|Don Rendell (Early days)...|
In 1957 Jazz Monthly published an article on Don Rendell's Sextets and then in 1961 an article entitled "A New Phase". Both articles were written by Alun Morgan and below are extracts from both...
Don Rendell is a man with an ideal. His ambition is to establish in this country a small modern group on an a secure and permanent footing, a group that will play musicianly jazz to appreciative audiences. In 1954 he led a unit which met with only limited economic success despite critical acclaim. His new project the Don Rendell Jazz Six, has now been launched and is making promising headway.
After a well attended lunch time concert in February of this year (1957) Don remarked: "This could be it. Wherever we've played so far we've either equalled or broken audience records for a modern jazz group. The people seem to like our music and the bookers have asked us to make return visits. This time, I think, we might make the grade". For a man who suffered the disillusionment of seeing his earlier Sextet founder for lack of a following these are encouraging signs.
Don has sought conducive musical surroundings for some years; he is not likely to remain in a band once he finds himself at variance with the musical policy. In a world where material values invariably take pride of place the Rendell outlook is at once praisworthy and refreshing.
Born on March 24th, 1926 Don Rendell comes from a musical family. His father an Associate of the Royal College of Organists, did his best to shape a musical career for him and enlisted the services of a piano teacher. Telling me of those early days Don said: "For years she tried to teach me the piano but it was no good. In the end she said to my father "I can't teach him anything. He just won't learn". He grinned. "But she did say I had a good time".
Up to the age of sixteen Don wanted to become a professional footballer; to him, music was an unnecessary form of drudgery. Quite suddenly he decided he would like to play the tenor saxophone and his long-suffering father was only too pleased to buy him an instrument. since then he has held down jobs with many well-known dance bands including those led by George Evans and Frank Weir. In 1948 he found himself with Oscar Rabin and made his first records with the band for Parlophone. Eric Jupp was one of the chief Rabin staff arrangers in those days and it was Eric who wrote in some short sections for "Don Rendell and his Bop Group"; on the Rabin record of Cherokee Don was featured in his first long solo performance.
When Johnny Dankworth formed his Seven, (in 1950), he chose Rendell for the tenor chair, a position Don held until Dankworth ultimately reorganized his thoughts along big band lines (1953).Unwilling to take his place in a five man sax section after the freedom he had enjoyed in the small group, Don left to work at club engagements and met up with tenor saxist Ronnie Ross. From this point on the careers of Don and Ronnie have run on closely parallel lines, Ronnie, an ex architectural assistant then serving in the Brigade of Guards, became don's protege and the two were a familiar sight at the London clubs. The two tenor men aided by any available rhythm section formed the prototype version of Don's later Sextet. With Dickie Hawdon added on trumpet and flgel horn, Damian Robinson on piano, Pete Elderfield on bass and either Benny goodman or Don Lawson on drums the Sextet became a cohesive musical unit playing inventive and intelligently conceived jazz. The group's attraction did not, however, extend to the wider jazz public and after a year the Sextet was virtually forced out of existence by pressure of circumstances.
Rendell and the remnants of his band were taken into the ranks of Tony Crombie's orchestra, which gave Don a much needed breathing-space from the responsibilities he had been shouldering. Shortly afterwards he received an offer from Ted Heath which seemed too good to miss; he joined the band in August 1955 and remained until Heath left for his first American tour in March of the following year. When the Stan Kenton orchestra arrived in Britain under the terms of the exchange agreement Rendell, who had forfeited the chance of visiting the United States with Ted Heath, found himself in the position whereby he was offered a temporary job in an american band. Kenton had sent one of his tenor men home and needed a replacement. Tommy Whittle had been called on for a few dates but he was unable to remain with Kenton for the rest of the tour due to prior engagements. Don joined the band and stayed for five weeks, during which time he played in a section comprising Lennie Niehaus, Lucky Thompson and Bill Perkins.
No one familiar with Don's sincerity and continued search for musical truth will be surprised to learn that he approached Kenton at the outset and told him that while he appreciated the honour of being called upon to work with the band, he felt bound to point out that he was not a great lover of Stan's type of music. he stressed his predilection for small group jazz and it is some measure of Kenton's graciousness that he expressed a complete understanding of Rendell's viewpoint which resulted in a happy relationship between the two based largely on mutual respect. Working with Kenton was undoubtedly a most important factor in Don's musical development. For long an admirer of the smooth, melodic simplicity of the Lster Young approach he was delighted to find himself next to Bill Perkins, one of the best of the newer American tenor saxists playing in this style. He was also pleasantly surprised at the amount of space allotted to soloists during concert arrangements. "In a British band you get sixteen bars, maybe a chorus but more often it's less than that. With Kenton you never get just one chorus; it's usually two or more. It gives you time to get into your stride".
Back in this country after the Kenton tour (to Europe) Rendell joined the Tony Kinsey group, an engagement which placed him alongside his friend Ronnie Ross once more. After a few months with Tony, Don decided to make another attempt at fronting his own band and in February this year (1957) the Jazz Six made it's debut. The original personnel consisted of Kenny Wheeler, trumpet; Ronnie Ross, alto and baritone; Rendell, tenor; Ken Moule, piano; Arthur Watts, bass and Don Lawson on drums. Wheeler's obligations to Buddy Featherstonhaugh led to his departure and his replacements have included Bert Courtley, Terry Brown and Les Condon. Purely domestic reasons caused Don Lawson to leave, with much regret on both sides, and his place has been filled by Bobby Kevin and Benny Goodman on various occasions. In common with the earlier Sextet Don has concentrated on obtaining jazz men with a high degree of musicianship and also a firm belief in the group's existence. Few small bands can have possessed such a collective feeling of loyalty and the resolution that theirs is a job worth doing. As leader Don is always prepared to hear the opinions of others but he is politely firm when he thinks that his own solution is the best one. On the stand he is quick to offer encouragement and is ready with a friendly smile when a soloist has acquitted himself well.
The style of the Jazz Six has been set by Rendell's neat and workmanlike arrangements, arrangements which are sufficiently elastic to allow any musician to extend his solo if his powers of improvisation are up to it on any particular occasion. The members of the band play like seasoned professionals and not like a collection of enthusiastic but immature amateurs. All too often these days sheer bad musicianship has been passed off under such disguises as "heart-felt emotion", "genuine earthiness of expression etc... Continued at the top of right hand column...
Continued from bottom of left hand column...|
Don and his men believe that the public has a right to expect musical efficiency from jazz musicians as well as the obvious qualities of swing, excitement and melody. Rendell favours a subtle, swinging rhythm section generally in the vein of such an American team as Johnny Williams - Teddy Kotick - Art Mardigan. Ken Moule, once the leader of a proficient modern jazz group which failed for the same general reasons as Don's first Sextet, has now blossomed out as a fine piano soloist and also plays interesting, stimulating accompaniments. Arthur Watts was a member of the defunct Ken Moule Seven and, as Don remarks with wry good humour: "has also worked with Geraldo and other money-making bands".So far the book is based on some of Al Cohn's neo-Basie originals, The natural thing to do, Count me in, etc, good unhackneyed standards such as I saw stars and Star Eyes, a modern transcription of Limehouse Blues, Rendell originals, and one score by Moule, a beautiful full arrangement of I know why and so do you. Ronnie Ross switched to alto when the Jazz Six was formed and already sounds as if he has been playing the instrument for years. The inventive lines which he produced on baritone take on an Art Pepper - Bud Shank lyrical sound when transcribed to the smaller instrument.
Rendell himself is probably playing better today than ever before although his past records reached a consistently high level. His Quartet LP (Tempo LAP1) contains some very good examples of his work. The quality of his instrumental sound gives an individuality to New Orleans, although the opening chorus is an almost "straight" melodic statement. Slow boat to China, Yesterdays, Sometimes I'm happy and You stepped out of a dream were made at the end of a Sextet session (the results being issued on Tempo EXA12); only one take of each of the tenor solos were made. First takes are almost invariably the best and these four tracks contain a warmth and freshness of expression.
Don has concentrated on producing a clean, full sound and long, flowing melodic lines. A readily identifiable feature of his playing is the occasional insertion of unexpected double tempo runs which are integrated into the course of the solo rather than simply thrown in as isolated exhibitionisms. He is always in search of melodic beauty, beauty which is the outcome of uncontrived simplicity. When Raymond Horricks and I approached Don to write a preface for our book Modern Jazz he produced an essay which contained some revealing statements; on the subject of beauty he wrote: "When I play jazz I try to create beautiful things for my own satisfaction and enjoyment. I play because I want to. If I play merely to impress people, then the solo is forced and natural enjoyment is excluded. My playing consequently deteriorates and I am faced with frustration." These are not the words of a musical introvert but rather the sincere opinions of a jazz perfectionist who also happens to be one of the handful of European musicians to have attained international standard...
The Jazz Six made a number of records through 1957 for the Nixa label most of which have not been re-issued in CD format. The band changed personnel somewhat - Eddie Harvey had replaced Ken Moule on piano and added his trombone playing to the sound - Bert Courtley had become the permanent trumpet player and in 1958 the Sextet made their last LP for the Decca label. By this time Ronnie Ross was playing baritone sax more than alto and the record is probably their most successful. Superbly recorded it gives an excellent idea of the band at its peak. Don made two EP record in 1959 with Bert Courtley in a quintet titled Jazz Committee. He toured for a spell with Woody Herman and freelanced for a while, disappearing from the record studios until 1961 when he appeared with a new sound and a new quintet...
Alun Morgan continued in Jazz Monthly (1961):
Don Rendell: "You know me, Zoot Sims, Al Cohn, Allan Eager, Stan Getz, Brew Moore, in fact anyone stylistically descended from Pres, those are the tenor players who used to be my idols. I used to try to sound like them or at least to play in their style. Well all that's changed now and I don't even play the records I have at home now by these musicians anymore. I haven't turned against them, it's just that my interests are centred elsewhere. About a year ago I found myself listening more and more to John Coltrane and it seemed to me that this was the "right" way to play tenor. I'ts something I really can't explain, it just happened. As well as Coltrane there are a lot of others whose work is stimulating. Rollins of course, Johnny Griffin, and have you heard Stanley Turrentine? It's very exciting to have this new prospect open up in front of you".
We were sitting in a pub after a recording session, featuring Don's new quintet, had come to a successful conclusion in a nearby studio. It was the first time I had heard the group and, in fact, the first time I has seen Don for nearly two years. "My musical outlook is different now" he said when we met "but everything else is still the same". His sense of humour remains unchanged; outrageous statements are made in a seriou poker-faced manner. "I used to be branded as a technician "That Don Rendell", people would say "he's just all technique. Lots of notes all over the instrument". Well I've got away from that now. I'll let you into the secret. I didn't practice for three years." On a more serious note he began to explain why and how his overall sound has altered since his allegiances have moved from Lester Young and Al Cohn to Coltrane and Griffin. "The first thing I did was change my instrument. When you've been playing a Conn for ten years you get stuck with a Conn sound. I used to get a muffled, cloudy sort of tone. People used to come up to me and say "You've got a muffled tone" and I'd say "Yes I like it". nowadays I'm getting the kind of sound I want, the one that fits in with the concept of the group and with my own musical ideals, and I find it's a lot easier to play that way!" The group itself is young, enthusiastic and continually improving. Partnering Don in the front line is Graham Bond, an alto player of tremendous individuality.
As it stands today (November 1961)the quintet is finding it's feet both musically and financially. If confidence, sincerity and belief in an ideal are the measures of success then the New Don Rendell Quintet can look forward to a bright future.
Don's New Quintet made only one album in 1961. Rendell did not record under his own name again until 1964 when he recorded the first of a number of albums with trumpeter Ian Carr
Don Rendell discography...