Walking jones: Hank Jones and Joe Lovano’s “Lady Luck”

The neighborhood isn’t quite painted with fall colors—central Mississippi rarely gets the splendid autumn effect of reds, oranges, and golds—but the breeze is brisk and the aromas evoke spices, subtle perfumes, and barely damp grass. Kids play league football at Chastain Middle School, an off-duty postal employee practices his golf swing on the school’s soccer field, and the branch library is across the street from both. All of which is six to eight blocks from my apartment, and makes for a pleasant route as the sun sets. I tell myself that it’s because I need to return library books, but I make the 1.5-mile loop twice a week mostly because I love walking. The motions helps me unwind and make sense of the day.

As I’ve mentioned before, I also love music that evokes walking outdoors in the city. When I originally wrote about the Earl Harvin Trio’s “A Little Walk to Relax,” in May 2005, I wasn’t technically sophisticated enough to post a mp3 of the six-minute ditty here, so that listeners could hear it for themselves. As you’ll see below, I’ve corrected this egregious error. Ten years after I first heard the piece, I still appreciate its ability to be both gentle and insistent. It sashays, rather than just ambles, down the avenue. Harvin’s drumwork isn’t as flashy or as impossibly intricate as it in the trio’s other stuff, but his brushes and top-top-tops on the snare push Fred Hamilton’s bass and Dave Palmer’s half-stride/half-bebop piano forward, even as we don’t immediately know the destination.

Good autumn walk tunes must possess a rhythmic persistence that’s not so driving that I end up wanting to run, but must also meander, like a flaneur moseying through the cramped alleys and quiet byways of Montmartre. In the two-year interim between the original post and today, I’ve found other “walking” tunes that I love nearly as much as “A Little Walk to Relax.” There’s “Skating” by the Vince Guaraldi Trio—to whom Dave Palmer, the Earl Harvin Trio’s primary composer, owes a large debt—from A Charlie Brown Christmas, which is a classic of the genre. Bebel Gilberto’s Tanto Tempo is full of walking songs, filtered through trip-hop production; the bells, drum loops, and dub echoes evoke images of birds flying by, of warm rain, of wind whipping through leaves. The album’s songs often make me want to make love as much as walk, though I suppose that’s not exactly something I fault Gilberto for.

The best walking song of late, and the one that might dethrone “A Little Walk to Relax,” is Hank Jones and Joe Lovano’s live rendition of “Lady Luck.” Recorded in New York at Dizzy’s Club in April 2006, Jones (piano) and Lovano (tenor saxophone) mesmerize with a duet that’s smoldering and jaunty and purposeful. (It appears on the all-around fantastic live album Kids.) At the time of this club date, Jones was 87 years old and Lovano was 53; here, though, they sound like 20-something geniuses with something to prove. Without a bass or drums to anchor them, the duo relies on its innate ability to swing and to communicate telepathically. Jones gets things rolling with a confident riff that’s nevertheless staggered rhythmically and feels a little hesitant—those high-pitched plonks in the midst of a low-tuned stride throw us off. When Lovano comes in, his husky, warm-toned sound belies how smoothly the saxophonist establishes the song’s structure.

Both legends veer off into amazing, intricate solos—both epic and miniature—but it’s the conversation between the two instruments that’s most riveting. Lovano and Jones talk intimately—their sounds could be sharing a post-coital coffee and crossword puzzle in bed. Like the former, “Lady Luck’s” sound is bracing and sharp; like the latter, the piece is surprisingly complex and tricky, leading into areas that the listener can barely predict.

But we can predict them after all—the swing, the sauntering and hip-wavering motion of the song is ever-present. We know ultimately where “Lady Luck” is headed, though each swerve and curlicue makes us smile in nonplussed pleasure. It’s a mature, contemplative piece—perhaps Jones and Lovano sound like thirtysomethings rather than twentysomethings—but one with a youthful snap of the fingers, one that’s not too old to delight in pleasures of the flesh and of walking. I could stride all through north Jackson to its beat.

—————————————
The tracks under discussion are:

1. “A Little Walk to Relax” by the Earl Harvin Trio.

2. “Lady Luck” by Joe Lovano and Hank Jones.

I’ll leave up the first piece indefinitely, since the album on which it appears—Strange Happy—is long out-of-print, and its label is defunct. It’s not coming back any time soon, and I would rather that people get exposed to it than worry about rights infringement. With “Lady Luck,” however, I’ll leave it up until 21 November 2007. After that, you’re on your own. Enjoy.

About Walter Biggins

Walter Biggins is a writer based in Athens, GA. His work has been published in RogerEbert.com, Bookslut, The Comics Journal, Salon, The Baseball Chronicle, Jackson Free Press, and Valley Voices: A Literary Review. Follow him on Twitter (@walter_biggins), and check out his bimonthly newsletter (https://tinyletter.com/Walter_Biggins).
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One Response to Walking jones: Hank Jones and Joe Lovano’s “Lady Luck”

  1. Thanks for that “Lady Luck” track, Walter. And belated birthday greetings to you.

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