Johnny Marshall 1930-2017
If you asked me to make a short list of my favourite solos by British jazz musicians, very close to the top of the list would be the 16-bar baritone saxophone solo on Georgie Fame’s “I’m in the Mood for Love (Moody’s Mood for Love)”, from the 1964 studio album Fame at Last. A version of the Eddie Jefferson/King Pleasure recasting of James Moody’s 1949 recording, which put words to Moody’s tenor improvisation on a song by Jimmy McHugh and Dorothy Fields, it’s also my favourite Fame track.
Fame sings it quite beautifully, with just his Hammond B3 — on a heavy vibrato setting — plus the bassist (probably Tex Makins) and the drummer (probably Red Reece) for company. The solo is played by Johnny Marshall, who was a member of the Blue Flames from October 1962 to April 1964. He steals in between verses, improvising in the way that jazz musicians once aspired to do: creating a new and memorable melody from the bones of the old.
The tempo is slow-medium, and Marshall allows his solo to unfurl in a completely unhurried way. His airy tone is perfect for the big instrument: using its range but avoiding any hint of gruffness or stodginess. The phrasing and overall shape of his improvised melody develop with exquisite balance. When he hints at doubling and tripling the tempo, it never sounds rushed. It’s a solo that any bop-and-after baritone player — Serge Chaloff, Gerry Mulligan, Cecil Payne, Pepper Adams, Ronnie Ross, Lars Gullin — would be proud to own. After listening to it for more than 50 years, I know it off by heart, but it never gets old.
Today I heard, via Tim Hinckley, of Johnny Marshall’s recent death at the age of 86. Born in Cornwall, he died in North Devon, where he had lived since the 1990s, with a weekly residency at a club in Bideford. The story posted on Devonlive.com mentions that he played with Sarah Vaughan and Stevie Wonder (and Romano Mussolini, Benito’s piano-playing son). But to me he’s the man who, in a London studio one day half a century ago, used his allotted 16 bars to make a small but indelible mark on the world.