Lenny Breau | The Hallmark Sessions

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The Hallmark Sessions

by Lenny Breau

Lenny's first professionally recorded and previously unreleased Jazz session recorded in 1961 when he was twenty years old.
Genre: Jazz: Bebop
Release Date: 

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Tracks

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1. It Could Happen To You
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5:42 album only
2. Oscar's Blues
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3:38 album only
3. I'll Remember April
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4:25 album only
4. Undecided
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3:34 album only
5. My Old Flame
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5:29 album only
6. 'D' Minor Blues
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5:10 album only
7. 'R' Tune
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3:20 album only
8. Lenny's Western Blues
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2:33 album only
9. Cannonball Rag
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2:13 album only
10. Solea
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4:01 album only
11. Taranta
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3:58 album only
12. Arabian Fantasy
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2:51 album only
13. Brazilian Love Song (Batucada)
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2:07 album only
14. Oscar's Blues *
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3:39 album only
15. I'll Remember April *
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4:24 album only
16. Undecided *
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3:34 album only
17. My Old Flame *
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5:29 album only
18. 'D' Minor Blues *
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5:08 album only
19. 'R' Tune *
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3:17 album only
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ABOUT THIS ALBUM


Album Notes
"The Hallmark Sessions", recorded at Hallmark Studios in Toronto, Canada on November 28, 1961, were recorded when Lenny Breau was only twenty years old. This is Lenny's first professionally recorded Jazz session and, until now, has never been released. The original analog reel-to-reel master tapes have been in the possession of Lenny's former manager, George B. Sukornyk, for over forty years. In addition to several Jazz standards such as: It Could Happen To You and I'll Remember April, Lenny also performs several solo Flamenco and Country & Western pieces, as well as four previously unheard original compositions. Lenny recorded seven tracks with acoustic bassist Rick Danko and drummer Levon Helm, both former members of the group The Band, as well as six solo guitar pieces at Hallmark Studios. In addition to the trio and solo tracks, there are also six bonus tracks that contain the Stereo versions of the trio pieces. All tracks have been professionally mastered using 24-bit digital technology.

Liner Notes

Fond Memories of Lenny Breau

I have often wondered what is the measure of greatness in a musician. My observations of Lenny Breau, his development and acceptance as a guitarist of world class stature was not only a combination of audience adulation and repeated words of praise such as "genius", but also the utter surprise of fellow artists, musicians and peers when they heard him play for the first time. Over a period of two years or more, I witnessed first hand the reaction of Don Francks, Joey Hollingsworth, the CBC house band in Toronto, Moe Koffman at George's Spaghetti House, Stompin' Ronnie Hawkins at his home, Ed Sullivan's manager and son-in-law in New York, John Coltrane at Birdland in New York, Tony Bennett at the O'Keefe Center in Toronto, and many others.

My first encounter with Lenny was when I went to Jack Shapira's great Jazz Club, The Stage Door, in Winnipeg, Manitoba in October 1961, at the urging of his friend and mine, Joey Hollingsworth. I met Lenny, a diminutive, friendly young man of twenty, with fine handsome features and dressed immaculately in black. What I heard that evening, which added to my appreciation of Jazz, was a level of playing far beyond what I had expected. He was not a "single-pick" player as most Jazz guitarists of the day, but rather, by the use of his fingernails on his playing hand, that were carefully shaped as picks, played combinations of intricate chords and unbelievable runs, with some Flamenco thrown in for good measure. At the end of the evening, which lasted into the early morning, I spoke at length with Lenny and told him he was wasting his time in Winnipeg. I invited him to come to Toronto, stay at my home, and told him I would arrange a recording session so that we could use the tapes as a promotional demo.

Lenny flew to Toronto in early November 1961. I booked a recording studio at Hallmark Studios for November 28, 1961. On the day before, I made arrangements to take Lenny to Ronnie Hawkin's home in Mississauga, in order to rehearse with Rick Danko, acoustic bassist, who played for Ronnie, and Levon Helm on drums. The rehearsal lasted about two hours with Lenny quickly running through the numbers with Rick and Levon that he contemplated recording.

"The Hallmark Sessions" were recorded on November 28, 1961. Lenny, Rick Danko and Levon Helm recorded the seven Jazz numbers in stereo. Lenny then recorded the two Country & Western numbers and the four Flamenco numbers in mono. What was astounding to the recording engineers, and to everyone present, was that Lenny played the entire Jazz session without any rehearsal or interruption. After a short coffee break, Lenny played the Country & Western numbers, changed guitars, and played the four Flamenco numbers - again, without rehearsal or interruption. What has been produced on this CD, is in my estimation, the purest and finest work that Lenny ever performed or recorded.

The two original master tapes were boxed and marked by Hallmark with the date November 28, 1961, and the name LENNY MARTIN. Lenny was caught up in the excitement of recording, and thought he should change his name to one that was less difficult to pronounce and more appropriate for show business. He chose the Lenny Martin stage name perhaps because of Dean Martin's popularity at the time. This makeover was short-lived, and Lenny went back to use his given name soon after "The Hallmark Sessions."

In March 1962, when Lenny and his family moved from Winnipeg and stayed at my home, I had the pleasure of seeing and listening to Lenny practice and play for hours every day. This went on for months, interspersed with sessions with Don Francks, Lenny and Ian Henstridge, who named themselves 'Three', and in turn led to the famous Purple Onion session in Toronto.

There are two vignettes of importance that I recall and had the privilege to be part of in the spring/summer of 1962. The first vignette was a meeting that I arranged to have Lenny meet Tony Bennett on a Saturday morning at the O'Keefe Center in Toronto. Tony was rehearsing for a final evening performance and I had asked him to listen to Lenny. It was about ten in the morning on the stage of an empty auditorium, with only Tony, his piano player, Lenny and myself. Lenny's playing so impressed Tony that he asked Lenny to join him immediately as a permanent member of his tour for a three-year stint. Later that evening, I drove Tony to the airport (then called Malton) and had to tell him that Lenny turned him down. Many years later, I learned that Lenny said it was the biggest mistake of his life. The second vignette was when Lenny and I were in New York, and on a particular evening, decided to drop in at Birdland to hear John Coltrane. (Coltrane was about to record, or had just recorded his album "John Coltrane Live at Birdland"). After listening to a set, Lenny, who invariably carried his acoustic guitar with him, approached Coltrane and asked if he could sit in. I recall John looking Lenny up and down and at some of the group, and they nodded their consent. This acceptance, without knowing anything about Lenny, who could have been a dud for all they knew, was typical of the mutual respect and brotherhood between musicians. It must be remembered that Coltrane's Jazz in 1962 was better known for experimentation, including playing the same chord three or four different ways within a single measure, as well as overlapping chords, before the change was intended to occur. This type of eccentric and unorthodox playing, which most musicians and guitarists could not comprehend, nor play, appealed to Lenny. The rest of the evening with Coltrane and his group was also memorable. When Lenny sat in, after plugging his guitar into one of the speakers, he initially just played chords to get a feel for what was happening. In the following number, when Lenny's turn came to play, the effect was electrifying. Coltrane leaned over with eyes wide-open, looked at Lenny's hands, and smiled. During the remainder of that session, which lasted for at least another two hours, Lenny played with authority with the great John Coltrane, and on many of his licks, Lenny led the charge.

"The Hallmark Sessions" tapes have been stored behind several wine-racks for the last forty-one years, and since then, only listened to for the first time on June 20, 2003, with Paul G. Kohler, the Producer of this CD. Lenny's playing brought back a flood of memories, his laugh, his infectious stutter, his phenomenal ability to play Jazz, Flamenco, Country & Western, my friendship with him and the thought that I had had the privilege of having known a truly great guitarist.

Lenny Breau's life was cut short. He will be missed, but not forgotten.

- George B. Sukornyk
July 31, 2003


Reviews


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William Piburn - Fingerstyle Guitar Magazine

"The Hallmark Sessions" is a fascinating CD!
Rarely would we classify a recording as a must have, however in this case order now! Long after the death of this important guitarist, his recordings still remain important artifacts of one of the greatest musicians to ever play the instrument. His improvisation and creative genius was in a league of its own. "The Hallmark Sessions" is a fascinating CD!

Elliott Simon

Breau in a word is awesome!!
Breau in a word is awesome and to think that his playing was this developed at such a young age is mind
boggling. The fast runs, the polyrhythms, his adeptness at accompanying himself while playing lead and
his proficiency at slipping from country to jazz to flamenco and back are all here. The "Hallmark Sessions"
are the beginning piece of the Lenny Breau legacy.

D. Oscar Groomes - O's Place Jazz Newsletter

Lenny was born to play guitar...
Midway into "I'll Remember April", we are convinced that Breau could burn on guitar as well as anyone and with
endurance. He plays swinging country bluegrass, a bit of blues, "Oscar's Blues", cookin' bop and flamenco. While
we preferred the burners, the intensity that Lenny brought on made all of his tunes enjoyable. Lenny was born to
play guitar and this 1961 session captures him near the beginning when he was already a virtuoso. Unfortunately,
he spent the greater part of his life in Canada away from the jazz mainstream. I take my hat off in respect.

Joseph Lang - Jersey Jazz

This is the work of a genius in the making.
It is amazing to hear how effortlessly Breau moves from one genre to another, exhibiting mastery in all of them.
He was not yet 21 years of age at the time of the recording. This is the work of a genius in the making.
His technical ability is matched by his imaginative conceptual approach to the music on this album.

Frazier Mohawk

ESSENTIAL!
ESSENTIAL! GET IT!

Rod M.

What a remarkable player, a true genius...
It is a wonderful disc, and I congratulate you , and praise you, for releasing it. It fills a void in the Breau discography. What a remarkable player, a true genius...

Tom N.

Lenny is one of my all time favorite's.
Lenny is one of my all time favorite's. I thank you folks very much for bringing this CD to the world. Lenny was unbelievable.

Ron

For Breau fans this is the holy grail of his posthumous releases
For Breau fans this is the holy grail of his posthumous releases: Lenny Breau at 20 years of age, in top form playing jazz with a trio. It's astonishing to see how incredible Lenny's playing was at this point-innovative and full of endlessly creative ideas and techniques. Besides several jazz standards, this CD also includes Lenny's earliest flamenco work, some excellent Atkins style playing and a Brazilian tune. Fantastic music throughout and a total eye-opener. Finally! A new recording of unreleased material by Lenny Breau that actually captures him at his best, is well recorded and contains excellent, accurate liner notes.

George S.

The purest and finest work that Lenny ever performed or recorded.
"The Hallmark Sessions" were recorded on November 28, 1961. Lenny, Rick Danko and Levon Helm recorded the seven Jazz numbers in stereo. Lenny then recorded the two Country & Western numbers and the four Flamenco numbers in mono. What was astounding to the recording engineers, and to everyone present, was that Lenny played the entire Jazz session without any rehearsal or interruption. After a short coffee break, Lenny played the Country & Western numbers, changed guitars, and played the four Flamenco numbers - again, without rehearsal or interruption. What has been produced on this CD, is in my estimation, the purest and finest work that Lenny ever performed or recorded.

Steve R.

This CD would make a great addition to any jazz guitar fans collection.
I found this CD intriguing for several reasons. A.) It is from the early 60's, many years prior to Breau's first album release on RCA records. B.) The level of Breau's playing at this point in time is simply superb. Despite the fact that he was still perfecting his craft and just beginning to learn how to play jazz, his style is very well formed and very musical. This CD would make a great addition to any jazz guitar fans collection.
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