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Bud Powell: "The Lonely One"

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"Bud has to pour himself into that piano; it's the only friend he really talks to." — Altevia "Buttercup" Edwards (Powell)


I'm going to guess that this is not the first Powell record that people reach for when they want to listen to Bud Powell. Recorded in two different sessions in 1955, it's an odd mixture of high and low: effortless lines reminiscent of his brilliant mid-40's playing, and then suddenly blunted, aimless fragments while the rhythm section keeps things afloat. Nat Hentoff's original liner notes make no effort to disguise this: "Bud's records are, in this respect, like his live appearances. They're not consistent. Some may be distorted in various ways throughout an entire album; some may come fully alive only in sections ... " What a way to promote a purchase!

Hentoff's notes got me thinking about Powell's mental illness, however — and the fact that Powell was put on Chlorpromazine, which was a brand new drug as of 1950 — and to what extent he might have experienced tardive dyskinesia (involuntary and repetitive movements of the face, torso, and sometimes fingers), which is a common, and serious, side effect of Chlorpromazine. What Powell had to overcome, just in order to play, might still not be known.

At any rate, despite its curiosities and shortcomings, I find this record an intriguing listen — particularly the Monk cover of "Epistrophy." Anyone else spin this one in the last year? What do you think? I know that Powell fans "like it all," but this one stands out in that it's neither great nor a portrait of chaos.

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Hello, sorry I have not noticed that thread, but would like to discuss this album or Bud in general with you.

As I remember it was on 3 consecutive days in the first half of january 55 and the last day was the best. They had changed to rhythm section and got his old companion Kenny Clarke.

I don´t know what medicine they gave Bud, but there where other problems on those Verve sessions too: Norman Granz was not really willing to record "vintage bop material".  And a Bud who anyway was at "half speed" or under "autocontrol" had difficulties with that, or was not really willing to play it. So manybe after the disastrous results from the first day, even the guys from Verve would let him play, just to get material to publish.

On the first date with Blakey, it must have been painful for Blakey to see and hear Bud like this. 4 1/2 years earlier (1950) Bud played the best piano he ever played (with Bird and Fats, and Blakey at Birdland) , by the way with some of the best Blakey.

Bud improved slowly after those sad early 1955 dates, he get´s a bit stronger on the spring sessions (that album titled "Piano Interpretations", and the 1956 "Blues in the Closet", and especially when he got out of that Verve contract and could record for Blue Note again.

What has to be said about Bud at any stage of his career is that he had a fantastic musical memory. When Bud returned to U.S.A. in late 1964 he got back into troubles and in that state of mind or in that state of frustration he started to play again the tunes he had recorded during his "un-years", like "Old Black Magic", "Thou Swell",

There is also a very interesting version of "Epistrophy" from Birdland in autumn 1964, which is also done in that laid back manner similar to the 1955 version. Bud seemed to love to play that tune when things were bad for him, another occasion when he played it was in 1962 at Golden Circle. Nat Hentoff was right when he wrote in his liner notes that Bud´s performances in the later state of his career were uneven. At Golden Circle there are good and very bad performances, and same at Birdland two years later. From all the recorded material, there are some great moments and some days or sets where he just shouldn´t have played.

But as you said, when I read the liner notes I can´t understand why Verve let Hentoff do such a bad publicity. Manybe they thought better a bed reputation than no reputation....

The guys from "Roulette" did a better job promoting a bad album: On one of his worst albums "The Return of Bud Powell" from late 1964, they write in the liner notes "and play he does on that album, better and stronger than ever".

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