Bobby Timmons: Tom Thumb

From Soul Man (Prestige, 1966)

n. widely recognized prominence, distinction, or importance

Begun in 1949, Bob Weinstock’s Prestige Records would become one of the most influential independent jazz labels of the next 20+ years. Especially in the 1950s and ’60s, Prestige was seen as more adventurous than Blue Note, more high-spirited than Verve and many major artists, from John Coltrane to Miles Davis to Sonny Rollins recorded significant work for Prestige before moving on to become even bigger icons.

This is all lovingly compiled onto the 4-CD Prestige Records Story anthology but what I’m interested in focusing on is Prestige’s lesser-known legacy in the world of soul-jazz. From the late ’60s through early ’70s, Prestige and Blue Note were producing some of the best soul/funk-influenced jazz out there. The Blue Note catalog runs arguably larger, especially thanks to voluminous output from folks like Lou Donaldson, Reuben Wilson, Grant Green and others but Prestige was nothing to sniff at either. Their studio players included some of the best in the business, including drummers Idris Muhammed and Bernard Purdie (both of whom recorded solo albums for the imprint), guitarists Ivan “Boogaloo Joe” Jones and billy Butler, keyboardists Johnny “Hammond” Smith, Charles Kynard and Leon Spencer, saxophonists Sonny Stitt and Rusty Bryant, etc. etc. Straight up heavyweights.

Oh, and Prestige also has one of the all-time great logos for a record label.

For the next seven days, I’m highlighting one offering from Prestige’s sprawling catalog a day. I’m running it chronologically so we start in 1966 with Bobby Timmons’ “Tom Thumb,” a jazz-dance classic that predates the more formal soul-jazz era but you can clearly draw a connection between Timmons’ swinging sound on this cut and where Prestige would eventually end up.

Timmons made a name for himself more as a songwriter (“Dat There”, “This Here,”) but he also had an impressive career as a bandleader too, recording extensively for Blue Note, World Pacific, and Riverside, among other labels. His first album with Prestige was in 1960 and between 1965 to ’67, he recorded seven albums for them. Soul Man was never one of his bigger hits but “Tom Thumb,” has since been “discovered” by jazz dance freaks and its easy to hear why: the track just moves beautifully. I wrote about it back in March of ’04 (and this is the only “repeat” song from Prestige I’ll run this week). I had this to say about it then:

    “This is a smooth, slick dance number – nothing you’d mash out to but super slinky and sexy (lot of “s” words come to mind for some reason). It’s a longer song – about six minutes – but I never get bored for an instant, grooving through it. It’s like the best Saturday afternoon in the park you can remember.”

Tomorrow: The latin soul sound of Pucho.