RIP Ralph Penland

I saw Ralph Penland twice in high school, with the Freddie Hubbard quintet (Don Braden, Benny Green, Jeff Chambers) in Minneapolis and the Don Menza quartet (Cedar Walton, Tony Dumas) in New Orleans. I already had a big record collection, and was impressed that there were such great players out there that were veterans but not yet a familiar name.

Penland was a West Coast musician, and therefore automatically comfortable with all kinds of genres. Unlike some musicians with similar careers and interests, though, Penland was truly convincing when dealing out serious swing.

There are 100 Penland sessions in the Lord discography, including dates with Hubbard, Hubert Laws, Joe Henderson, Eddie Harris, Nancy Wilson, Chet Baker, Dianne Reeves, Kirk Whalum, Stanley Clarke, Etta James, and many others. I’d like to hear some of the West Coast jazz dates led by players like Bob Cooper, Conte Candoli, Andy Simpkins, and James Leary, I’m sure they all benefit from having Penland behind the kit.

Penland was on Charlie Rouse’s last live album, Epistrophy, and on Bunky Green’s gentle Feelin’ the Pain. But the Penland I know best are several piano trio albums: The discs with George Cables are solid top to bottom. Two records with Marc Copland and Dieter Ilg have a playful and experimental sound, with Penland playing out more than usual. And a couple of tracks on Buddy Montgomery’s So Why Not? with Ron Carter are among Buddy’s very best recordings on piano.