One of the very best moments on David X. Young’s Jazz Loft happens about two and a half minutes in to the opening track, a jam session take on Duke Ellington’s “It Don’t Mean a Thing”. After soloing a section, altoist Zoot Sims seems to take a break, leaving room for the next musician to jump in. As soon as the first notes come out of trumpeter Don Ellis’ horn though, someone, presumably someone on the bandstand, interjects, “not yet!” The trumpet stops cold and Zoot picks up more-or-less where he left off. To me, that rough moment of candid spontaneity encapsulates everything that is right about this two-CD collection of informal performances recorded in the New York loft of painter/scenester David X. Young between 1957 and 1965. There is not much about this music that sounds polished, but there is nevertheless a time-capsule quality about it, an ambience that makes any imperfection in performance or recording quality a testament to the realness of these recordings.
Although this package is celebrating a period in jazz between 1954 to 1965, and the crossroads that David X. Young’s loft became for of many of the jazz musicians of the day due to Young’s willingness to allow people to play at his place at will, the majority of these performances are from 1957 to 1959. In fact, a good chunk come from a single day, December 24, 1959 (!) and overall feature only a small sample of the musicians who are said to have lit the place up all hours of the day and night. Apparently legal wrangling has prevented us from hearing more material from the musicians who jammed and practiced at the loft. We are tantalized with mentions of Charles Mingus, Miles Davis, Gerry Mulligan and a host of other heavyweight players—but their playing, if it happened, or if it was recorded, is not included (definitely an argument against copyright). On the plus side, we have the opportunity to listen to musicians like drummer Jerry Segal and guitarists Jimmy Raney and Jim Hall, the kind of players who, despite their distinguished work are still known mostly by aficionados. For me, listening to this material was a nice respite from the story of jazz as the story of genius currently being told on television by Ken Burns. David X. Young’s Jazz Loft gives us a story of jazz told without the fancy edits and the reverential tone. Here people call out for the key and sing along and intermittently clap out the beat, but mostly they just play very well.
The most conspicuous of the musicians featured on the two CDs is Zoot Sims, who performs alongside Pepper Adams, Mose Allison, Segal and a bassist named Bill Takas on spirited, sprawling takes on well-known numbers “This Can’t Be Love” and “Stompin’ at the Savoy”. On another standout, Sims, bassist Steve Swallow and pianist Dave McKenna get together for a focused performance of the late-night ballad “Dark Cloud”. Valve trombonist Bob Brookmeyer and guitarists Raney and Hall are featured on “There Will Never Be Another You” and “Wildwood”. Both numbers feature lots of luxurious soloing that manages not to sound bloated or indulgent because its obvious that no one is in a hurry and everyone will get a chance to do their thing.
I expect that this collection will be picked up mostly by folks who are really into jazz and the more obscure corners of its history. That is a shame though because the music in this package, its immediacy and lack of pretentiousness, makes me want to encourage anyone who is interested in looking beyond the acknowledged great statements of jazz to search David X. Young’s Jazz Loft out and imagine what a good party that must have been.