Sunday, March 20, 2011

Unsung Tenor Sax Hero Hadley Caliman"s "Straight Ahead"

Tenor saxophonist Hadley Caliman would have been a more prominent name in the jazz world if he hadn’t primarily serving as a teacher and mentor around Seattle for the last few decades of his life as he was a teacher at Cornish College of the Arts in Seattle while living in Cathlamet, outside Seattle. A classmate of Art farmer at Los Angeles’ Jefferson High School, he studied with Dexter Gordon and on Central Avenue in the 50’s was known as “Little Dex.” He has performed, recorded and toured with musicians such as Freddie Hubbard, Gerald Wilson, Carlos Santana, Dexter Gordon, Elvin Jones, Mongo Santamaria, Joe Pass, The Grateful Dead, Joe Henderson, Don Ellis, Flora Purim, Phoebe Snow, Bobby Hutcherson and many others, and in fact recorded four albums under his name in the 70s. For more on his life you should visit from which I derived this biographical information. He passed away in September, 2010 after a two-year struggle with liver cancer.

The Seattle-based Origin Records helped document Caliman with three CDs (one with Pete Christlieb) in the past few years. The last of these three is
Straight Ahead, recorded in November 2008 with a band that included trumpeter Thomas Marriott, pianist Eric Verlinde, bassist Phil Sparks and drummer Matt Jorgensen. As the liner notes observe, John Coltrane is an evident influence on Caliman’s playing, but an influence tempered by his West Coast bop background. Listening to his rendition of the F.K. Hollander ballad You Leave Me Breathless, is perhaps the best evidence of Trane’s mark on his tone and sound, but his own sensibility is evident as well. But listening to this I am also struck how on some of the quartet performances, the feel reminds me of Dexter Gordon’s Steeplechase Recordings from the 70s such as the swinging quartet rendition of The Night Has a Thousand Eyes, with Verlinde standing out (quoting Surrey With a Fringe on Top in his solo).

There is so much to savor here from the opening Caliman original,
Cigar Eyes, named after a LA bartender which sports a nice funky riff with Marriott bright, round tone complementing the leader. Rapture, from the pen of his friend, tenor saxophonist, Harold Land has a bit more reflective quality and Marriott and pianist Verlinde make valuable contributions as well as the leader. The rhythm section is marvelous here with Jorgensen’s cymbal work accenting the solos. Cathlamet is a lovely Marriott original celebrating Caliman’s home town for several decades, followed by Joe Locke’s Blues For PT, a mid-tempo romp that Caliman goes full bore with his solo. There is a lovely quartet rendition of Billy Strayhorn’s “Lush Life” and then the full quintet for a swinging treatment of Lee Morgan’s Totem Pole, with the understated rhythm that make the solos from Caliman and Marriott stand out. This is a terrific disc that shows Hadley Caliman was still moving straight ahead with his music until his end.

JazzNow Seattle,, the terrific podcast devoted to Seattle’s jazz scene by Jason Parker and David Marriott, enabled me to become aware the music of Caliman and many other fine performers on that city’s scene. This recording should be readily available, but you can contact or Origin Records directly,, which is where I purchased this from.

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