JAZZ REVIEW : Singer-Saxman Eddie Vinson Soars Between the Blues and Bop


Lean of frame and clean of pate, Eddie (Cleanhead) Vinson is one of those hardy jazz perennials who seem impervious to the inroads of time.

Monday evening (from 5 to 9 p.m. to be exact), he was greeted by a large, receptive audience at the Grand Avenue Bar of the Biltmore Hotel. Nothing has changed. When he applies his croaking, pleading vocal tones to the blues, more often than not he uses the same lyrics that have served him throughout his career.

The lines about his baldness, faithless women, alimony and infidelity transform the setting of this swank hotel; suddenly we are in a dim Texas nightclub where he introduced these songs 40 years ago.


Vinson’s dual personality is part of his unique charm. As a blues singer he is a reminder of a tradition as old as the century, but when he plays his alto saxophone he blends his blues inclinations with strong overtones of bop, and is as likely as not to play a tune by Charlie Parker or Tadd Dameron. His sound is forcefully rugged, his intonation faultless, his phrasing impeccable. There are not too many septuagenarian be-boppers around, yet he is as comfortable in the idiom as if to the manner born. In fact, he claims to be the composer of the tunes “Four” and “Tune Up,” both commonly attributed to Miles Davis.

His accompanying group consisted of three local jazz club regulars, all stalwarts in the blues and bop styles. Art Hillery’s fleet piano was showcased in a pleasant fast blues; Larry Gales soloed, as is his wont, both as a pizzicato bassist and as a master of the bow. Frank Wilson on drums rounded out this serviceable unit.