Babs Gonzales

1947-1949

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Confronted with a new, harmonically advanced music filled with rhythmic complexities, white audiences and entertainers were only able to cope with bebop by treating it as though it were a novel alternative to pig Latin. If anyone supplied the fuel for this trivialization it was Slim Gaillard and Babs Gonzales, great musicians who were also bizarre characters who invented their own forms of funny scat language. In these vintage Blue Note sides by Babs' Three Bips and a Bop, you can hear exactly where Charlie Barnet got the idea for "Bebop Spoken Here." The originals, of course, sound much better than the silly attempts of bop imitators. Babs' Blue Note vocal arrangements were by pianist Tadd Dameron, and Rudy Williams poured a whole lot of soul into his alto saxophone. "Play Dem Blues" seems to have a little bit of "Ornithology" built into its opening line. "Running Around" is a sudden switch to straight vocal ballad style. Babs sings about heartbreak. The band has been reduced to piano, bass, and guitar. With "Bab's Dream," listeners are back in full bop language mode, with reams of scat unfolding in every direction. Dameron takes fascinating solos during this easygoing minor romp, and on his own "Dob Bla Bli." Special mention should also be made of the exceptionally solid bassist Art Phipps. "Weird Lullaby" stretches out Babs' bop scat lingo to the point where listeners seem to be hearing a serenade sung by a character actor imitating a visitor from Mars. Moving over to the Apollo label, Tony Scott blows an authentic bop clarinet, Phipps continues to act as an upright axis, and Roy Haynes carries the entire band on his back. In December of 1948, Babs lined up a session with Manor, an important label in the development of early modern jazz. With a front line of James Moody, Dave Burns, and Bennie Green, this is a steamy little band. Precision arrangements make for surprisingly intricate runs. Moody sounds particularly stoked. If anyone comes looking for vestigial Fats Waller in "Honeysuckle Bop," forget about it. The reference seems to have been purely poetic. If this bop workout was somehow based upon the changes to Waller's "Honeysuckle Rose," the camouflage is so successful that nobody could ever sort it out. Jumping to Capitol Records in 1949, Babs is once again surrounded by awesome musicians: J.J. Johnson, a well-oiled Sonny Rollins, Erroll Garner's brother Linton, and Jack "The Bear" Parker. Art Pepper really cooks on "The Continental," which is one of Gonzales' most successful performances. Gonzales' voice has deepened and he seems to be growing tougher by the minute. "St. Louis Blues" is masterfully restructured and augmented with fluent bop embellishments. Hearing Don Redman and Sonny Rollins side by side with Wynton Kelly and Roy Haynes in back is a treat not to be missed. A fascinating slice of vintage bop culture, packed with restless creative energy.

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