The composition after which this album is named, Walter Bishop Jr.'s “Tell It the Way It Is”, contains a number of pertinent implications in its title. Since the advent of tape-recording, it has become possible to present performances on records that are better than the actuality. Judicious use of the razor blade permits the excision of faults and the addition of superior passages from other takes. While this makes for pleasant listening, performances can result which are not only difﬁcult for the artist to duplicate publicly, but are also not always truly representative of his ability. This was not the case in the days of 78s, whose brevity imposed a conciseness of expression upon the artist. In place of yesterday's pithiness, empty verbosity is exposed in all too many of today's “blowing sessions”. Yet, just as the unabridged, unexpurgated version of any signiﬁull Þcant book is always worth seeking, so is the untouched version of an improvised jazz performance by musicians with something to say.
“Tell It the Way It Is” was made after a short demonstration by the pianist of the procedure for the opening and closing choruses, in which he and the horns were to establish a contemporary “gospel” atmosphere sans tambourins. In between, everyone would go for himself on the twelve-bar blues chords. Ray Nance and Rolf Ericson blew their ensemble ﬁgure tentatively, softly, and were ready. The tapes rolled, the take number and title were called, and the men played — for over eleven minutes. They played well and with spirit, and because there were no serious imperfections, only the one take was made. The result is an honest testament to musical resources and improvisational capabilities.
Nearly every deﬁnition of jazz contains the word “improvisation” somewhere and implies that the music is constantly improvised. This is the ideal, the dream, but it is far from the truth. Most jazzmen, whether they be Dixielanders, swing musicians, boppers, or self-styled modernists, are obliged to play the same numbers night after night, and on each they repeat, with minor modiﬁcations, solos that were originally conceived spontaneously. Through repetition, these solos resolve into unwritten compositions, familiar to the musician's mind and ﬁngers and expressive of his basic feelings toward the material. Obviously, the ﬁnal “improvisation” is likely to be more polished and better shaped, but the truth about the man himself is best revealed and heard during the ﬁrst encounter.
In this sense, performances like that of this album's title number, “Tell It the Way It Is”, provide an excellent introduction to the musicians involved. For example, in the six choruses of debate between Ray Nance and Rolf Ericson, which Ray opens, there are questions and answers, complaints and compliments, and all are made on the spur of the moment, in four-bar phrases with Harmon mutes in lieu of plungers. When Paul Gonsalves then steps out, alone, he knows he has the major statement to make. His imagination has been stimulated — and whatever thought he originally had in mind inﬂuenced —— by what has gone before. There is really no restriction on the length of the statement, but it is his responsibility that it should convince and hold the attention. He makes a surprisingly untypical entry and — to change the metaphor completely — sows a seed in the ﬁrst chorus which is developed in the subsequent twenty through shoot, sapling, twig, leaf, branch, ﬂower, and fruit into a tree of a shape peculiar to himself, in terms of his ear, imagination, and invention. Certainly, the balance between intellect and intuition in Paul's music is very personal. Involuted passages of conscious experiment and exploration are contrasted with those of a more direct and obvious rhythmic emphasis, in which latter he seems simultaneously to renew his energies and discharge a debt to the audience.
Paul's companions on this date, with the exception of Walter Bishop, Jr. and Osie Johnson, are all cronies from the Duke Ellington Orchestra, and the next number, “Things Ain't What They Used to Be”, is customarily a feature for the alto saxophone of Johnny Hodges, who here leads the ensemble at a bright tempo and takes a couple of authoritative solo choruses. Ray Nance and Rolf Ericson know they have a good thing going and converse again in the same way as on the ﬁrst track, Ray leading. Behind Paul s last two solo choruses, Johnny Hodges devises an urging riff for himself and Ray, and it is Ray who is heard again over the ﬁnal ensemble. “Duke's Place” introduces bassist Ernie Shepard as vocalist, in which capacity he began his professional career.
He has his own humorous variant on Slam Stewart's sing-along-with-bass technique and also seats infectiously. The other soloists are Paul Gonsalves, Ray
Nance (on violin), and Johnny Hodges, each of whom plays with assurance, not least in his introductory break. Ray, incidentally, plays ﬁddle as part of the ensemble in the last chorus, too.
“Impulsive” is an original compiled, arranged, and routined by Johnny Hodges. It is primarily a compelling feature for Paul Gonsalves, with sixteen bars of airy, muted trumpet by Rolf.
The alert listener will have remarked that Johnny Hodges did not play on the full first title. He was, in fact, at the piano in the next studio creating Rapscallion in Rab's Canyon”. “I get a whole lot of ideas when we're recording,” he once said. “I don't know why it is. If I had plenty of time to sit down to try, I couldn't think of them.” There was no music in this case, just an oral arrangement. The idea for the hand-muted trumpets came to Johnny during performance and was communicated in mime. In this simple but effective context, there are warm solos by Johnny, Ray Nance, and Paul Gonsalves.
To close there is “Body and Soul”, played with alternating tenderness and passion by Paul and the rhythm section only.
Wlater Bishop, whose role elsewhere has been impellingly rhythmic accompaniment, here displays the prettier and of his talent.
When you have heard this album through, you will probably agree that its title is extremely apt. All seven men Tell It the way it is. Thiers is a music for here and now, for this earth. Other guys can blow up storms in outer space.
Stanely Dance, associate editor Jazz Magazine
Original liner notes from Tell it the Way it is, Impulse! AS-55
Paul Gonsalves - Tenor Saxophone
Johnny Hodges - Alto Saxophone
Ray Nance - Trumpet / Violin
Rolf Ericson - Trumpet
Walter Bishop Jr - Piano
Ernie Shepard - Bass / Vocals
Osie Johnson - Drums
1. Tell It the Way It Is! (Bishop)
2. Things Ain't What They Used to Be (M. Ellington)
3. Duke's Place (Ellington, Katz, Roberts & Thiele)
4. Impulsive (Hodges)
5. Rapscallion in Rab's Canyon (Hodges)
6. Body and Soul (Green, Eyton, Heyman & Sour)
Recorded 4th September 1963 - NYC, USA