Here’s an album title that says nothing. In 1960, pianist and composer John Lewis was signed to Atlantic. During this incredibly prolific stretch, he made 11 albums under his own name from 1957-1962, as well as 11 during the same period with the MJQ. He was, along with Milt Jackson, one of the two essential ingredients in the Modern Jazz Quartet. His compositions were not only influenced by classical forms, but by a very buttoned-down temperament, as well. He’d go on in that direction more expressly, even recording interesting albums of Bach’s Well-Tempered Klavier later in his career. Even so, he came up playing with Charlie Parker–and, had he not played a note of music in his life, he’d still be responsible for Atlantic signing Ornette Coleman in 1959. Lewis also famously sponsored Ornette and Don Cherry and others at a jazz composer’s retreat that year called the Lenox School of Jazz in the Berkshires.
The Wonderful World of Jazz is a bit of a hodgepodge, but it’s fantastic. The two longer tracks are the most interesting, as they feature two very different saxophone players in their prime. This record is prized by fans of alto saxophonist Eric Dolphy for his solo on Lewis’ “Afternoon in Paris.” In this part of his career, Dolphy’s appearance as a sideman was always striking–like he showed up from outer space, speaking a different language, his solos would instantly date everything else that was happening. He had the ability to make the most cutting edge post-bop of the era sound old fashioned. And that’s especially the case with this solo. There’s a whole micro-genre of jazz where you can experience this phenomenon that I find especially rewarding–Coltrane with Miles in 1960; Charlie Parker with Tiny Grimes; Dizzy Gillespie with Coleman Hawkins; and Dolphy with basically anybody.
A bit of a note about this record on vinyl: I was under the impression that Atlantic albums from this period sound like garbage. It was only after upgrading from moving magnet to moving coil cartridges that the real sound of these records revealed themselves. Don’t know why that is, but it’s something I noticed.
The basic band is John Lewis (piano); Herb Pomeroy (trumpet); Benny Golson (tenor); Jim Hall (guitar); George Duvivier (bass); and Connie Kay (drums). Ellington sideman Paul Gonsalves (tenor sax) appears as the featured soloist on “Body and Soul,” and Eric Dolphy (alto sax) performs the same duties on “Afternoon in Paris.”