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SAVOY 666; JUNE, 1948



On July 6, 1947 tenor saxophonist Wild Bill Moore took part in an ambitious concert in Los Angeles staged by producer Ralph Bass which brought together some of jazz’s most promising lights, Wardell Grey, Sonny Criss, Howard McGhee and Dexter Gordon among them, and recorded the entire show, giving single releases to each of the selections which were credited to different soloists on his newly formed, short-lived, Bop Records label.

In many ways the concert was meant to serve as a sneak peak into jazz music of the future, a reassurance that the form was not in danger of fading away as the first generation of artists died off and the second generations of musicians and fans who’d overseen it as it rose in popularity through the 1930’s and early 40’s settled into middle-aged complacency.

Though jazz, led by many of the performers he’d featured in that show, did in fact have a creative revival over the next twenty years its time as the most important and influential music in America was indeed coming to an end.

Ironically two of the men involved in the concert helped to see to that fate. One was Bass himself who’d soon become one of the most important rock producers in the industry over the next decade.

The other of course was Wild Bill Moore who almost exactly one year later, released a record that loudly heralded the new style of music set to displace jazz at the top of the heap.

The Man Behind The Horn
The transformation happened so quick that it’s unlikely that anyone, Moore included, knew exactly what was taking place and why the choices made over those twelve months would transform music as a whole as well as his own career.

Though Moore was a talented saxophonist he didn’t seem to be a single-minded virtuoso like so many jazz icons, those whose desire to reinvent music to suit their own quirky vision defined their personal and professional lives.

By contrast Moore was the definition of a working musician, somebody amenable to doing what was called for on whatever session or live date he found himself playing on. Wild Bill, his self-titled excerpt from that 1947 concert, had featured plenty of raunchy licks that would later find home in rock ‘n’ roll so he definitely had the instincts to do what he’d need to as a full-time rocker when he switched his focus.

But while that kind of open-mindedness is admirable in theory, the problem was it might not result in too much acclaim because instead of establishing your own musical worldview you’re beholden to the needs of others which are often made with an eye more on commercial appeal than artistic transcendence. Such was probably the case when he landed at Savoy Records in the fall of 1947.

Savoy was one of the top jazz labels in the country at that point – home to Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie and a host of others – so maybe Moore felt he’d be cutting nothing but jazz and positioning himself for stardom in that field.

Instead he was drafted to join fellow saxman Paul Williams on a session in November which resulted in some hits in a different style of music called rock ‘n’ roll. The very next day they were back in the studio, this time recording under Moore’s name, and getting him his own first hits in the same field. None of these records were altogether crude mind you, but that too would come in due time, for a month later they reconvened and pushed things further into anarchy with Moore’s epochal We’re Gonna Rock.

When they got together a few months later and cut The Twister under Williams’s name and that frantic two-part record became a hit in the spring, the dye was seemingly cast for them all. Jazz was yesterday, rock was the future.

But for Harlem Parade we have to go back in time before we can get to the present, let alone the future.

I Turned My Head To View…
Back in 1942 there was a popular song called Harlem On Parade that was one of many war-themed ditties that came out during that era which were designed to lift the spirits of a country engaged in a bloody battle that stretched across the globe.

The song celebrated the black community – which still used Harlem, New York as the universally recognized stand-in for every black neighborhood in America – for being so patriotic and helping with the war effort, laying their lives on the line for a country that most assuredly didn’t deserve it, having kidnapped their ancestors, enslaved them for hundreds of years and then when they finally set them free during an even bloodier war than the one United States was currently involved in the country promptly allowed the losing side of that war to inflict state-sponsored terrorism that soon spread to the winning side as well and which continues, in one form or another (police brutality, disparate judicial standards in sentencing, voter suppression, unequal education, redlining and constant cultural stigmatization), to this very day.

Oh… and the song was done WITHOUT irony.

Of course the song was ALSO done by two white people, drummer Gene Krupa, one of the most celebrated to pick up sticks, and singer Anita O’Day.

It was well-intentioned I’m sure, they were integrated band after all with acclaimed trumpeter/vocalist Roy Eldridge and they faced a lot of resentment and prejudice because of it, so maybe they’d hoped the song would bring about a level of respect from white Americans towards their black neighbors, but of course it didn’t.

In June of 1943 there was a three day long riot in Detroit that took six thousand federal troops to quell when the massive influx of unskilled young white males who’d moved to the city looking for work in factories making war materials resented having to actually compete with long-time black residents of the city for jobs and housing. When three black workers at one factory were promoted to assembly line jobs – the only three in the entire plant – as a show of solidarity in the war effort 25,000 white workers walked off the job in protest. So much for white America’s patriotism.

On June 20th fights racially motivated broke out in the city and soon it was open warfare. When troops finally restored order three days later 34 people had been killed, 24 of which were African-Americans and 17 of those dead had been killed by police, something unsurprising for those in the city who had long protested the department’s history of violently racist tactics.

Though this was the most famous of the war-era’s racial unrest it was hardly an isolated incident which made Anita O’Day’s cheery voice singing “Every heart within the crowd/Beats it out with head unbowed/Uncle Sam is mighty proud of Harlem on Parade” something of a cruel farce in retrospect.

Five years later not much had changed. America still embraced systematic racism… Harlem was still seen as the Negro cultural capital… and music was still being used as a way to gloss over the deep-seated racial oppression by embracing black culture at arm’s length.

Into this world came rock ‘n’ roll, a style of music that didn’t go along with that willfully ignorant optimism and was pushing back against cultural oppression more forcefully.

In The Distance I Heard A Sound
There’s not much question Moore’s song is appropriates the O’Day song in some way, shape or form. It might not be an instrumental re-working of it in the strictest sense – and for the record Moore gets full writing credit for this – but the general mood and of course the title itself, drew on the earlier song by design.

Having just laid out all that sordid history in the last section we’ll try not to make too much out of Moore’s decision – or Savoy’s if it was simply a name chosen for marketing purposes – to release a song called Harlem Parade and let you come to your own conclusions. Certainly any reference to Harlem still engendered pride throughout Black America so from that standpoint it was likely that those listening to this viewed it in those terms rather than by analyzing lyrics of another song which may or may not be directly related to this one which of course had no lyrics for anyone to draw any inference from.

What matters here, for Bill Moore and also for us as rock fans, is how the record itself sounds and whether Moore was going to actually give us the type of performance we’re seeking from tenor sax players and reconfirm his direction as an artist now that he’d seemed to throw the gauntlet down on each of his last two appearances on record (the flip side of this and his last outing with Williams).

Any step back into a jazzier milieu, or easing off on the pressure he’d built up on the top-side of the record, and any outright repudiation on the indomitable spirit and attitude of rock ‘n’ roll in general would be met with disappointment if not outright dismissal, almost as if he was saying those were merely isolated examples of that type of playing, not something we should come to expect from him all of the time… or even most of the time.

So for a B-side there was a lot riding on this even though its contents would likely have zero effect on the actual sales of the record since the A-side was so damn good.

Luckily Harlem Parade, while not living up to those high standards, at least has the right idea in what it’s attempting to do, namely keep us fully invested in him as an artist as he tries to figure out his place in the music world.


Marching In The Groove
The first notes are drawn out and in a higher key than we might like to hear for something that is going to have to move our shoulders, if not other body parts, for this to work. But once that tails off he gets right into a churning groove that never gets too gritty but also never lets up on the insistent riff itself.

Most of this is handled, quite naturally, by Moore, but Williams makes his presence known with two-note replies at the end of each line while the other familiar cast of characters that have appeared on their respective sides are locked in and carrying out their roles with no missteps. They’re a tight band and while what they’re playing may be simple it’s purposefully direct, keeping our interest and satisfying us in that they didn’t head in another direction altogether, one much further away from our part of town.

But while this circular refrain lasts a full thirty-five seconds we know they have to come up with something else before long or Harlem Parade will wind up being a very redundant record. Sure enough when they do head into the next section the intensity lets up as Moore lightens his tone, almost nearing the alto range at times, as he blows a fairly aimless melodic pattern while the others sort of prance in the background.

Your hopes drop, your suspicions about his commitment to this music seem as if they’re coming true. You wouldn’t know, nor would you necessarily care, that this was recorded in November 1947 and thus there’d been no verifiable positive reception to the rock records that HAD been released to that point, so when looked at from that perspective this could be more easily dismissed.

But then again, if you were really a believer in this music you wouldn’t need any proof that it worked, you’d know it in your heart.

Ahh, but this where we have to trust those who we’re looking for to lead us to the promised land because a little over the halfway point of the record Moore starts to blow with more ferocity.

He’s not honking, as we might expect, nor even becoming more energetic in what he plays, but he’s clearly exhibiting a great deal of effort to connect with us on a visceral level, something he largely accomplishes by going up the scale, unleashing a paint peeling squeal, a flutter tone of sorts that has him appear to almost run out of breath without ever actually doing so. He holds this note until he’s blue in the face, never relinquishing the note until he’s wrung its neck and taken its life.

Maybe that’s not the best analogy to use in a review that has already touched upon deadly race riots, especially since Moore, Williams and crew were all from Detroit and may have been targeted themselves back in the day, but this time it’s the good guys who are emerging with a modest victory with this effort rather than having city officials place the blame for the disorder on their collective heads as happened back in 1943.

On The Move
When all is said and done we can be thankful that this does its job, giving us hope that their best efforts to date weren’t anomalies after all.

Harlem Parade may not move Wild Bill Moore up the ladder of prospective sax stars, but significantly it also doesn’t move him down either. This is him holding serve, showing that his move into rock wasn’t entirely circumstantial as many may have feared. He definitely understands his job is to wear us out emotionally with his playing and here he actually takes a different approach to reach that goal.

It’s got the riff we’ve come to rely on, it’s got the impressive lung power we demand for those who apply for these jobs, and while it does get off track slightly for awhile he takes the necessary steps to shore up those weak moments with some of his better playing which leaves us suitably impressed.

I’m sure that had he still wanted to be a respected jazz musicians those attributes would seem fairly crass and shallow, but in rock those requirements have already proven to be more elusive than they’d appear on the surface so his willingness to indulge in them is a good sign for his future prospects.

If nothing else this goes a long way to convince us that Wild Bill Moore might just wind up being a valiant soldier in this war. There’s still a lot of fighting to be done but he’s at least shown us he’s handy with a gun… err… a horn and in the rock ‘n’ roll battlefield that’s the weapon of choice for the foreseeable future. I guess you can say we’re proud of him for re-enlisting.


(Visit the Artist page of Wild Bill Moore for the complete archive of his records reviewed to date)