January 6, 2011

Jimmy Raney, Ronnie Singer and the Birth of Bebop Guitar

There's one guy that (if he had lived) might've given Jimmy Raney a run for his money as top 50's bebop guitarist. His name was Ronnie Singer and my father would often talk about him. Ronnie Songer's death was an apparent double suicide. What a horrible thing. My father got wind of these recordings (shown below) when I was staying with him around 1985. A friend had them and asked Dad about them (thinking Dad was the guitarist) and Dad exclaimed, "No that's Ronnie Singer!!" We both listened to them. They were not officially released until after Jimmy Gourley (the original possessor of the tapes) died according to available information.

The offical story is that the two Jims and Ronnie met each other in the 40's inChicago. According to Gourley the two looked to Ronnie as the most developed. Dad did mention seeing Sonny Stitt in Chicago and that Ronnie had played with them. So if Ronnie was playing with Stitt that means he was the most advanced of the 3 at this point because my Dad was still not playing with the top bebop artists at that point. My father's comment was that Ronnie sounded a lot like Sonny Stitt in his approach. This site posts 3 cuts. They are quite amazing considering the date of them which looks like it should be 1950 or 1951 if the date of death is correct.
Ronnie Singer

There is a lot of similarity sound and time feel in Jimmy's first recordings in 1948 with Al Haig but I would definitely say Ronnie is more developed here. The Storyville records also sound similar but Dad was already starting to play more legato with a lighter touch and with less boppy Bud Powell and Charlie Parker quotes and feel by that point.

The truest document of Dad's capabilities with the Stan Getz Quintet are not Live at Storyville but rather Birdland Sessions 1952 Featuring Jimmy Raney. I think Dad is given more solo space on it too. The audio quality, given the nature of the recording method is poor. It's my recollection (from Doug) that John Scofield was first to mention the release of the Birdland bootlegs in 1989. In fact my copy may be one that John gave to my Dad although I'm not completely sure. Someday I will ask him...

IMO The most astonishing cut from Dad on that is the Song Is You. Dad plays an unbelievable solo. They take it at a much faster pace than at Storyville. Dad was also exploring a lot darker notes on this one.

So I wonder what the landscape and the language development among guitarists would've been like had Ronnie lived and also the Live at Birdland Getz music was available.

**Note. I just corresponded with John Scofield. Apparently I've created a fish story. Please don't repeat it lol. The copy I have was rescued from his house in 1994 but it was NEVER owned by John Scofield. He doesn't remember the recording.

The youngest Raney is getting old. What can I tell you...
**Note #2. In some subsequnet quick notes to John he said, it's possible he had a copy of the recording or at very least heard about them through a guitar aficianado in France. So maybe I'm not quite ready for brain transplant yet.


Félix said...

Hello Jon,
I'm the one who posted the tapes on archive.org, and I've just started a website in memory of Ronnie Singer after I was contacted by members of his family. Here's the link:
My father played with Jimmy Gourley so we knew him well. Ronnie is one of my favorite guitar players along with your dad, René Thomas, Jim Hall, John Scofield...
Hope to get in touch with you, thanks for your blog and forum,
Félix Lemerle

Jon Raney said...

Thanks Felix!

Good to hear from you I will follow up post with the link you provided.