Supergroup Showcase: The Quintet

For the purposes of Supergroup Showcase the term supergroup means a band or group of musicians made up of two or more artists from previously successful bands, but not a super huge bands like Led Zeppelin.

THE PLAYERS: Charlie Parker on alto sax, Dizzy Gillespie on trumpet, Max Roach on drums, Charles Mingus on bass and Bud Powell on piano.
THE HISTORY: Five of the biggest names in jazz came together in Toranto’s Massey Hall on May 15, 1953. It was the first and only time they were recorded playing together. (via Wiki)

My last semester in college was a pretty light one. I had front loaded my schedule so I’d be able to take it easy and enjoy my last few months of school. In doing so, I decided to take a course on jazz in the music department which was like a campus unto itself. My only previous exposure to jazz was when Blue Note records approached me about my old bootleg trading page and asked if I would advertise for them in exchange for some swag. I said sure and got some fantastic records by Charlie Hunter, Soulive and Karl Denson, but that was about it for a few years. One of the requirements for the class was purchasing Ken Burns’ 5-disc jazz compendium. I felt a little bad for putting that one on the ol’ school tab, but I listen to it way more than I read those old text books. Through the course of the class, I highlighted plenty of groups and performers, but the one element that intrigued me the most was the album dubbed Jazz At Massey Hall featuring five of the biggest names in jazz.

It would take a while, but I eventually got my hands on a copy of the CD. It’s the basic recording, not the newer one with the night’s previous set by Powell, Mingus and Roach, but that’s okay because it’s the five guys together who are the real draw here. To use the parlance of the time, this is one hot record. All five men fire on all cylinders and seem to play off of each other really well as if they’d been playing together for years. I think Jazz At Massey Hall’s a pretty great jumping-on point if you’re curious about jazz, especially bepop because it’s basically a sampler pack of all the greats. Like the sax work? Check out Bird (Parker) solo or together with Dizz who has his own huge catalog featuring his unparalleled trumpet work. Dig Mingus’ bass work? Go pick up Mingus Ah Um or Oh Yeah (both great records that I picked up before getting this one). I haven’t branched out into exploring Powell or Roach beyond the Ken Burns box and their appearances on other jazz records I’ve picked up, but just from the small sampling I’ve heard, these guys are the best of their bunch, just check out Roach’s drum solo on the end of “Salt Peanuts” or “Wee.” Damn, that’s some goodness right there. It’s hard to come up with a modern comparison to what the Quintet’s performance was really like because each of these guys were bandleaders in their own right (or would go on to be). Beyond that, though, they were also the bringers of a whole new kind of jazz called bepop, so not only were they the best in jazz, but also created something brand new. There’s just nothing like that around now. We’re lucky that the show was recorded in high enough quality that it can still be enjoyed today (though Mingus overdubbed the poorly recorded basslines on the original record, newer recordings don’t include those dubs). The only thing that could have made this performance better, in my humble opinion, is if Miles Davis had been in the neighborhood and got to blow with these guys. The Sextet has just as nice of a ring to it as The Quintet in my opinion.

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