Bob Mover has attracted generations of listeners with his versatility, emotional depth and technical command on alto, tenor and soprano saxophones. Through his sideman stints with such legends as Chet Baker, Charles Mingus and Jaki Byard, and his work as a leader since the mid-’70s, Mover has attained the highest level of individuality and authority on his instruments – not just mastering the saxophone lineage but also claiming a place of honor within it.
Born in Boston, Mover relocated to Florida at age 12 and took up the horn the following year. At the age of 13, Mover came under the influence of Ira Sullivan, who he remains close friends with to this day. After leaving high school at the age of 17 to pursue his career, Mover bypassed a more traditional route of attending a music conservatory or arts-focused school. Instead, he studied with highly regarded jazz veterans such as Phil Woods, Al Cohn, and Richie Kamuca. While still a teenager, Mover had already sat in at the old Half Note in New York with the likes of Roy Eldridge, James Moody, and Zoot Sims, and others. In recent years Mover has also cultivated a sound and style as a vocalist, as heard on his 2008 release It Amazes Me… Following up that strong effort on his new two-disc release My Heart Tells Me, Mover divides his time between two different but closely related aesthetics.
Disc one showcases Mover singing a set of deeply soulful yet unaffected standards (the one instrumental is Cole Porter’s “Get Out of Town”). Disc two is wholly instrumental (save for the Kenny Dorham ballad “Fair Weather”), with trumpet and occasional second tenor added, and the tunes are mainly Mover’s own. This vocal/instrumental set follows in the spirit of Mover’s one-time cohort, Chet Baker.
“I consider myself a musician who sings, as opposed to a singer,” says Mover. “On my previous record I sang about six out of 11 tunes, but in a performance I’ll sing only two or three tunes in a set. I find that singing opens my heart chakra – I’m even more connected to the music by actually conveying the lyrics.”
Mover’s singing, with its unique mix of passion and restraint, brings out the beauty in this songbook material from Porter, Ray Noble, Harry Warren, Michel Legrand, Dietz & Schwartz and more. “I don’t feel the need to embellish a lot vocally,” says Mover. “I can do that on the horn, but one thing I can’t make it do is pronounce words.”
A highlight of disc one is the title track, “My Heart Tells Me,” from the 1943 film Sweet Rosie O’Grady starring Betty Grable. “I was made aware of this song by my friend [pianist] Tony Castellano – we’d play with Ira Sullivan as a trio and we’d go through 50-60 songs in maybe five or six hours. Tony found this and he showed it to me.”
Two pieces, “Gone With the Wind” and “You’ve Changed,” feature Mover in a compelling duo setting with the great Kenny Barron. “Everything’s always there with Kenny,” Mover says. “You can always rely on him to play great and help everyone else play great. The first time I heard him live was in 1964. My mom took us out to the Village Gate and we heard him with Dizzy Gillespie. I was impressed because he was only 19 or 20, and I was 12 or 13. He was still kind of in my same generation.”
“Penthouse Serenade (When We’re Alone),” by Will Jason & Val Burton, is a contemplative song about love in New York City. Mover originally called his dear friend Sonny Rollins suggesting that he play it, and recalls singing it on the phone together, and Rollins saying, “Nice song, and nice sentiment. Why don’t you play it.” Mover took up the challenge, opening with a vibrant cadenza, somewhat reminiscent of Rollins, before the ballad tempo kicks in. “It’s a humble song,” he remarks. “I like the idea of thanking something bigger than you for being as happy as you are.”
The one vocal number on disc two is “Fair Weather” by hard bop trumpet legend Kenny Dorham. “There are love songs, but occasionally there are ‘life’ songs. This one captures KD’s approach to life, that the human race could achieve a certain idealistic state of being,” explains Mover. Mover spent much of the summer of ’69 learning from Dorham, as well as pianist Wynton Kelly, saxophonist Charles Davis, and vocalist Evelyn Blakey. “KD and Wynton used to show me turnarounds and ‘passing’ changes, how there were chords that weren’t on the sheet music and how they could be put in. I learned in 40 minutes what would have taken three years at a university. KD didn’t live long enough for me to really thank him. Putting this song in the world now is my way of trying to do that.”
The presence of trumpeter Josh Evans on disc two signals a different, more band-oriented direction. “I heard Josh in Washington Square Park when I was pushing my daughter on the swing,” Mover says. “I heard a trumpet from the other end of the park and I wanted to see who this guy was. I could hear Art Farmer and Don Cherry and everything in between, but Josh told me his biggest influence was Jackie McLean, having grown up in Hartford and having known Jackie since he was in his early teens.”
Three tracks on disc two, “Fair Weather,” “Survival of the Sickest” and “Sweet Basil,” feature Mover and Evans with second tenor saxophonist Steve Hall, creating a more expansive horn-section sound. “Steve’s a unique player and a very creative and dedicated guy, so I wanted to give him some space and hopefully let the world know him a little better.”
“Sweet Basil,” based on “Cherokee” and first recorded for the 1979 Vanguard LP Bob Mover (also featuring Barron on piano), is named for the long-defunct Greenwich Village jazz club where Mover played regularly in the ’70s. “Survival of the Sickest” is inspired by harmonic nuances learned at the feet of the great Jaki Byard. “Chet’s Chum,” as Mover explains, “is a line that I wrote based on ‘Sweet & Lovely,’ there’s an airiness about the tune that brings memories of Chet to me.” And “Dee’s Dilemma,” though written by the late Mal Waldron, “is a tune that I learned with Chet,” Mover continues. “Both of these tunes have a counterpoint element in the blowing, which is something that Chet liked to do and still hasn’t been overused in jazz.”
Tying all the music together on bass is Bob Cranshaw. “Bob is the complete bassist. He has the right space between the notes, he hears all the changes, he can feel your lines heading in a certain way and knows where the musical gravity is going to land,” explains Mover. “Drummers Steve Williams and Victor Lewis are both players of deep swing and rare sensitivity. Williams and Cranshaw, having worked with so many singers, both know a lot of the lyrics. So when you’re singing, you really feel that they’re breathing with you.”
From beginning to end on My Heart Tells Me, Mover invites us to breathe with him as well. In the words of Chuck Berg, writing in DownBeat magazine, “Mover’s music rings with a profundity that speaks to both heart and mind.”
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