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Columns > Lee Abraham

Published: 2001/08/20
by Lee Abraham

Dope Connections

-Free flowing lineups make vintage jazz recordings anything but the weakest link
Ill confess. This column is NOT about drugs or drug dealers. No, this column is about a little game I started playing a few months ago. So please forgive the title, I just couldnt help myself. Let me explain. As you probably know, the word dope is slang for something great. Granted, dope is nowhere near mainstream vernacular, but it is a frequently used term in musical circles. And since the game revolves around musicians, and more specifically, the connections between musicians, Dope Connections, seems an apt title.
Heres the deal. A few months ago I wrote about the joys of reuniting with my collection of CDs, tapes and old vinyl records after a year or so on the road. Well anyway, the 24-7 availability of my favorite music presented a challenge – what do I listen to first? The answer: the Deads American Beauty. Didnt really think about it. Just slapped that well worn disc into the CD player and sang along to one of my favorite recordings of all time.
For the first few days I just picked out CDs pretty much at random. With so much great music to choose from it really didnt matter what I selected. To put another, and more common bit of slang to use, it was all good. At least for a while. But after a couple of weeks, I had polished off most of my long-time-no-listen gems and began to really think about what I would listen to next.
One night, while savoring the warm afterglow of a particularly tasty batch of catfish stirfry, I was in the mood for something jazzy. Not bebop or fusion. And definitely not any booty shakin funk or honk and squeak, free jazz. I wanted something melodic. Something acoustic and gentle. Something I could just sorta resonate to.
Looking over to my shelves of CDs, I quickly found exactly what I was looking for. The New Miles Davis Quintet, was recorded on 11/16/55, featuring Miles first legendary quintet of John Coltrane on tenor sax, pianist Red Garland, Paul Chambers on bass, and drummer Philly Joe Jones. Simply put, The New Miles Davis Quintet is one of the most beautifully understated recordings of all time. And man did it hit the spot. As a jazzbo buddy of mine would say, "dat shits dope!"
Anyway, there I was, belly full and blissed, smiling in the silent void as the last delightful note of The New Miles Davis Quartet pulsed into the night. Slowly regaining my senses, the challenge was obvious. What do I put on next? Ahh, now were getting somewhere…
CD cover in hand, I focused on the musicians. "Why not put on some more Miles?" Nah, too easy. "OK, what about something from Coltrane?" Way too obvious. So after a quick perusal of my collection I picked Quintessence, an exquisite soundscape by Bill Evans from 1976. The connection? Philly Joe Jones the drummer, who plays on both albums. And that thought planted the seed for the game.
So without any further hype, heres how to play Dope Connections:
Try to string together as many albums as possible featuring at least one common musician (AKA the connection), without repeating the bandleader or the connection. In other words, every musician can be used once as a bandleader and once as a connection. Confusing? Maybe an example will clear things up.
Lets start with The New Miles Davis Quintet. From there I could pick any album that any of the musicians has played on, including the bandleader, as long as its NOT a record from a previously used bandleader. So I could pick an album with Miles as a sideman, but another album with him as the bandleader wouldnt work. And once a musician is used as a connection, hes no longer eligible to be used again for another connection.
Any Coltrane record works, just as long as its not a Miles Davis record with Coltrane on it as a sideman. It could be a Thelonious Monk record with Coltrane as a sideman, because Monk hasnt been used yet as a bandleader, and Davis has. Or it could just be a record featuring Coltrane as the leader.
All right, Ill stick with my connection to Quintessence, through the Philly Joe Jones connection, and then lets use Bill Evans as the connection to Cannonball Adderleys Know What I Mean?, featuring Evans, as well as our next connection, drummer Connie Kay. Kays drumming in 1958 on Bags Opus by vibe master Milt Jackson, puts us in position to connect Jackson to Dizzy Gillespies Groovin High, which features a ton of players, including Jackson, as well as Charlie Parker.
Connecting to Parkers Bird On 52nd St. we pick up drummer Max Roach as our connection to another record Roach played on, Brilliant Corners by Thelonious Monk. Sonny Rollins is the obvious connection from Brilliant Corners, so why not jump to his seminal, Tenor Madness from 1956, which paired Rollins with John Coltrane. Selecting Coltranes Blue Trane is a strategic move that enables us to connect Coltranes trumpet player on the session, Lee Morgan, to Art Blakey And The Jazz Messengers classic, A Night In Tunisia, which in addition to featuring Morgans horn, includes Wayne Shorter on tenor sax.
You guessed it, well take Wayne Shorters Juju from 1964 and its piano player McCoy Tyner, to Tyners 67 gem, The Real McCoy. Ron Carter pays bass on The Real McCoy, as well as Herbie Hancocks Empyrean Isles, which is also from 64. From there, well connect Carters rhythm section partner on Empryean Isles, drummer Tony Williams, to Williams performance on another outstanding release form 64, Out To Lunch by Eric Dolphy. Freddy Hubbard plays trumpet on Out To Lunch, and it just so happens that I have Hub Tones, Hubbards wonderful release from 62 in my collection, so why not make the connection?
Obviously, the more CDs you have, the more connections you can make. My top score is 15, based on the example used.
Connecting albums like this has added to my enjoyment of the music by giving me a better appreciation of the relationships among the players. Oh yeah, it also makes the process of picking out the next CD a little more interesting! ###
Lee Abraham is a freelance writer/photographer currently on assignment in Ocean Beach, California. Check out his Adventures In Music Journalism website at, or send an e-mail to if youd like to share your Dope Connection.

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