Happy In Bag

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Milt Abel, R.I.P.

Jay McShann- Blue Monk

Milt Abel specialized in a brand of cocktail jazz that gets virtually no respect these days. But there was a time when musicians like the Modern Jazz Quartet, Ahmad Jamal and Erroll Garner were both popular and critically respected. Bassist Milt Abel enjoyed a similar status in Kansas City.

I became familiar with Abel in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, when a swank affair wasn’t complete without Abel and his upright bass. In prior decades, Abel led a successful nightclub act. A handsome man partial to staid sports jackets and slacks, Abel was infused with a quiet dignity. He was an Episcopalian, after all.

Abel died Sunday. He was 77. While his talent was comparable to better known jazz bassists Milt Hinton and Ray Brown, Abel never achieved national acclaim. I recall that Abel had a fine singing voice that matched his smooth tone on bass, but I’m not sure if any recorded examples of his singing exist. And I’m fairly certain he never recorded as a leader.

I wouldn’t typically associate Abel with Thelonious Monk, but this sedate version of "Blue Monk" from a locally released charitable project is a great example of Abel’s sophisticated style. That’s Jay McShann on piano, Tommy Ruskin on drums and Michael White on clarinet.

In a 1998 issue of JAM magazine, Mike Metheny mentioned that Abel sung at Charlie Parker’s funeral. I’m sure he’ll be memorialized with wonderful music at his jazz wake on Thursday.


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