Posted by: docdenbow | December 29, 2013

Mexican Pepper – A Jazz Odyssey

When a lot of people think of jazz music, they think of the turgid tripe of Kenny Ball or the disturbingly named Acker Bilk. Then there are those who only associate jazz with what sounds to be a cacophonous drivel – Trad Jazz. As a result of knowing a few facts, many people dismiss jazz altogether. Others confuse really terrible acts like Shakatak and Spirogyra as jazz. Larry Carlton and Lee Ritenour are spoken of a jazz guitarists, they’re not. Their music is not terrible by any means, but doesn’t fall into the area or category of what I call jazz.

When I call something jazz, I’m right as I always am. Right I mean.

Down the years there have been pioneers of the genre – Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Sonny Rollins, Ornette Coleman, Charles Mingus, Oliver Nelson – I could go on and on listing the greats of jazz to show both my knowledge and ignorance of this type of music, but that would be pointless. What I can do, however, is suggest and recommend albums that may well suck you into the whole jazz phenomena if you choose to have a listen to any of them.

These few are some of my personal favourites and I list them in no particular order of preference or chronology, they’re just listed.

A Kind Of Blue – Miles Davis
Soultrane – John Coltrane
Blues And The Abstract Truth – Oliver Nelson
The Shape Of Jazz To Come – Ornette Coleman
Art Pepper Meets The Rhythm Section – Art Pepper
Saxophone Colossus – Sonny Rollins
Mexican Green – Tubby Hayes
The Sound Of Love – Tommy Smith
Kenny Burrell – Midnight Blue

My personal favourite of those above is Mexican Green by Tubby Hayes. I’d imagine that 99% of any of you reading this (that’s at least 9 of the 10 regular readers!) are saying to themselves “Who? I’ve kind of heard of some of the others, but Tubby whatsisname?”

It is of course here that I should really point out to you that the Tommy Smith from the list is not the ex-Liverpool crunch tackling half back of yesteryear, but a gifted Scottish jazz saxophonist.

Anyway back to Tubby Hayes. Back in 1984 I managed two record shops one in Gloucester and one in Hereford. Amongst the New Romantic tosh and Frankie Goes To Hollywood stuff I espied lurking in the jazz section of the little Gloucester shop two albums. “True Blues” and “Blues For The Fisherman” both of which were recorded live at Ronnie Scott’s by the Milcho Leviev Quartet. Most of the time I would have not given these albums a second thought as I’d never heard of Micho Leviev or his Quartet. The sleeves on these albums were virtually plain, but did list the members of the Quartet one of whom was Art Pepper.

Earlier in the 1980s I had *discovered* Art Pepper and immediately became a fan. I loved (and still love) the Galaxy releases that were recorded during the “second coming” of this alto sax genius. These two albums showed Art Pepper in fine form and I was mightily impressed. The albums were on the Mole Jazz label and I idly wondered what other albums, hopefully by Art Pepper, were on that label. There was this customer called Peter who used to buy, order and recommend jazz albums to me. It was him who told me about Mexican Green by Tubby Hayes being available via the Mole Jazz label. More of Art Pepper later……..

I ordered a copy for stock and from the first play was floored. Here was a player who, I guessed, not only was an outstanding tenor saxophonist, but also a flautist! I really can’t praise this album highly enough, to me it’s got everything a jazz album should have. Anyway in those pre internet days there wasn’t much I could do to find out more about this Tubby Hayes. How the hell had I never heard of him? I knew all the names of the jazz greats even if I’d never heard their music, so who was Tubby Hayes? Who was this mystery man?

This is a fine article by Tubby devotee Simon Spillett that fills in all of the gaps and will tell you as it told me everything you need to know about Tubby.

Tubby Bio Click Me

Simon himself is a terrific tenor player and for what it’s worth I’ve only recently bought his second album Sienna Red and haven’t had chance to play it more than once yet, but it does sound  a good ‘un Of Simon it was written on a now defunct Bop blog…

“Simon Spillett never fails to impress. With a technique that outstrips most of his contemporaries…and yet these aren’t mere hip arpeggios but meaningful usage of the tools at his command. He is a living, walking Jazz Courier, with Tubby’s technique and Ronnie’s laconic sense of humour”

Recently I’ve been gathering more Tubby albums together to satisfy myself that Mexican Green was not just a one off and from what I have played so far even his earliest work whenin his teens and early twenties shows an assurance, feeling and maturity that is difficult to associate with one so young. In many ways, outside of jazz devotees Tubby’s legacy to British music seems lost and that’s a crying shame.

I earlier mentioned Art Pepper. The first time I heard Art Pepper play was on an album called “Landscape.” To my meathead hard rock ears this came across as special. Very special indeed. At the time I was too skint to buy it and decided to see if this Art Pepper chap had made any other records (!) so trudged across to the record library and checked through the catalogue.

Hmm, there were quite a few there so over the coming weeks I borrowed Straight Life, Winter Moon and One September Afternoon. This chappie was good, very good, and I really enjoyed his music.

To sound a bit of a poseur, it touched me. I know that makes me sound a daft tw*t, but it’s true. Then some more albums turned up in the library Art Pepper Meets the Rhythm Section, Art Pepper + Eleven, Gettin’ Together, Smack Up and Intensity. These dated from late 1950s over twenty years previously and they were great, Art Pepper Meets the Rhythm Section which eventually I had as a Christmas present was my favourite though. (we were a bit skint as I said!)

So now I’m slowly collecting Tubby Hayes albums, bit by bit and remain ever hopeful that I will find a copy of Art Pepper’s Complete Galaxy Recordings at a price that I can afford.

I’ve wanted a copy of this for years and missed out on one about a year ago that was on eBay and although it was one my Watch List I forgot to bid and it sold for just £27! Gutted as I would have paid a fair amount more.

I remain ever hopeful of finding a copy at a price that suits my pocket……

Good things come to those who wait. eh?

Ciao For Now,




  1. I enjoy Jazz but have no real knowledge of the musicians or the genre in general, as previously though you’ve educated me and I’ll be looking up some of these guys on youtube. I must say I do enjoy your music posts on the quiet and find your taste in music to be very varied and cool.

  2. Thanks for the name check! Keep enjoying Tubby – the master!

  3. My jazz education began with a lesson from Doc Denbow many years ago now. Your taste is eclectic but never boring!

  4. Doc, check out “Tubby’s New Groove” if you haven’t already….and “Lament”. Great new Tubby boxed set on the way in 2014 too…..

  5. […] Mexican Pepper – A Jazz Odyssey […]

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