It’s the stuff of dreams, but sometimes lost treasure is found, and Harvie S believes he has done it. The distinguished bassist began his career in his native Massachusetts, close to Boston. After an early trip to Europe, where he worked with tenor saxophonist Dexter Gordon, he settled in New York but often returned in different bands to play in the Boston area. One such trip earned an invitation to bring his own trio to the 1369 Club, a popular local night spot in neighboring Cambridge, for a three-night gig.
“At the time, I was playing a lot with Mike Stern,” Harvie recalled. “I thought I would come up with Mike, and well, I could get a New York drummer, but it would be really interesting to do it with Alan Dawson. I asked Mike what he thought, and he lit up. He loved the idea.” Guitarist Stern was also new to New York, but his years at Berklee College had established his reputation in Boston. Drummer Alan Dawson had a stellar reputation from years of playing with legends such as Dave Brubeck, Lionel Hampton, Jaki Byard, and Clifford Brown, plus nearly 20 years teaching at Berklee.
When the two arrived for the first night, they found Dawson already set up and the popular club jam packed with fans in a partying mood. The bassist and the drummer had often worked together at popular area clubs such as Lennie’s on the Turnpike and Jazz Workshop, but this was the first time for Dawson and Stern. No matter, the well-seasoned drum master seemed telepathic. Harvie marveled, “Alan seemed to know exactly what to play with Mike and read his every move. It was uncanny. There was no rehearsal, no set list, no discussion about the music. We just called tunes and we, ‘went for it.’”
Every set for the three nights was the same: a packed club, partying fans, and inspired musicians. When it ended, the gig became a local legend. Decades later, Harvie S was back in the area, performing at a club with saxophonist Jerry Bergonzi, only a short distance from where the 1369 had been. During a break, he reminisced with David Lee, a longtime fan, and, when the earlier gig was mentioned, Harvie mused that it was a pity no one had recorded it. Lee said he had done so with a high-quality cassette recorder and two mics for every set, all three nights. “I almost fell down when he told me that,” Harvie said.
Sadly, Alan Dawson is long gone, but Harvie did contact Stern about what he now possessed. “Mike was a bit hesitant at first, but asked me to send it over. I sent him some tracks, and he said, ‘Wow, I really want this released.’ The music was on fire. Alan and Mike have never sounded better on any other recordings I ever heard. It was such an amazing experience.”
In addition to his extensive and distinguished discography as a bassist with around 500 recordings, this CD, Going For It, will be the 20th as a leader. Harvie spent the last year sifting through the 30 tracks finding just the right blend for this exceptional release. Yes, there could be a volume two.
“I’ve worked very hard on going through all the music,” he said. “It wasn’t just saying, ‘Oh, this track is good or this track is great.’ I tried to make it have relevance and make all the tracks have a different quality. It was a real jazz trio thing, with a lot of straight-ahead stuff. I did edit to make it more interesting. Even the opening cut, ‘On Green Dolphin Street,’ I edited down to over five minutes, because I looked at it as kind of an overture. The last track is untouched to give the feeling of what really happened. That’s called ‘Bruze.’ It’s really just a blues written by Mike, but it’s 14 minutes of dynamite, and you can hear the audience going crazy.”
But for Stern’s original piece, all the numbers are standards. “We did Horace Silver’s ‘Peace,’ that’s a really nice ballad; and there is a beautiful cadenza that Mike plays alone that is just astounding. Then, we did a very high up tempo of ‘Softly, As in a Morning Sunrise.’ And a really beautiful version of ‘Moment’s Notice’ in which I took out the bass solo because Alan Dawson’s solo is really astounding. I did a lot of things like that, but it’s very smooth. And everything we did was, really done well. I made it more of a presentation of the night.” That means the crowd can be heard because “they were into partying, but they were into the music. Sometimes getting into the tune you can hear a lot of talking, but then there are points, like Mike does his cadenza alone, where the place is dead silent.”
Harvie S has also made his mark as a producer, engineer, and the inventor of the popular Upshot bass amp by Acoustic Image, which is designed to be placed on the floor, close by, so the bassist can clearly hear his or her instrument. Harvie was also recording engineer for the last two highly acclaimed Alan Broadbent Trio CDs on High Note Savant.
One night in 1940, the Ellington band performed in Fargo, ND. It was nothing special, just another dance gig on the tour. Yet, for whatever reasons, that night the musicians were on fire, and, by chance, it was well recorded. When finally released decades later, it quickly became an Ellington classic. Perhaps this legend, too, will merit such acclaim when released. Look for that sometime in spring 2021. — SCHAEN FOX