Thursday, August 4, 2016

Clora Bryant on Mode Records, 1957

Influenced by the likes of Roy Eldridge, Harry James, Charlie Shavers, and Dizzy Gillespie, for whom she professed a lifelong admiration, Texas-born Clora Bryant was one of the few female trumpeters who felt equally comfortable as an instrumentalist and a vocalist. In fact, her singing is somewhat akin to her playing: she sounds swinging and daring on uptempo numbers and wistful and restrained on ballads. Born in the small Texas town of Denison in 1927, Bryant showed an interest in the trumpet early on, and after graduating from high school she began touring with various all-girl bands. By the mid-1940s she'd relocated to California, where she had the chance to play with prominent names such as Max Roach, Clifford Brown, Sonny Criss, Dexter Gordon, and even Charlie Parker. At different moments in her career she played in Las Vegas and graced the trumpet sections of big bands led by Duke Ellington, Billy Williams, Count Basie, Lionel Hampton, and Stan Kenton. In an interview with writer Linda Dahl, Bryant has discussed the obstacles she's had to face in her professional career, many of them related to her gender and her race, as well as her choice of instrument: "Being a black woman and playing trumpet—that's three things I consider against me. If I played piano, I don't think sex or race would enter into it. With the wind instruments, though, there's competition, period. No matter what color or what sex, there's a lot of competition in the trumpet section!"

In 1957, Bryant cut an album for the small Mode label entitled Gal with a Horn, which is the only one of her records currently available on CD (it's been reissued by V.S.O.P. Records). With a beautiful cover featuring a portrait of Bryant in black and blue, the album is a little too short at only eight tracks, and presents her playing trumpet and singing in the company of pianist Roger Fleming, bassist Ben Tucker, and drummer Bruz Freeman. This quartet is augmented by Walter Benton on tenor sax and Normie Faye on trumpet on some of the tracks. The program alternates between fast and slow numbers, all of them standards, showcasing Bryant's vocals and trumpet playing and with plenty of room for solos. On the album opener, "Gypsy in My Soul," Bryant plays with the melody for two full vocal choruses and then closes off the performance with a Gillespie-influenced trumpet solo. Her horn shines on a relaxed reading of "Makin' Whoopee" that features a fine piano solo by Fleming. "Man with a Horn," the tune referenced in the album title, is one of the moodiest performances on the set, while "Sweet Georgia Brown" has room for contributions from both Fleming and Benton. Everyone seems to be having a ball with a version of "Tea for Two" set to a cha-cha beat, followed by two Rodgers and Hart tunes ("This Can't Be Love" and "Little Girl Blue") that are tailor-made for Bryant. On "S'posin'," Bryant carries most of the weight, thus bringing the record to a close in style and proving that, though sadly under-recorded, she's an appealing trumpeter who deserves more critical attention.

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