Reviews & Opinions

Bobby Timmons

Bobby TimmonsBOBBY TIMMONS

by Jim Cuneo          

When I was a junior in high school in 1978, I was devouring jazz albums at a rapid rate.  I went through everything that the Erie Public Library had at the time and to their credit, they had  a lot of jazz records.  Nowadays, they have a zillion recordings thanks to people like Bob Protzman and others.

Timmons' Trio

One album, back in 1978, that I really liked was The Bobby Timmons Trio “In Person.”  It was recorded at the Village Vanguard in 1961 and came out on the great old  Riverside label.   It didn't take long to figure out that just about everything that came out on Riverside was top notch.  I knew who Ron Carter was and he was the bass player while Tootie Heath played drums on The Bobby Timmons Trio  album “In Person.” Timmons grew up not far from the Heath brothers in Philadelphia.  It was one of the first piano trio records that I listened to over and over. 

The following clip from Bobby Timmons' Trio album "In Person" features Timmons- piano, Ron Carter - bass, Albert "Tootie" Heath - drums, playing the tune "I Didn't Know What Time It Was."

The others were by Ramsey Lewis and Ahmad Jamal on the old Cadet label that I got for next to nothing in the bargain bin at Mason's.  Nowadays, they are all considered to be pioneers of “soul jazz” along with Les McCann, Herbie Mann, Shirley Scott, Stanley Turrentine and many others.

A short life

Sadly, Bobby Timmons had a troubled life and only lived until 1974 when he died of cirrhosis at age 38.  He would be 80 this year.  JFK would be 98.  It's hard to picture young men who passed away early in life as old men.  Even though Bobby Timmons was an alcoholic he must have been one heck of a functioning one because he made hundreds of recordings as a leader and a sideman.  He was also a composer.  His songs, “Moanin'” and “Dat Dere” are popular jazz standards

Timmons' tune "Moanin'" with Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers, featuring Timmons - piano, Lee Morgan - trumpet, Benny Golson - sax, Jymie Merritt - bass and Blakey - drums.. 

A part of Timmons' troubles was that he was sensitive to harsh criticism.  As an artist, you just have to block it out.  Some critics just didn't get what he was all about.  Some did, like Gary Giddins and Marc Myers, but too late for Bobby Timmons, because by the time he was being hailed as an under valued, accomplished and innovative leader, writer and accompanist, he'd been dead for decades! 

Perspectives

The great musicologist, Nicolas Slonimsky, wrote a delightful book entitled, “the Lexicon of Musical Invective.” This book is a compilation of negative reviews for some of the greatest musical works in history.  Practically all great art is never given its due until the artist is long gone.  Like Jean Sibelius said, as told to me by Basil Ronzitti, “Nobody ever erected a statue for a critic.”

Great albums        

    In the Summer of 1979, I found the album, “Easy Does It,” by the Bobby Timmons Trio, another Riverside record from 1961, at a yard sale in North East for a quarter.  I played that thing so much that it wore through to the other side!   That was my first copy.  Sam Jones plays bass on this one and the interplay between he and drummer Jimmy Cobb is tight and swinging and relaxed and thoughtful when Timmons branches off from the groove. 

"Easy Does It" by the Bobby Timmons Trio, with Timmons - piano, Sam Jones - bass and Jimmy Cobb - drums.

Cobb's brush playing is terrific.  Timmons' “Pretty Memory” from that record was also on the Nat Adderley “Work Song” album, a real classic.   Besides cornetist Nat Adderley,  Timmons, Wes Montgomery, Louis Hayes, Percy Heath are the rest of the band with Sam Jones or Keter Betts plucking a cello. “Work Song” is another Riverside gem.  The reduced version for piano trio is also effective. 

Bobby Timmons could play nice stride piano and shows it on the Yip Harburg standard “Old Devil Moon.”  He plays an impressionistic, almost Don Shirley-esque intro to another old chestnut, “Ghost of a Chance.” But what I like best are his own tunes and his renditions of his contemporaries like his ethereal version of Tadd Dameron's, “If You Could See Me Now.”  Like many of Bobby Timmons' “soul jazz” pioneer contemporaries, Timmons could play many facets of jazz and beyond and wasn't just locked into playing in one particular style. 

Real Gone Jazz

            The “Real Gone Jazz” label has a 4 Cd set simply entitled, Bobby Timmons 6 Classic Albums, that has Timmons' first 5 albums as a leader and one called Jenkins, Jordan and Timmons that really cooks.  If somebody asks what hard bop is you can just play the first track, “Cliff's Edge.” That's Clifford Jordan on tenor sax.  John Jenkins on alto.  Wilbur Ware and Dannie Richmond on bass and drums respectively.

Prestige/New Jazz

This is a great record from 1957 that I had no idea about!  It was on the Prestige/ New Jazz label.   “This Here is Bobby Timmons” is Bobby's first effort as a leader and it, too is a classic, with “Moanin,” “This Here,” and “Dat Dere” now jazz standards.  I saw a junior high school band perform “Moanin” a few years ago and it was joy.  The other albums on the Cd compilation are, “In Person,” “Easy Does It,” “Soul Time,” and “Sweet and Soulful Sounds.”  

Timmons' "Dat Dare," by the Timmons Trio named above.

“Soul Time” features Art Blakey on drums, Sam Jones on bass and Blue Mitchell on trumpet.   “Sweet and Soulful Sounds” is a piano trio with Sam Jones again on bass and Roy McCurdy on drums.  This is appropriately titled because Bobby Timmons is playing exceptionally beautifully if kind of melancholy throughout most of this record.  Except for “Jenkins, Jordan and Timmons,”

These are all Riverside recordings with really cool covers if you're lucky enough to have the original vinyl.  Until I'm able to pick those up, I'll be satisfied with this bare bones 4 Cd  set.  It's nice to hear “Easy Does It” without all the scratches.  Until now, I just figured they were part of the performance!

The classic Riverside recording of Nat Adderly's "Work Song," with Adderly - trumpet, Timmons - piano, Wes Montgomery - guitar, Percy Heath - bass, Sam Jones - cello and Louis Hayes - drums.

Jimmy CuneoJim Cuneo is a full time musician in the Erie, PA and northwestern NY area.  He works regularly with the Blues Beaters, and as a soloist, recently appeared with JazzErie's "Exploring the Border" show featuring poetry & jazz, and is Chair of JazzErie's Performance Committee.  He lives in Ripley, NY  and can be reached at 716-736-4156 or by email at cuneovi@fairpoint.net

Thanks Jimmy!  Ed.

March 8, 2015