Howard Roberts (g), Victor Feldman (vib, p), Pete Jolly, John T. Williams (p), Curtis Counce, Red Mitchell, Joe Mondragon (b), Bert Dahlander, Stan Levey, Jack Sperling, Jerry Williams (d)
Reference: FSRCD 963
Bar code: 8427328609630
When Howard Roberts (1929-1992) decided to teach himself guitar, he decided to visit every black jazz club in his native Phoenix, Arizona. “All we did was play the blues. And that’s what I came out of—the blues.” Roberts, however, felt the need to learn more about the complexities of the profession, and so he started studying harmony and composition.
Looking for more musical activity, he moved to Los Angeles in 1950, where he gigged around the city in jam sessions at after-hours clubs. There, he developed his dazzling technique and fine harmonic sense. Having played with the best instrumentalists and composers, he started getting calls for session work.
He established his reputation with the Bobby Troup trio, which appeared on TV from coast to coast, and consolidated the fame of Troup’s group with some brilliant playing of his Gibson guitar, so much so that the Down Beat jazz critics accorded Roberts the New Guitar Star Award of 1955.
In the years following he continued recording with top jazz singers and instrumentists, and eventually made his first albums as a leader for Verve. In 1959 Roberts started getting more and more work on TV and film, but not content with settling down in the Hollywood studios, in a kind of prosperous obscurity, he kept very active in the jazz scene, playing concerts and recording his own albums.
Howard Roberts was a skilled guitarist with a fondness for direct and unencumbered jazz playing, his tone always bright and penetrating, never twangy. A fine technician, he was able to execute difficult passages cleanly and forcefully. He forged a sound of his own, fiery and hard-swinging, creative and unpretentious. These sessions are an example of his jazz work, as a sideman and as a leader.
"For those in the know, Howard Roberts was one of the most impressive six stringers around. He spent most of his career in the studios, backing artists like Julie London or June Christy, but he amassed an impressive catalogue all his own. Here, on this single disc you get him in vintage form in the mid to late 1950s in hip small band settings. A ’57 quartet with John T. Williams/Curtis Counce/b and Jerry Williams/dr or with Williams, Joe Mondragon/b and Jack Sperling/dr have Roberts waxing eloquent on “The Most Beautiful Girl in the World” and “Anything Goes.” With West Coast studs Pete Jolly/p, Red Mitchell/b and Stan Levey from ’59, the team is soulful on “Easy Living” with Roberts using extreme tast eon “Lover Man.” With Counce, Bert Dahlander/dr and Victor Feldman on vibes and piano, Roberts digs in the deepest, with the strings and vibes bouncing delightfully on “How Do You Do” and “Hip Soup.” Roberts is a master of swinging melody on Horace Silver’s “Room 608” and is gorgeously lithe during “When Lights Are Low.” Guitarists like Roberts, such as Barney Kessel and Herb Ellis, were the epitome of style and clever swinging; this album reminds you of an era sadly missing today. You’ll never tire of this one."
—George W. Harris (August 20, 2018)