Reference: FSRCD 973
Bar code: 8427328609739
Bill Jennings was a very short man, but a giant on guitar—entirely self-taught, his attack and phrasing were astoundingly sax-like. As a jazz musician, he always insisted on soul as well as sound. That is not to say that he was not a perfectionist and a precisionist, for indeed he was. Although an ardent admirer of the great guitars in jazz, Jennings was always biased towards reeds and (admittedly a frustrated saxophonist) claimed that his style had been heavily influenced by Charlie Parker and Herschel Evans.
Between 1959 and 1960 Prestige engaged Jennings to record two albums: Enough Said! and Glide On. He had the backing of organist Jack McDuff—who provides some neat and clean-cut support—bassist Wendell Marshall and drummer Alvin Johnson. For the second album they were joined by Jennings’ brother Al on vibes—the only exception being Billin’ and Bluin’, where Al traded his vibes for guitar, and McDuff his organ for piano.
Bill Jennings can hardly be called an innovator on guitar. He was an uncomplicated musician but interesting all the same, always swinging and relaxed. There is just enough fun and earthiness in his approach to dull any scholastic edge, bringing the beat where it belongs—right down front.
"Jazz guitarist Bill Jennings is not a household name, even amongst jazz guitar enthusiasts like myself. Which is a pity, as the man had talent well beyond his limited fame. He was a left-handed guitarist, noted for playing a right-handed guitar upside down. In other words, high strings at the top and low strings at the bottom.
The reason for this appears to be that Jennings and his brother jointly owned their first ukulele and whilst his brother was right-handed, Bill had to adapt! That would have been a challenge for anyone but made more challenging by the loss of a finger later in his career.
Jennings only made two records as leader – Enough Said! and Glide On – both of which appear on this new single CD compilation from Fresh Sounds. Both were recorded at the Van Gelder’s Studio, New Jersey and the story goes that whilst setting up the studio, Rudy Gelder called out: “Say, who’s cutting?” Someone shouted, “Bill Jennings’s group!” “Enough said!” replied Rudy and the album was duly named.
Born in 1919 in Indianapolis, Jennings was a frustrated saxophonist, so much so that Charlie Parker, Herschel Evans, James Moody and Sonny Stitt are cited by Jennings as his major influences. Paradoxically, B.B. King is said to have cited Jennings as one of his biggest influences.
Jennings was able to ride the wave created by Charlie Christian’s liberation of the guitar from humble rhythm support to lead instrument and it wasn’t long before he got noticed for his warm and soulful style. In 1949 he played in the Louis Jordan Orchestra for approximately three years and subsequently recorded over 11 albums with the Willis Jackson Quartet. Ironically, his most famous recording was not a jazz record but Fever by Little Willlie John.
As was often the way, Jennings was spotted by an alert young A&R man and he got his break as leader with these two recordings with some fine accompaniment. The unmistakable (and possibly over enthusiastic) presence of Jack McDuff on organ caused Jennings to be labelled an organist’s guitarist, a term which he disliked, preferring, he said, to play like horns.
The two albums could not be said to be revolutionary. But they contain some cool, relaxed and right down-front guitar playing with more of a West Coast feel than you would normally expect from Van Gelder’s East Coast studio. Despite, Jennings’s own preference for reeds, there are none on either album. Maybe that is why he frequently gets his guitar-sound to approximate that of an alto sax.
This is a fabulous compilation which all jazz-guitar enthusiasts should appreciate. Whilst Jennings may never be mentioned in the same breath as Wes Montgomery, Kenny Burrell etc, this compilation should bring him some long overdue attention and recognition."
Ian Lomax (April 25, 2019)
"Like ham and eggs, peanut butter and jelly or Bogie with Bacall, the guitar/Hammond combo is one of the wonders of Western Civilization. Bill Jennings (1919-1978) is considered one of the founding fathers of what came to be known as “soul jazz,” recording with artists ranging from Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Jordan, but mostly associated with grooving juke joint combos, as exemplified by a previous 2-CD set released by Fresh Sound Records a couple of years ago.
This single dis set has him in vintage form in a pair of sessions for the Prestige label. The 1959 album with Jack McDuff/B3, Wendell Marshall/b and Alvin Johnson/dr was done in one day in August, and it’s as fresh as 3 am baked bread. Marshall’s bluesy bass line sets the pace for Jenning’s spacious picking and McDuff’s preaching on “Enough Said” while the team gets juke joint jumpy on “Blue Jams.” Jennings delivers a serpentine “Dark Eyes” and McDuff flows over like a root beer float on “Volare.”
For the January 1960 session the only change is the addition of Al Jennings on vibes and guitar, and the team is sleekly noir on “Glide On” and greasy as baby back ribs on “Cole Slaw.” The closing “Hey Mrs. Jones” is a calypso’d joy, and Jennings makes the strings cry on “Billin' and Bluin'.” These guys make it sound so easy, and they make you wish this attitude could be bottled for today’s artists to drink from."
George W. Harris (March 7, 2019)
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