Swing Them Funky Blues: Bobby Timmons Trio - "Born To Be Blue!"

Bobby Timmons Trio • Born To Be Blue! • 1963 • Riverside Records
Recorded August & September, 1963 at Plaza Sound Studios, NYC

The Selection:

The Tracks:

A1. Born To Be Blue
A2. Malice Towards None
A3. Sometimes I Feel Like A Motherless Child
A4. Know Not One
B1. The Sit-In
B2. Namely You
B3. Often Annie

The Players:

Bobby Timmons - Piano
Sam Jones - Bass (A1, A2, B1, B3)
Ron Carter - Bass
Connie Kay - Drums

The Record:

Bobby Timmons Looking Dapper

Born To Be Blue! was Bobby Timmons' sixth and final album released during his fruitful tenure with Riverside (five were trio recordings, while Soul Time was a quartet with Blue Mitchell), and it sums up the swinging funky and bluesy style that he so successfully brought to his instrument. Timmons helped usher in that upbeat, often gospel-tinged, piano style (along with Horace Silver) that was so important to the development of the hard bop sound.  He is often typecast as only having one style of playing, but I wonder why anyone would think it would be problematic that he leans on the bluesy, funky side of things - if you're the best at something why hide it?

Bobby Timmons had one hell of a jazz resume by the time Born To Be Blue! was released in 1963. Not only had he played on two of the biggest jazz hits of the late 1950s in "Moanin'" and "This Here" for Art Blakey and Cannonball Adderley respectively, but he also composed both tracks as well.  Not surprising then that he was able to find some top-shelf talent to join him on Born To Be Blue! gathering up the super talents of either Sam Jones or Ron Carter in the bassist's chair and the MJQ's Connie Kay performing his magic on the drums. Timmons and his trio are in top form, in fact it I might argue that the LP represents the pianist at the peak of his powers even though his earlier LPs tend to get more of the attention. Why his trio never reached the commercial heights of some of his contemporaries is a mystery for the ages, but perhaps the frustration in trying to grab a piece of that success contributed to the decline in his albums after 1964 when he moved to Prestige.

The songs chosen for Born To Be Blue! range from the well-known standard that is the title track, to a couple traditional tunes and some other standards from the day alongside some exciting Timmons originals. Two of the three Timmons-penned tunes are extended tracks ("Know Not One" in at just over seven minutes [listen above] and "Often Annie" at just over nine minutes) and these are the real joys of the record. Hearing Timmons and his crew swing with the freedom that the longer tracks allow for really shows off the caliber of talent present. And it is extra fun to listen to how the two virtuoso bassists interact with the piano and drums on these longer tracks, with Jones on "Often Annie" and Carter on "Know Not One". Timmons is in primo form here, his fingers dancing and prancing over the ivories, the joy and exuberance he is feeling shines through the speakers. Timmons may be the star, but Jones, Carter and Kay aren't just along for the ride, it is immensely satisfying to listen to a piano trio album where all the players are clearly occupying the same creative space and doing their thing so darn well. 

The Vinyl:

I found my copy digging through the bins at one of my local record shops, scoring it for what I consider to be the bargain price of $13. The cover is pretty beat, but not terribly so for a 53 year old record that probably got a decent amount of play. It has the classic blue "mic and reel" label, and since this is a 1963 release we see that the INC. has been added to the end of BILL GRAUER PRODUCTIONSThis would be close to the end of this classic label's run, as Grauer suffered a fatal heart attack in December of 1963 (shortly after Born To Be Blue! was recorded) and Riverside would be sold off and the label changed to a simple - and much less elegant - design. 

My copy is a mono pressing, seemingly rare for this 1963 release, as I was unable to find another mono copy on eBay and it does not even have a listing on Discogs (which I hope to remedy soon). The LP sounds great to my ears in mono, although I'm sure there are some folks out there that would swear by Riverside stereo pressings from this period. As with many of the characteristics of vintage jazz vinyl, much of it comes down to the preference of the listener.

Whether it be in mono or stereo, in many ways Born To Be Blue! marks the end of Bobby Timmons' most creative and influential period. He would never again make records as great as those he put out for Riverside from 1960-1963, but who cares really if his output declined after that, because he left us some of the bluesiest, funkiest, swinging jazz piano sessions that were recorded in the prime of jazz's golden age.