Fats Navarro

The Fats Navarro Story

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Bebop trumpet genius Fats Navarro only lived to the age of 26. During that time he left behind a slew of recordings with numerous bands and vocalists for a number of labels. Proper, a British compilation label, has attempted to assemble four CDs of music from what it perceives to be Navarro's four major periods, in order to reveal the trumpeter's development not only as a soloist, but as a bandleader. And Proper did it for little more than the price of one CD. Navarro was a force so pervasive and influential that his only equals during his lifetime were Dizzy Gillespie and Clifford Brown. The first disc, Bebop Boys, showcases Navarro's emerging place in the company of great bands such as the short-lived but ridiculously influential Billy Eckstine and His Orchestra, where he replaced Dizzy Gillespie. Some of the personnel on these sides include Sarah Vaughan, Art Blakey, Gene Ammons, and Tommy Potter; "Air Mail Special" and "Don't Blame Me" from these sessions were arranged by Tadd Dameron. The sound quality varies only slightly. By and large they sound better than the material issued by National or Blue Note. Later sessions include bands called the Bebop Boys with Kenny Dorham, Kenny Clarke, and Sonny Stitt. The set closes with a couple of tracks from Savoy with Eddie "Lockjaw" Davis as a leader and two from Sonora with Coleman Hawkins fronting the band. Literally, there isn't anything on this disc that is not first-rate. The second CD, Nostalgia, focuses on Navarro's work with Coleman Hawkins and Lockjaw Davis from sessions late in 1946 recorded for Savoy. Also represented are Navarro's first sessions as a leader with his Thin Men; a quartet with Ernie Henry, Tadd Dameron, and others; and Dameron's sextet. Most of the material is from Savoy, but there are also tracks cut for Alladin (with Illinois Jacquet & Big Band), Counterpoint, and Blue Note. So many name players are featured on this disc that it's impossible to mention them all, but some include Charlie Rouse, Shadow Wilson, Charlie Ventura, Allen Eager, and many more. The masters have been cleaned up considerably, and the sound, for the most part, is very good (better than any of this material has been presented previously). Discs three and four, entitled At the Royal Roost and Double Talk, respectively, pinpoint Navarro's emerging place -- despite a huge heroin habit -- in the new music of bebop, primarily in a band with Hawkins (that also included Max Roach and J.J. Johnson), a Benny Goodman sextet, and with Dameron. On disc three, all but four sides come from the Jazzland label; the rest are from Capitol and Blue Note. The final set is from primarily Navarro-led groups and were recorded for Dial, Blue Note, Victor, Capitol, and Prestige, with two single cuts being on fly-by-night labels like Ozone and Grotto. The material on all these sides is the canon from which bebop was created, including everything from Navarro's own unique read of "Night in Tunisia" to his blistering break on "52nd Street Theme," the glorious ostinato on "Bud's Bounce," and the dizzying glissando on "Yardbird Suite." Even the ballad playing and swing numbers, where Navarro is playing behind vocalists, are startling for their full tone and unusual phrasing for a soloist in swing bands. In sum, this is the Fats Navarro story, told through the sounds and styles of his era, a crucial time in the history of jazz. This is a box set with accurate, even voluminous documentation; it's a well-designed package for a deep budget price and is long overdue.

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