Welcome back to the strange plight of Hal Singer, a jazz leaning saxophonist who was cooking up the types of meals that rock fans hungrily ate up only to find only to find to his dismay that they were coming back for seconds and expecting him to fill their plates once more.

So now Singer must put on his chef’s hat again after having unexpectedly serving up a delectable side dish last summer, one which took him from his role as a mere line cook who was perfectly content to hide in the back of the kitchen and placed him as the master chef of his own thriving restaurant with all the responsibilities and pressures that went with it. With this promotion to the big time the record he serves up here therefore becomes his first offering intended as a main entrée.

The funny thing about it though is the chef himself would rather be back in the cramped kitchen merely adding spices to other cook’s dishes.

The Menu
Quite possibly never before had anyone in music viewed becoming a star with such dejected resignation as Hal Singer.

While presumably grateful for the increase in pay by leading his own band as a headliner, musically speaking he was disgruntled about what he had to do in order to collect that money. Namely play in a style that he felt was beneath him.

Singer was, like many of rock’s first generation of musicians, an aspiring jazz artist who found himself taken from the ranks of his preferred style, one which was slowly fading from relevance, and thrust into the spotlight of a new far more rowdy genre that needed highly skilled people to essentially play badly. Or at least that was the way THEY perceived it.

He’d been more than content to earn a few extra bucks as a sessionist for other artists playing whatever loud, undignified passages they asked of him, but it wasn’t what he wanted to make his name on. Luckily for him backing musicians at the time were largely anonymous to the public at large, especially on rock releases. Even when Wynonie Harris called him out on record prior to a solo he was referenced only as “Oklahoma!”, that being the state which Singer called home.

And Hal Singer was perfectly fine with this anonymity.

When Cornbread, a song he cut last year just for the cash, became one of the hottest most explosive sides on the market that summer, epitomizing the honking tenor sax workouts that was leading the way in rock ‘n’ roll, his career… his life… suddenly headed in another direction.

Now with little choice but to take advantage of it and see what riches it might bring him, Singer returned to the table for seconds with Beef Stew, another hit, albeit a smaller one, but which ensured that try as he might he wasn’t going to easily be able to put this noisy rock ‘n’ roll behind him and return to the simple quiet life as a nameless, faceless sax player in Duke Ellington’s band as was his dream.

Sometimes you get what you want and lose what you have.


The Main Course
To start with the musicians joining Hal Singer on this outing are entirely different from those who sat in with him on Cornbread last June in violation of the recording ban in effect at the time. Presumably the others weren’t locked up for their transgressions against musical civility so this change is the first evidence that we see as to Singer’s mindset regarding his solo excursions, namely what type of group he would put together to satisfy his own creative urges. The composition of the band remains the same instrumentation wise with one notable addition, that of a trumpeter. Last time out he had none, thus helping to explain that record’s modernity, but this is yet another example of how jazz and big band rooted musicians still clung to the notion that the trumpet was a vital attribute of a horn section.

It’s not the trumpet that is the most out-of-place horn though, at least at the beginning. That would be the trombone, something that WAS present last time around. Though manned by a new musician and playing with a spirited enthusiasm the sound is a little ill-suited with its drawn out responses in the first section. It makes the song sound slightly gimmicky at that point and the early reliance on it weakens the set up of Beef Stew considerably.

But once that section fades into memory we’re left to deal with an old advisory, namely that aforementioned trumpet, another instrument whose image never quite fit in with rock. The trumpet is like a very strong spice, a little goes a long way and it takes a very light hand to dispense it properly on record or else it tends to overwhelm every other sound.

Here it comes close to doing just that, for while Singer’s tenor is obviously the lead and gets the most time in the spotlight, the trumpet jumps into the fray 40 seconds in and makes its presence known with some quick bleats but Singer quickly wrests control back from him. The two battle it out for the entire middle eight trying to whip the excitement up with their byplay but sound slightly more chaotic than rousing.

The best stretch follows when Singer gets the floor to himself, reeling off some good passages with plenty of gusto but then both of the other horns join in for the conclusion which never reaches the level of anarchy required to convince those listening to cut loose with abandon on the floor. Instead it clashes somewhat, sending this into an exhausted heap of mismatched parts, effective enough to keep your hopes up without ever truly fulfilling those hopes for anything transcendent.


Check Please!
It’s obvious what they were going for with this and it’s just as obvious where they fell short.

While Singer’s own parts are suitable for rock’s needs, nothing else about this really fits. The other horns need to be jettisoned (a baritone sax replacing trumpet and trombone would’ve transformed this into something potentially special), the drummer needs to be woken up and the pianist has to take his left hand out of his pocket and use it to help establish the bottom off of which the entire production should ride.

But that was something still alien in nature to those who came of age in another time and another field and so it was something still being resisted, that is if any of them were even aware of what was lacking to begin with. When they stumble across the right formula, one with a heavy bottom and a constant sense of propulsion, it might’ve been accidental but it was often magical. However when they tried to adapt the most obvious components of rock to their existing sensibilities like on Beef Stew inevitably they’d get some of it right but much of it wrong as well and thus the end results were frequently compromised.

Singer’s ego meant he would indeed try and prove his initial success wasn’t a fluke, so he gave in to the calls to honk in order to try for another hit. But at the same time his professional pride wanted him to exhibit a better musicality and so he assembled a band he felt could aid in that cause and maybe bring this rock crowd along with him towards “better” music by slipping it in without their really being aware.

But the audience is much smarter than the musician in these cases because they have no ulterior motive, only a very base need to be won over by the music that moves them the most, and already by 1949 this wasn’t quite it. They certainly accepted it but not with the same fervor as they had with his last outing.

Ironically though for Singer it was successful enough to keep him tied to rock for the foreseeable future but not successful enough to be at the front of the pack any longer and so, at least the way he probably saw it, he was stuck in an uncomfortable limbo for the time being. A reluctant rocker.


(Visit the Artist page of Hal Singer for the complete archive of his records reviewed to date)