Cult Classic: Doug Carn-Infant Eyes.

Although Gene Russell and Dick Schory founded Black Jazz Records in 1969, two years passed before the nascent label released its first album. This was Gene Russell’s sophomore album New Direction which was released in 1971. It was the first of twenty albums by a label that was very different from other new indie jazz labels that were being founded across the America.

Gene Russell and Dick Schory wanted their new label: “to promote the talents of young African American jazz musicians and singers.” That was only part of the story.

Black Jazz Records’ cofounders were determined that their nascent label would released an alternative to what they saw as the old school jazz that was popular at the time. This included albums that featured political and spiritually influenced music. However, spiritual jazz was just part of the Black Jazz Records’ story.

Between 1971 and 1975 the label released twenty albums that included everything from spiritual jazz and soul-jazz to free jazz and funk. Eclectic described the music that the label released.

That described the albums that Black Jazz Records released during 1971. Its second released was Walter Bishop Jr’s cult classic Coral Keys. 

Later in 1971, Doug Carn released Infant Eyes which was the first of three albums he released for Black Jazz Records. It features vocals from his wife Jean Carn who features on each album and played an important part in the sound and success of 1971s Infant Eyes, 1972s Spirit Of The New Land, 1973s Revelation and 1974s Adam’s Apple. That was still to come. 

Doug Carn who was just twenty-three when he signed to Black Jazz Records. He was born on July the ’14th’ 1948, in St. Augustine, Florida, and growing up music was all around him and was part of the culture around him at home. His mother was a musician, while his uncle was a bebop DJ who could scat the Dexter Gordon solos. It was no surprise that growing up, Doug Carn started listening to jazz and later, decided to learn an instrument.

Initially, Doug Carn took piano lessons and proved to be a quick learner and was soon able to play Bach Two-Part Inventions. That was when it was discovered that he wasn’t reading music and playing by ear. This resulted in Doug Carn being given an alto saxophone which he also mastered was able to play well. Already he was well on his way to becoming a multi-instrumentalist and it was no surprise when Doug Carn decided to study music at university.

He enrolled at Jacksonville University in 1965, and for the next two years studied oboe and composition. When Doug Carn graduated in 1967 he headed to Georgia State University where he completed his musical education in 1969. Later that year he made his recording debut as bandleader.

The twenty-one year old multi-instrumentalist was still living in Georgia and had founded the Doug Carn Trio. However, the new combo needed gigs and the young bandleader decided to visit a friend who ran a booking agency. When he entered the office he was greeted by the receptionist and secretary who was also a singer. This was Jean Carn who later become his wife. Before that, she started singing with the Doug Carn Trio who were about to make their recording debut.

Through the owner of the booking agency, Doug Carn was introduced to Herman Lubinsky the founder and owner of Savoy Records. This introduction turned out to be a gamechanger for the bandleader.

It turned out that the label had a session booked in Atlanta which was going to be produced by Fred Mendelsohn, the President of Savoy. He explained that there was every chance that there might be some spare time after he had recorded the gospel album, and if there was, they would use the time to record the Doug Carn Trio. That turned out to be the case.

That day in 1969, the Doug Carn Trio recorded what became their eponymous debut album. It was released later in 1969 on Savoy Records but wasn’t a commercial success. However, for Doug Carn recording the album was an invaluable experience as he prepared to move to LA as the sixties gave way to the seventies.

When he arrived in LA, Doug Carn started spending time with the members of Earth, Wind and Fire and this resulted in him playing on their first two albums. He played Hammond organ on Earth, Wind and Fire which was released on February 1971 and was certified gold. Doug Carn also played on The Need Of Love which was released in November 1971. By then, his solo career was well underway.

Earlier in 1971, Doug Carn had signed to Black Jazz Records. Not long after this, he began work on his debut album Infant Eyes.

For his debut album, Doug Carn wrote Moon Child, recorded John Coltrane’s Welcome and McCoy Tyner’s Passion Dance. The twenty-three year old bandleader added lyrics to Bobby Hutcherson’s Little B’s Poem, Wayne Shorter’s Infant Eyes, John Coltrane’s Acknowledgement and Horace Silver’s Peace. Doug Carn put together a band and spent the best part of a year practising and then when he signed to Black Jazz Records recorded the album.

The rhythm section featured drummer Michael Carvin, bassist Henry Franklin and bandleader Doug Carn who switched between electric piano, organ and piano. Meanwhile his wife Jean added her unmistakable vocals. George Harper played tenor saxophone and flute and was joined in he front line by trombonist Al Hall Jr and Bob Frazier who played trumpet and flugelhorn. This talented and versatile band  worked their way through the seven tracks which became Infant Eyes. The session was engineered and produced by label owner Gene Russell and the album was scheduled for later in 1971.

When Infant Eyes was released in 1971, Doug Carn still regarded the album as a demo. It wasn’t the polished album that he had envisaged. Despite that, it was well received by critics and hailed as a groundbreaking album. 

On its release in 1971, Infant Eyes became Black Jazz Records’ most successful album. It was a similar case with the other two albums Doug Carn released for the label. He was the label’s biggest selling artist. That was no surprise given the quality of the three albums he released. The first was Infant Eyes.

Opening Infant Eyes is Doug Carn’s interpretation of John Coltrane’s Welcome. It lasts just 1:15 and features what are best described as big and beautiful washes of sound where the flute and cymbals combine with Jean Carn’s vocal during this homage to a jazz legend.

Doug Carn added lyrics to Bobby Hutcherson’s Little B’s Poem and they’re delivered by his wife Jean who scats. Initially the arrangement is intense and almost frenetic before the band lock into a groove. By then, the scat disappears as unleashes an impassioned vocal. Later, a stunning saxophone solo from George Harper plays a leading role and the organ weaves in and out of the arrangement as cymbals hiss and ring out during this captivating reinvention of wha’s a familiar track for many jazz fans.

On Moon Child Doug Carn switches to piano, and his playing is moody and melancholy. Meanwhile, the horns add an atmospheric backdrop during this eight minute epic which is an emotional roller coaster.

Having added lyrics to Wayne Shorter’s Infant Eyes,Doug Carn’s adds a dramatic introduction before the keyboards become understated. They’re effective and combines with subtle cymbals and Jean’s vocals which soars high above the arrangement as the Carn’s play a starring role on the track that closes side one.

Side two opens with a cover of McCoy Tyner’s Passion Dance. It made its debut on The Real McCoy Tyner which was released by Blue Note Records in April 1967. It’s as if Doug Carn is paying homage to the great Blue Note Records’ releases of the mid to late sixties on this vigorous instrumental workout. Horns are to the fore as the organ sweeps and swirls and join with the cymbals in playing a crucial role in the sound and success of the track.

Acknowledgement featured on John Coltrane’s 1965 classic album A Love Supreme. However, six years later Doug Carn added lyrics and his wife Jean takes charge of the vocal. Backed by this multitalented and versatile band they remake Trane’s spiritual jazz classic.

Horace Silver originally recorded Peace for his 1959 album Blowin’ The Blues Away, and then in 1970 it featured on his That Healin’ Feelin’ album where Andy Bey takes charge of the vocal. Doug Carn added new lyrics full of social comment which are delivered by Jean. She plays a leading role in the success of  breathtaking, powerful and poignant take on a familiar track from the late, great jazz pianist.

When Infant Eyes was released in 1971, it was Doug Carn’s debut solo album. Despite that, it was the most successful album that Black Jazz Records released that year. So was the followup Spirit Of The New Land when it was released in 1972, 1973s Revelation and 1974s Adam’s Apple. Although the four albums didn’t sell tens of thousands of copies they were successful for a small independent label like Black Jazz Records was. It was also a label that had a vision.

Black Jazz Records that wanted “to promote the talents of young African American jazz musicians and singers.”  Doug Carn was only twenty-four when he released Spirit Of The New Land and his was Jean Carn was twenty-five. They had created an album that was an alternative to what Gene Russell and Dick Schory referred to as old school jazz. 

Infant Eyes was very different to old school jazz and was new type of jazz album. It featured everything from avant-garde and even elements of free jazz, funk, fusion, soul, soul-jazz and spiritual jazz. These genres were combined by Doug Carn and Jean Carn who unleashed her five octave vocal on Infant Eyes which introduced the pair to the record buying public across America.  This was just the first chapter in the Doug and Jean Carn story.

Infant Eyes was the first of four critically acclaimed albums that Doug Carn released between 1971 and 1974. These albums are now regarded as cult classics, and amongst the best that Black Jazz Records released during the five years it was in business. 

Cult Classic: Doug Carn-Infant Eyes.

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