Born in Memphis, Tennessee back in 1920, multi-instrumentalist, Roscoe Weathers would go on to work with Vern Mallory and tour with pianist and prolific black musical arranger Fletcher Henderson, who would take under his wing Coleman Hawkins, Benny Carter and Roy Eldridge. Weathers would also work alongside pianist and bandleader Jay McShann, whose band included Charlie Parker. There’s a tour of Europe, a visit to Mali, a term in Seattle and more recognised gigs through Los Angeles, San Francisco and Santa Monica all in the mix before the Beat Scene provided regular work and the opportunity to appear at common jam sessions when poets Lawrence Lipton and Shanna Baldwin-Moore were in attendance. The famous Gaslight Café in MacDougal Street, New York, where poets Bob Ludin and Allen Ginsberg cut their teeth would prove to be a perfect setting for Weathers, and although no evidence of it, I’m sure he benefited too from the “Rent a Beatnik” craze of the era. His sharp flute work and experience would have served him well as Ted Jones, Gregory Corso and LeRoi Jones took Greenwich Village to the next level. Some of the exciting musicians behind the words at this time included Walter Bowe, Ahmed Abdul-Malik, Danny Barker, Ephie Resnick and Kenny Davern.
Here we are introduced to an archival collection of recordings spanning the ’60s compiled by passionate label Jazzman. Roscoe Weathers, with his Quintet and Orchestra, produced one album in ‘His Sterling Flute And Piccolo Around The World’ and several 45s of which 9 of the 11 tracks included first appeared between 1959 and 1971. The remaining 2 tracks have eluded this writer as to their origin – the album’s sleeve note refers to an album called ‘Roscoe Weathers Quintet’ which could indeed be the source – remember we are talking about the label that “digs deeper”… ‘Blue Cha Cha’ pops up in both 1959 and 1962 – awarded 3 stars on both occasions by Billboard – with ‘Dandelion Wine’ later in 1971, when one might assume the album’s release year, with dates for the others during the 60s with ‘Root Flute’ attracting attention in the October 1960 Cash Box magazine.
‘Poem for Anna’ is our first piece of music, and the only none-Weathers’ penned piece. The rolling piano chords and Latin rhythms are exquisite in delivery and carried through its duration with the piano taking charge – tipping its hat to ragtime with a clear Latin American belly before ‘Penny Whistle Montuna’ takes the stage. A Blues Boy Bill Johnson co-written high pitched tin whistle number, or piccolo for those than can distinguish, together with Cuban rhythms give us one of the winning numbers. ‘Yours Alone’ marches its way in next with 60s Blue Beat boldness and one I can expect attracts many a collector’s interest with a part 1 and 2 flip on the 45 from 1967.
‘Afro Latin Junto II’ is a box-ticking dancer and considerable attraction for anyone exploring the genre. A sound very much of the time but a song that invigorates today – credit on the skill of the writing here. Finger-Clicking ‘Root Flute’ succumbs to the honky-tonk, borderline nursery rhyme ‘Blue Flute’ before the run-out groove allows pause for reflection for what has been most educational.
The loud upward pitch whistle of the bobwhite is referenced on ‘The Bob White Bird’, and very reminiscent of the collaboration between Cándido Camero and Dizzy Gillespie on ‘Manteca’, elevates side B. An Afro-Latin top pick indeed. ‘Echoes’ strolls in with a jazzier mood before lifting with congas, vibes and flute exchange. ‘Dandelion Wine’, the older of the selections, carries with trumpet and saxophone lead aloft a space-age bluesy undercurrent for Weathers’ Orchestra. It’s very 60s in feel and suites the album’s choices. ‘Blue Cha Cha’, which surfaces as early as 1959 is, as one would expect, a dainty Cuban Cha Cha Cha, popular of the period which one might feel fits admirably the Beat scene. We close on ‘I’ll Remember Clover’, all pre-Jungle Book like, as it plots its course through the textures not too dissimilar to those of Johnny Lytle of the era, over its almost 9min voyage.
Altogether, this serves as a reference point for an artist who persisted with releasing his own music, at a time when there was much creativity in the industry, but perhaps few recording opportunities with the larger labels of the time. Roscoe Weathers made music we should all embrace in 2020. ‘Afro Latin Junto II’, ‘Echoes’ and ‘The Bob White Bird’ alone are worth the purchase with stunning sleeve design and impressive liner notes, which are extensive and detailed, adding further reasons for ownership – a true credit to the release, the artists therein and those of the respective families today.