Who was Cass Harrison? His two albums from 1956-57, The Duke And I and Wrappin’ It Up, feature him as an advanced swing pianist influenced a bit by Earl Hines while displaying his own adventurous style and musical personality. But why is he so unknown today?
Relatively little is known about Harrison. He was born in New York in 1917, studied at Juilliard, played with several big bands (including Teddy Powell’s), and led a large ensemble in South America in 1954. He moved to Puerto Rico in the early 1960s and in 2006 recorded an album of his originals, Sauce From The Source, that is not listed in discographies. The date of his passing is not known.
In Fresh Sound’s Rare and Obscure Jazz Albums series, The Duke And I and Wrappin’ It Up are reissued on a single CD. The former set, which has Harrison joined by bassist Mort Herbert and drummer Cozy Cole, the pianist avoids playing Ellington’s hits (other than “Prelude To A Kiss” and “Azure”) and instead brings back eight little-known numbers that are mostly from the 1930s. It is fun hearing trio versions of such songs as “Move Over,” “Sump’N ‘Bout Rhythm,” and “I’m Riding On The Moon And Dancing On The Stars.”
The Wrappin’ It Up album has Harrison (with bassist Milt Hinton and either Cozy Cole or Jo Jones on drums) playing two songs apiece by six pianists: Fats Waller (including the forgotten “Strange As It Seems”), Horace Henderson, Fletcher Henderson, Earl Hines, Duke Ellington, and George Wallington. With the exception of the Wallington numbers which date from the bebop era, the songs are again mostly from the 1930s.
On both sets, Harrison embraces the vintage melodies while stretching them a bit in his own style. His excellence and unpredictable style throughout the CD certainly makes one wish that he had recorded more extensively in his career. But at least the Fresh Sound label has brought back these little-known but valuable gems.
Presenting Rare & Obscure Jazz Albums: The Cass Harrison Trio
Fresh Sound FSR-1074