruled and hip vocalese artists were the rage at jazz clubs, the list of crazy crooners included Babs Gonzales, Annie Ross, Slim Gaillard, Earl Coleman, Dave Lambert, Jon Hendricks, King Pleasure, Eddie Jefferson, Jackie Paris, Bob Dorough and Mark Murphy. Unlike square pop vocalists, vocalese singers were as gone as the jazz musicians they opened for at clubs. Many wrote lyrics to signature instrumental solos and nearly all phrased like Lester Young’s jumping dry saxophone.
"Gates comes out of this tradition, but unlike many jazz singers today, he knows something about the blues. Born in Bridgeport, Conn., in 1950, Gates grew up in a working-class family. 'I studied guitar between age 8 and 16, and started listening to jazz when my father put on a big band album,' Gates said. 'I was hooked after that.'
"In 1969, after high school and technical school, Gates began working road construction as a laborer, truck driver and heavy-equipment operator. Next came a series of nocturnal jobs as bouncer, blackjack dealer, liquor-store manager and bodyguard for ladies of the night. At age 25, he left for Alaska, working briefly on the Trans-Alaska Pipeline before heading south, taking jobs building roads, dams and landing strips in wilderness areas from Washington State to Arizona.
"In 1989, at age 39, Gates took part in a summer arts festival in Fairbanks, Alaska, and was encouraged by several instructors to sing. Later that year, Gates moved to New York and began singing in clubs for a living. In 1995, Gates recorded his first album, Blue Skies. More recently, Gates recorded two hit albums—The Revolution Will Be Jazz: The Songs of Gil Scott-Heron (2011) and Miles Tones (2012).
"Everything Is Cool is an aesthetic homecoming for Gates. On the album, he pays tribute to the vocalese singers he digs most."
JazzWax clips: Here's the title track, written by Babs Gonzales, with a tenor saxophone solo by the great Grant Stewart (they're joined by John di Martino on piano, Tony Lombardozzi on guitar, Ed Howard on bass and Willard Dyson on drums)...
For every tenor saxophonist you know, there are a dozens you don't know because they never made it or didn't record enough to be remembered. That's the beauty of jazz. There was so much talent in the 1940s and '50s there simply wasn't enough recording opportunities for some artists. For others, financial pressures, family issues and relocations kept them hidden. Case in point: John Hardee.
Hardee was born in Coricana, Texas in 1918. His family was musical, and he started on the piano. At 13, he took up the saxophone and several years later began playing in local bands. In the late 1930s, after hearing records by Cab Calloway, he found himself attracted to the deep, dragging style of Chu Berry, who had replaced Ben Webster in Calloway's band. [Pictured above, from left, Trummy Young, John Hardee and Tiny Grimes]
After performing in a college orchestra, Hardee toured with Don Albert's (above) band for six months. He finished college when he returned and then went into the service. Stationed near New York, he jammed often in the city while on leave.
After his discharge, Hardee moved to Harlem and played with guitarist Tiny Grimes in 1946 and 47, recording with Grimes in '46. In the late 1940s, there were sessions with Earl Bostic (above), Billy Kyle, Dwight "Gatemouth" Moore and Lucky Millinder, among others. Then in 1950, Hardee's discography went cold. Unable to find well-paying gigs, Hardee returned to Texas with his wife and worked as the director of a local high school band.
In 1974, Hardee was offered a recording session in France but declined because of his high school job. A year later, he appeared at the Nice Jazz Festival in France with Eddie "Lockjaw" Davis. A year later, he recorded his last album, a live performance in Antibes and then quit playing after returning home to Texas.
Unlike many little-known artists who didn't have that something special, Hardee was a beautiful player with a warm tone. He could lay down lovely sheets of improvised lines. When you listen to his recordings from the 1940s, you hear a thoughtful player on swingers and ballads. And he was still remarkable in 1975, on the live recording from France. [Photo above, from left, John Hardee, Sid Catlett, John Simmons, Sammy Benskin, and Tiny Grimes during John Hardee’s Swingtet session, WOR Studios NYC, January 28 1946, by Francis Wolff]
Hardee died in 1984.
JazzWax tracks: Virtually all of John Hardee's recordings can be found on two releases: John Hardee: 1946-48 (French Classics) here and John Hardee: A Little Blue, The Definitive Black & Blue Sessions here, recorded in Antibes, France, in 1975.
JazzWax clips: Here's Baby Watch That Stuff, from Nov. 1947, with Hardee (ts/v), Billy Kyle (p), John Simmons (b) and Cozy Cole (d)...
Marc Myers writes on music and the arts for The Wall Street Journal. He is author of "Why Jazz Happened" (Univ. of Calif. Press). Founded in 2007, JazzWax was named the 2015 "Blog of the Year" by the Jazz Journalists Association.