The Bluesville Jukebox is comprised of jazz 45s as well as the smaller numbers of instrumental R&B and rock 'n' roll records. The new soul sound of the late '50s and '60s is echoed by many of the 45s, though the selections also bear the impact of period vogues for bossa nova, Latin rhythms and unusual time signatures.

The music here might have originally been heard performed live in a jazz club or restaurant lounge, on an auditorium stage or at a college dance. It was popular on the radio and at jukebox locations, with iconic singles like Jimmy McGriff's "I've Got A Woman," Booker T. & the M.G.s' "Green Onions," Ramsey Lewis's "The 'In' Crowd," the Delegates' "Pigmy" and the Philip Upchurch Combo's "You Can't Sit Down" charting nationally in the late '50s and '60s.

Aside from the fact that this collection is primarily jazz and instrumental R&B, and that the sides here were generally recorded in the 1960s, the criteria going into the Bluesville Jukebox's compilation are subjective. The collection's representative 45s are imbued with nothing more precise than that ineffable sense of '60s cool and consciousness.


As America's economy boomed in the '50s, a profusion of cultural, economic, technological and social forces were reconstituting popular music. Much was in motion.

There were advances in amplification and recording technology, and durable formats like the 45 that were cheaper to manufacture and better sounding than their predecessors. There was an explosion of independent record labels serving the black populace, and young white America's dawning appreciation for the same R&B records that were ultimately bought by the million as "rock 'n' roll."

Crucially, there was the momentum of the civil rights movement and the gradual though incomplete erosion of segregation and institutional racism. As black identity and experience assumed a modicum of visibility in pop culture in the '50s and '60s, aspects of and identifiers from African-Americans' daily lives and culture - from work and church to cuisine, fashion, entertainment and dance - were increasingly affirmed in a desegregating music market, especially soul music and jazz.


Soul jazz is the predominant mode at the Bluesville Jukebox. However, there's no convenient way to talk about soul jazz without also talking about R&B or its sanctified heir, soul. Soul jazz mirrored, influenced and was influenced in turn by soul's late '50s development from R&B. An account of the cultural, political and social dynamics precipitating soul out of R&B would be impossible here, so I'll instead limit myself very briefly to the music.

The '50s R&B charts were a glorious melange of jump jive and cool West Coast blues, vocal group ballads and gutbucket electric blues, as well as the sorts of wild rockers and dance numbers that began crossing over to white audiences in that time as rock 'n' roll. Soul wouldn't formalize in name until the '60s, but the musical language and vitality of black gospel was already percolating in postwar R&B. Among others, artists like Ray Charles, Etta James, Sam Cooke, Faye Adams, Jackie Wilson, James Brown, Barrett Strong, Little Willie John, Solomon Burke, the Isley Brothers and Hank Ballard facilitated a sound rejuvenated, in one way or another, in black music traditions.

Lines between R&B and the new soul music were blurry in the late '50s and early '60s. Like R&B, a regionalized, gloriously idiosyncratic character reigned. Similarly, early soul was best represented by America's innumerable independent record labels. For every nationally-distributed powerhouse like Stax/Volt, Motown/Tamla/Gordy, Atlantic/Atco, Chess/Checker/Argo and Scepter/Wand there were myriad smaller, no less vital concerns like Fame, Hi, Sue, Minit, Duke, Money, Goldwax and Loma getting this music to the public, and, beyond these, a glorious proliferation of local and one-off labels.


Scarcely had the dust settled from bebop's 1940s revolution when modern jazz began individuating into ill-defined entities like cool jazz, hard bop and Third Stream jazz.

In the late '50s, and for the next decade, soul jazz reigned as the most commercially viable of the jazz branches. The precedent for soul jazz was established in the '50s hard bop of artists like Horace Silver, Bobby Timmons, Cannonball and Nat Adderley, Jimmy Smith and Lou Donaldson. Their recordings frequently brought in a distinctive gospel or blues feeling, and invoked specifics of church life, cuisine and street slang as well as terms like "soul," "truth," "mercy" and "freedom" that were weighted with meaning in the context of African-Americans' experience.

Soul jazz took hard bop's sensibilities and made them more overt, integrating some of the feeling and attitude of what was coalescing as soul into an urbane entertainment for jukebox play and club audiences. Individual improvisation remained crucial, but soul jazz favored generally simpler arrangements that filtered in more a pronounced gospel and blues feeling. Rhythmic groove was emphasized over bop's abstractions and ambitious compositions. Tenor saxophones, guitars and Hammond B3 organs were prominent, with flutes, vibraphones and Latin conga drums often added for color. Snappy jazz vocals that borrowed from R&B were a marked feature as well. Even teenage dance numbers like the the Walk, the Jerk and the Twist made their way into soul jazz, albeit in stylized form.

Soul jazz's accessibility and propulsive energy had popular appeal among mixed audiences. Jimmy McGriff's "I've Got A Woman," Jimmy Smith's "Back at the Chicken Shack," Ramsey Lewis's "The 'In' Crowd," Ray Bryant's "Sack o' Woe," the Delegates' "Pigmy," Les McCann's "The Shampoo," Hank Jacobs's "So Far Away," Cannonball Adderley's "Mercy, Mercy, Mercy" and Johnny Lytle's "The Loop" sold well, and helped to revitalize the jazz market in the late '50s and '60s.

The powerful Hammond B3 organ, an important presence at the Bluesville Jukebox, merits special attention. A musical fixture of the black church, Jimmy Smith's '50s recordings for Blue Note Records brought the B3 organ definitively into the context of jazz. Smith blazed a trail for, among others, organists like Jack McDuff, Jimmy McGriff, Shirley Scott, Richard "Groove" Holmes, Freddie Roach, Johnny "Hammond" Smith and Don Patterson, all of whom made the B3 soul jazz's iconic instrument.


Soul jazz's sound, groove and gritty stylishness were also affirmed in a number of other early and mid-'60s instrumental releases. These recordings constitute a diffuse phenomenon, the groups that made them occupying a variety of points along a difficult-to-summarize continuum of blues, R&B and rock 'n' roll.

This instrumental phenomenon reflected a hipper, younger and slowly desegregating cross-section of America. Mixed ensembles like Booker T. & the M.G.s, the Packers, the Merced Blue Notes, the Soul Runners and the Mixtures embodied the easing of social mores separating musicians and communities. Generally, however, the pacesetters of were African-Americans like King Curtis and Willie Mitchell, proficient musicians who worked in studio settings and who led ensembles that served as autonomous live acts or anchors of stage shows, or both. Elsewhere, versatile young Chicano outfits like Thee Midniters and the Blendells, with bilingual repertoires built around wildly popular live revues in Los Angeles, San Antonio and other Mexican-American strongholds, charted instrumentals like "Whittier Blvd." and "La La La La La." Suburban white kids, especially combos in the Pacific Northwest like the Frantics ("Straight Flush") and the Viceroys ("Granny's Pad), had electric organs, horn sections and setlists referencing R&B dances alongside contemporaneous surf music and early British Invasion rock 'n' roll. Even bluesmen like Freddie King and Albert Collins skirted the edge of this sound, their guitar-driven combo hits - "San-Ho-Zay" and "Frosty," respectively - updating blues formulas with something closer to a '60s in-crowd sensibility.

Sometimes these groups coalesced organically out of utilitarian contexts, serving as live support for vocalists or as studio house bands. Sometimes these groups were the attraction, performing at clubs and dances in matching suits and releasing records of their own. Just as frequently it was a combination of these roles.

Regardless of demographic or function, the '60s were a fruitful decade for instrumentals imbued with the new soul sound. Booker T. & the M.G.s' "Green Onions," the Philip Upchurch Combo's "You Can't Sit Down," the Packers' "Hole in the Wall," the Mar-Keys' "Last Night," the Dynatones' "Fife Piper," Les Cooper and the Soul Rockers' "Wiggle Wobble," Thee Midniters' "Whittier Boulevard," King Curtis and the Noble Knights' "Soul Twist," Googie Rene's "Smokey Joe's La La," the Soul Runners' "Grits 'n Corn Bread" and Willie Mitchell's "20-75" enjoyed impressive, occasionally massive, sales figures. Collectively, this music had some precedent in driving rock 'n' roll-era R&B of instrumentalists like Cozy Cole, Sil Austin, Noble "Thin Man" Watts, Doc Bagby, Bill Doggett and Lee Allen, themselves progeny of an earlier honkin' and wailin' cohort of '40s and early '50s jump blues musicians who drew, in turn, from Swing Era recordings by the likes of Count Basie, Lucky Millinder, Louis Jordan and Erskine Hawkins.


In addition to the emanant soul, a number of parallel developments helped jazz reinvigorate itself in the '60s, its last real decade as a viable commercial form.

Latin music Latin music's influence is appreciable at the Bluesville Jukebox. Afro-Cuban rhythms had been part of this country's musical lingua franca since the rumba and conga dance recordings of the '30s and early '40s, and hits like "The Peanut Vendor (El Manisero)" and "Babalú." Still, despite early dalliances by Duke Ellington and a few others, it wasn't until the ambitious cubop experiments of Machito, Mario Bauzá, Chico O'Farrill and Dizzy Gillespie with Chano Pozo in the late '40s and early '50s that a visible perch for Latin rhythms in jazz was secured. In the 1960s, the youthful, bilingual boogaloo from Spanish Harlem wedded jazzy horn lines, piano vamps and a danceable R&B bearing to enduring styles like montuno, mambo, rumba and guajira. The spirit of successful boogaloos like Mongo Santamaria's "Watermelon Man," Joe Cuba's "Bang Bang" and Ray Barretto's "El Watusi" was in the air in the '60s and, in a few cases, the boogaloo's hip funkiness directly informs its soul jazz contemporaries at the Bluesville Jukebox. Generally, though, the Latin sound is represented more indirectly. It's the added texture of a conga drum or güiro (scraper), or the élan of a Spanish song title.

The Bossa Nova Brazil's bossa nova was broadly introduced to this hemisphere in 1959 via Luiz Bonfa and Antonio Carlos Jobim's Black Orpheus soundtrack. But it was Stan Getz and Charlie Byrd's 1964 Jazz Samba album and especially "Girl from Ipanema," a huge 1964 hit for João Gilberto and Stan Getz with an instantly memorable vocal turn by Astrud Gilberto, that truly popularized the bossa nova sound. Interpretations of Brazilian compositions like "Corcovado," "One Note Samba," "Desafinado" and "Mas Que Nada" were suddenly ubiquitous in jazz and pop repertoires, as was original material with samba rhythms and a nominally Brazilian flavor. Not surprisingly, the bossa nova is a discrete component of the Bluesville Jukebox. As something of an exotic import to the States, the bossa nova was analogous to Latin music's influence in jazz, often working more as romantic reference and textural and rhythmic counterpoint than anything authentic. Sometimes the bossa nova's foundational samba rhythms were used, other times its influence was consigned to a title reference and a vague Brazilian infectiousness.

Unusual time signatures Recorded in 1959, "Take Five" by the Dave Brubeck Quartet was the biggest-selling jazz single of all time. It was also written in 5/4 time, and its success would precipitate a brief flurry of interest in jazz releases with unusual meters. While almost exclusive to jazz, and never as prevalent on the charts as the various bossa nova and Afro-Latin manifestations of postwar music, the musical innovations of "Take Five" would nonetheless represent another means for jazz artists to rejuvenate their music for '60s audiences, and a handful of the sides at the Bluesville Jukebox consciously explore odd time signatures. Their use was somewhat more formal than contemporaneous bossa nova and Afro-Latin amalgams, but the freshness of non-standard meters nonetheless made them another "now thing" phenomenon, a musical device that telegraphed a chic currency.


A handful of other motifs, effects and instruments are prevalent enough to merit some elaboration, as they further delineate this collection's shape.

Alongside new standards like "Fever" and "Summertime," certain jazz compositions and composers set a template for the sensibility of the Bluesville Jukebox. Hip and modish, "Comin' Home Baby," "Watermelon Man" and "Listen Here" were popular covers, as were hard bop hits by jazz composers like Bobby Timmons ("Dat Dere," "Moanin'"), Nat Adderley ("Work Song," "Sac o' Woe," "Jive Samba," "Sermonette") and Horace Silver ("Senor Blues," "Song for My Father"). These compositions reworked a stylized combination of blues and gospel feeling into the jazz setting, often alongside elements of bossa nova and Latin music. Their musical backbone is also resilient enough that subsequent reworkings - and there were many - generally warrant attention. Rare is the uninteresting version of "Wade in the Water" or "Work Song."

The aforementioned Hammond B3 obviated the need for a bassist and could fill a room with amplified sound, a not-inconsiderable asset for downsized combos in an era of declining demand for jazz. The organ trio, anchored by the B3 and supplemented generally with drums and either a guitar or tenor saxophone, proved one of the enduring earmarks of soul jazz, and both the organ and the organ trio, as instrument and musical configuration, are spotlighted in this collection.

Among other innovations, guitarist Wes Montgomery's distinctive parallel octave technique is a conspicuous instrumental motif at the Bluesville Jukebox. This bracing, cool-ish sound garnered a hip cachet in jazz and R&B in the '60s, and its use has continued to the present.

The flute was well-established in modern jazz, and its sense of atmosphere, if not vague exoticism, found a natural home in '60s soul jazz. In particular there was the was the overblown flute, a striking instrumental and vocal effect that enjoyed a transitory currency in the '60s. Popularized by blind jazz multi-instrumentalist Roland Kirk, it is heard sporadically at the Bluesville Jukebox.

As the feeling and call-and-response phrasing of deep-rooted African-American music - commonly gospel and blues but also jazz and R&B - became more overt in soul music, they became more pronounced in the styles documented at the Bluesville Jukebox. Like soul, many of the jazz recordings here featured calls and shouts with crowd responses as well as vocalizations from the musicians - grunts, moans, exclamations - that invoked a language and spontaneity particular to the fabric of African-American music and spirituality.

The majority of this collection is instrumental, or instrumental with minimal singing, but the song titles themselves illuminated a growing assertion of African-American culture and experience in popular music. Title references to "soul" are perhaps the most obvious example, though other terms with contextualized meaning - "feeling," "freedom," "funk," "truth," etc. - abound as well. Other cues come from less abstract aspects of black culture. Everything from the preachers, liberation messages and shouts of the black church to the biscuits, greens, grits and ribs of "home cooking" to aspirations of economic parity and specific concerns of status consciousness - cars, money, fine clothes, etc. - are invoked among the records here.


The Bluesville Jukebox is an emphatically personal exercise. Like the Exotica Project, Lonely Beat and Nowhere Town, it's doubtful these same records would have been assembled together in, say, 1962.

But the compilation of this collection is neither arbitrary nor without historical basis. A specific sound can be heard driving, accenting, inflecting and otherwise characterizing these selections. With selective license and the advantage of hindsight, a sensibility consistent in a subset of hip jazz and R&B is highlighted by the collection. The records here resonate sympathetically as a group, reflecting a mainstream music and culture connected increasingly confidently to an African-American context. The Bluesville Jukebox is the young, stylish sound of mid-century America.

:: Dan Shiman / Little Danny :: Office Naps :: 2010-2024 ::