Red hot

Local jazz label discovers lost recordings by Dallas-born piano great

As the co-owners of the local Leaning House Records label, Mark Elliott and Keith Foerster are two young men fueling the bebop flame, twentysomething purists enamored with a jazz sound that first flowered decades before they were born. To that end, they have released albums by saxophonist Marchel Ivery (1994's Marchel's Mode, featuring another Dallas-born jazzer, pianist Cedar Walton) and drummer Earl Harvin (this year's The Earl Harvin Trio/Quartet)--both of which rank among the finest jazz releases anywhere in years, albums by artists that step back toward tradition but gallop forward to the future.

But even as they plan their next album--perhaps with Ivery, perhaps an all-jazz disc with Bedhead--Elliott and Foerster have stumbled onto something that could establish their tiny independent jazz label as a major player while also preserving an honest-to-God piece of history.

The two men have in their possession never-before-heard recordings of Dallas-born pianist Red Garland performing at the long-defunct Recovery Room in Oak Lawn--a major discovery, something of a Holy Grail to jazz lovers who know of Garland's years playing with jazz pioneers Miles Davis, Charlie Parker, John Coltrane, Lester Young, and Coleman Hawkins. Garland was an equal of such legends--one of the best who ever put fingers to ivory in a smoky bar or a recording studio.

Elliott discovered the tapes two years ago, when he began working with Ivery on his project. As the sax player recounted his history and told Elliott of his days playing with Garland at the Recovery Room during the 1970s, he also said something about there being a box of recordings from those performances. They were in the possession of Bill and Jeannie Donnelly, who owned the club, but Ivery said he could probably lay his hands on the cassettes.

When Ivery subsequently handed them over to Elliott and Foerster earlier this year, they discovered about 50 cassettes and some eight-tracks that contained performances not only from Garland, but also from Houston-born Texas Tenor Arnett Cobb (who played with Lionel Hampton's band in the 1940s), sax player Eddie Harris (on piano), and members of Buddy Rich's big band. Elliott says he understands there are also tapes, somewhere, featuring Rich himself on drums and sax great Sonny Stitt (who played with the likes of Sonny Rollins and Dizzy Gillespie).

"What we have isn't all of them," Elliott says. "They're all on cassette, and were probably done with a portable battery-operated tape recorder. When we had the tapes analyzed, we also found there's an electrical hum which is probably from the batteries. Plus, they're not very well-labeled."

Elliott says the Donnellys recorded at the Recovery Room most every night when the house band--Ivery on sax, Walter Winn on drums, and Charles Scott on bass--performed, but made sure to capture those times when Garland, who returned to Texas in the '70s to take care of his sick mother, would show up unannounced--the only way he would play--to sit in with the likes of old friends Ivery and tenor saxman James Clay. As a result, most of the recordings in Elliott's possession are of Garland, including a surprising take on "Happy Birthday" with Clay and Ivery. One track, a rare stereo take on "Love for Sale," has been sonically cleaned up by Elliott and is astonishing in its clarity--and for Garland's loose interpretation of the familiar standard as he sandwiches it between a wild, free-for-all rendition of "FYr Elise."

"Most of the recordings you hear of Red are in a pretty formal setting," Elliott says. "When he'd play in New York in front of a critical crowd, the playing is a little more thought-out. The thing about these tapes is they were done in Red's hometown in a non-formal setting in front of a non-critical crowd who didn't know he was going to even show up. It's much looser, and with that comes elements of Red's playing you wouldn't normally hear on Red's recordings."

Should they get permission from the Donnellys and Red Garland's estate (the pianist died in Dallas on April 23, 1984), Elliott and Foerster would like to release some of the music--either as a two-volume "Red Garland at the Recovery Room" collection or as part of some sort of aural documentary. There are also very tentative plans--again, pending the necessary permission slips and releases signed by all parties--for a Recovery Room compilation featuring the Cobb, Stitt, Harris, Rich, and Ivery and Clay tracks. Of course, all that is moot if the very indie Leaning House can't raise enough money to restore the deteriorated tapes.

"The restoration is going to cost money," Elliott says. "I don't know if this could qualify for a grant, or if there's someone who's enough of a fan to want to get involved with it. But it's going to be expensive if we want to go all the way and restore them as best we can."

Chick out time
After what seems like a forever of silence, the Dixie Chicks have made a fairly startling announcement in the form of a fairly bland press release: lead singer and co-founder Laura Lynch is no longer in the band, having been replaced by Lubbock's own Natalie Maines, daughter of Lloyd Maines, who's best known as sideman and slideman for Joe Ely and Jerry Jeff Walker. (Maines also guested on The Cartwrights' Ponderosa Fabuloso.) The release explains the split between Lynch, Emily Erwin, and Martie Seidel (neé Erwin) in very matter-of-fact terms: "Former lead singer Laura Lynch was part of the decision and agrees that it was time to pass the baton."

The split comes at a strange time, though: After years struggling to get a record deal--releasing three records, making appearances on Garrison Keillor's radio show, garnering all sorts of endorsement deals, taking the routine trips to Nashville and always coming home disappointed--the Chicks band had finalized a developmental deal with Sony Music over the summer. Which doesn't mean much of anything, of course--the label merely gives the band some money to record, and if they like the demos Sony might sign the Chicks to a real deal--but it's better than nothing.

Seidel explains that the Sony deal was actually part of the reason for Lynch's departure, something the singer had been contemplating for almost a year because she had grown tired of being on the road. Seidel tells Street Beat that Lynch had said she would leave the band after the first tracks were recorded for Sony, but Emily and Martie thought it would send the label a mixed message if Lynch were to leave at that point.

"Emily and I just felt like we needed to prepare ourselves for that, and forced the change a little sooner because we felt it was good timing," Martie says. "Laura agreed that it wouldn't be right for the Dixie Chicks' future to wait and then end abruptly. And she was sad she wouldn't be part of the Sony deal because, of course, she helped us get it, but she's in there 100 percent helping us."

Martie says the band isn't scheduled to begin recording for Sony till February--after the label sends its A&R people to hear the band debut the new lineup January 19 at the Caravan of Dreams in Fort Worth.

Lynch is the second of the original four Chicks to leave the band. Robin Macy split about two years ago over artistic disagreements concerning direction: She wanted to keep the old-school bluegrass sound, while her bandmates were leaning toward a more contemporary country sound. Macy eventually joined Sara Hickman in the Domestic Science Club, which is working on its second album.

"We hated to see Laura go," Martie says, "but we feel like Sony's not the end-all, be-all for Emily and me. We don't think you ever reach that point. We want to play for as long as we can play, so the Sony deal is just the beginning. But to Laura, that seemed like it was her last hurrah, and she wanted to be with her daughter and spend more time at home...What we all envision, including Laura, is to carry on the Dixie Chicks no matter what--no matter who decides it isn't for them. Emily and I want to continue and have a DC reunion every few years like the Texas Playboys. We want it to be a name that spans a couple of generations."

Flying objects
At the beginning of the year, UFOFU inked a representation deal with the Los Angeles-based Twist Management, and it's about to pay off. The company, which also handles business affairs for the likes of Hagfish and The Paladins, had landed the band a deal with "indie" label Time Bomb (which is owned by the mammoth BMG distribution company and run by Jim Guerinot, who manages Rancid and The Offspring) to release a seven-inch single by the end of the year.

Following that, the band will also record a single for the Seattle-based Square Target label, which will also release a compilation CD early next year featuring UFOFU, Hagfish, Pansy Division, the Fastbacks, and Cub among others. In addition, the band is going into an L.A. studio to record with Porno for Pyros bassist Matt Hyde, who produced and mixed the forthcoming Mercury Records debt from Tablet; the sessions might lead to UFOFU's full-length debut on Diablo Music, the label responsible for Extra Fancy.

Laurel Stearns, who co-owns and runs Twist with partner David Lumien, says the plan is to have UFOFU release several indie projects before trying to sign with a major label. "To establish some credibility," she says.

Kiss the frog
More than a year after its release, and only several months after Interscope was about ready to give up on the band, The Toadies' Rubberneck has gone gold--meaning it has sold at least 500,000 copies in the United States, thanks in large part to non-stop play of "Possum Kingdom" on MTV. And they said it couldn't be done.

Street Beat welcomes E-mail tips and comments at DalObservaol.com.

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