Red Rodney-Ira Sullivan Quintet – Live At The Montreal Jazz Festival – 1984 – Past Daily Downbeat
Red Rodney-Ira Sullivan Quintet – Live At The Montreal Jazz Festival – July 3, 1984 – Gordon Skene Sound Collection –
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Post-Bop collaboration from Red Rodney and Ira Sullivan in this Montreal Jazz Festival broadcast from July 3, 1984
A brilliant jazz improviser who performed with the swing bands of Jimmy Dorsey, Gene Krupa, Woody Herman, and Benny Goodman before joining (1949-51) Charlie Parker’s bebop quintet, Red Rodney, distinguished by his flaming red hair, was also the first white bebop trumpeter. His innovative playing style was marked by his brilliant technique and purity of tone.
Unfortunately, like many jazz musicians of his generation, his career was cut short due to drugs. Broke and desperate, he later ran afoul of the law by impersonating an Army General and stealing $10,000 from the Atomic Energy Commission along with some secret documents. This landed him in jail where he spent 3 years.
But after a long absence from the stage, Rodney made a triumphant comeback in the early 70s returning to his former glory as a skilled balladeer and later reconnecting with his former band mate Ira Sullivan. Their collaboration led to a fruitful and much-heralded association during the 80s releasing five albums and garnering a 1982 Grammy nomination for the album Sprint.
Red Rodney died of lung cancer on May 27, 1994, at his home in Boynton Beach, Florida. He was one of the last living links to Charlie Parker and bebop, and his death marked the end of an era.
Ira Brevard Sullivan Jr. initially learned to play trumpet at age 3 from his father in his hometown of Washington, D.C., just before the family moved to Chicago. As a teenager, Sullivan learned the tenor saxophone from his mother so he could replace an absent sax player in his high school concert band. Both parents only played for recreation, and at functions like family get-togethers.
Sullivan’s early influences were trumpeters Clyde McCoy (who had a hit in the early 1950s called “Sugar Blues”) and Harry James. Dizzy Gillespie’s bebop prowess also had a profound impact, as did his touring advice. “Dizzy said, ‘Ira, if you really want to be appreciated, go overseas.’ That was around 1950, and I didn’t get over there until 1977, but everything he had told me was still true. Away from America, people are more educated [about] and appreciative of jazz. A piano player I grew up with in Chicago, Eddie Higgins, is now a celebrity in Japan. After concerts, he’s greeted by thousands of people.”
Sullivan also taught himself the soprano saxophone, adding it to his collection of tenor and alto horns. He taught himself the flute with the aid of only one lesson, a four-hour session with former Miles Davis and Gil Evans multi-instrumentalist Eddie Caine. “Twenty years later, I was playing with trumpeter Red Rodney in California,” Sullivan says. “Eddie was living there, and he came in and said, ‘You’ve made me proud, because you’ve told everybody who you studied flute with. You’ve done a lot with it in the last 20 years.’”
For decades now, Sullivan has effortlessly switched between trumpet, flugelhorn and peckhorn; tenor, alto and soprano saxophone; and flute. He can even play drums if necessary. “I carry a pair of sticks with me,” Sullivan says, “because sometimes drummers are late. I don’t play the drums with a lot of chops, but I can swing and play in time.”
Sullivan’s dexterity helped him become a teacher after the move to South Florida, although his disdain for musical academia makes him prefer the term “nurturer.” Bassist Jaco Pastorius (who recorded on one track in 1975 for the A&M release Ira Sullivan) and guitarist Pat Metheny were two future icons who benefited from Sullivan’s outside-the-box ideas.
Here’s a taste of what the two were up to in 1984 at the Montreal Jazz Festival.