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Music Review: The Paul Winter Sextet – Count Me In

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Turns out that soprano sax player Paul Winter, best known for the Paul Winter Consort and it’s blend of classical, jazz and world music, has an earlier musical persona perhaps somewhat more likely to appeal to the jazz purist. Back in 1961, he and a group of college musicians performing as the Paul Winter Sextet won a contest at the Intercollegiate Jazz Festival and were signed to Columbia Records by legendary producer John Hammond. At the recommendation of Hammond and Dizzy Gillespie, one of the Festival judges, the sextet was sent on a tour of Latin America. The tour’s success led to an invitation from first lady Jacqueline Kennedy to perform at the White House as part of her Concerts for Young People by Young People series. Their performance on November 19, 1962 marks the first jazz concert ever presented in the presidential mansion.

That previously unreleased concert is now available, together with a collection of tracks recorded on their Latin American tour and studio recordings for Columbia. Released by Living Music, the two-disc Count Me In commemorates the 50th anniversary of the White House appearance. Recorded in 1962 and 1963, it is a compendium of over two hours of music from the short lived sextet, which broke up after the Kennedy assassination.

In a November interview on WNYC’s Soundcheck, Winter describes the sextet as a “little big band.” The idea was to recreate the kind of balance between ensemble and soloist which characterized big band arrangements. Their influences, as described in an on-line booklet serving as the album’s liner notes, were the Jazztet of Art Farmer and Benny Golson and the Kind of Blue sextet of Miles Davis, with Cannonball Adderley, John Coltrane and Bill Evansnot a bad set of models for young musicians.

Although the sextet’s original orientation was bop, their Latin American tour had introduced them to the origins of some of those new musical forms, like bossa nova, that were becoming popular in the States and (as Winter points out) presage his future interest in world music. Count Me In offers a nice mix of the band’s varied interests. There is some hard-driving bop like “Routeousness,” some low-down blues, “Them Nasty Hurtin’ Blues,” and a lot of Latin American sounds like “Casa Camara.” Winter points to the album’s second track, “Papa Zimbi,” an adaptation of a Haitian folk song, as an example of the kind of early fascination with world music which was to blossom in his later career.

The original sextet featured on the first disc has Winter on the alto sax, Dick Whitsell on trumpet, Les Rout on baritone, Warren Bernhardt on piano, Richard Evans on bass, and Harold Jones on drums. Changes in personnel on the second disc include bassist and drummer Ben Riley, except for three tracks that feature Cecil McBee on bass and drummer Freddie Waits. The second disc also has Winter working on the soprano sax, another indication of what is to come.

Listening to the rich sound of the Paul Winter Sextet, jazz fans less than thrilled with what they may consider his apostasy, may have even greater cause to be upset at the thought of what might have been. These are two discs with a lot of fine music, whether the Lalo Schifrin arrangement of the “Toccata” from his Suite Gillespiana, the haunting album closer “We Shall Overcome,” or the “Mystery Blues” which none of the band members seem to remember. Count Me In is the kind of album that has got to whet the appetite for more, but since more is unlikely, you have to be happy for at least this much.

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