Jothan Callins- Winds of Change
Jothan Callins released one album as a band leader- Winds of Change, which captures everything that I revel in when listening to the less well travelled jazz records I’ve been seeking: engaging compositions, stunning performances and impressive sonics. Though Callins was known as a bassist, he plays trumpet on this album (Cecil McBee handles the bass and glorious it is).
Released as a one and done on Triumph Records, there is a little information about Callins and almost nothing about the sessions. Born in Birmingham, Alabama, Callins played with a long list of luminaries, was an educator and obtained his Masters degree at the University of Pittsburgh (where Nathan Davis directed the jazz studies program). He established the Birmingham Youth Jazz Ensemble (BYJE) in addition to becoming the first Jazz Artist in Residence in the Birmingham Public Schools. At the time this record was released, Callins was teaching in NYC.
Winds of Change is apparently the only album which Callins released as a band leader. It’s stunning and worth the effort and expense to find a copy.
The attractions of this album are evident from the opening notes: everything is “just so,” from a silky trumpet, tinkling piano and sinewy bass tones. Cecil McBee’s bass work in combination with piano—used not only for melodic runs but as a rhythm instrument –is so soulful; there’s a bowed bass section a few minutes into the first track, “Prayer for Love and Peace” that takes the listener on an excursion from the main theme. And then we return. It’s glorious.
The second track, “Winds of Change,” starts with struck percussion, then the band enters in unison—setting up a riff that allows for a cool descending scale on the horn. Connor’s drum work is a marvel. This is an all-star band and it shows—not by excesses but the sheer level of musicianship on display as they work their way through the complexities of this piece.
It’s not so far out as to be cacophony, but it requires a little attention. And that’s where the pay-off is: listen to the intricate right hand on the piano mid-way through the piece or McBee’s use of the high notes of a chord to underscore the piano part. There is a percussion solo, followed by a held note on the trumpet and time for McBee to plays these twisted figures on the bass (along with some spacey sounding emanations) before we come back to the band; the drum sounds here are very real as the band builds a tempo. Through this, Callins is calling on the trumpet and the piano sets us on another whirl, with yet another twist on the theme. It’s a hell of a set, in one composition.
Side 2 starts with a slower, more contemplative tone in “Sons and Daughters of the Sun,” as the trumpet leads, the snare rattles, and the bass thrums. McBee picks it up with plucked notes on the bass, great hand struck drums and the piano plays a repeated figure over which Callins trumpets a groove. This piece is a real showcase for Callins—and though he is exploring a lot of territory, Callins never loses the thread. This band is tightly behind him all the way until the beautiful finish in a wash of minor notes (catch the strumming on the bass toward the very end).
The second track on this side, “Triumph,” also begins with a mellow melodic line from Callins, with a stop and shuffle, some cool brush work on the drums and kicking bass work. The piano is full and rich; everybody is synching to a cool beat- then an ostinato on the piano that acts as a signal for change- the whole band shifts to a different rhythm as Callins leads and defines the pace. The piece gets intricate, but never confusing. There is some sustain and the harmonic overtones of the instruments at the end of the track clue you in to how good this album can sound.
Sound quality overall is first rate. The gain on the second track of the second side sounds somewhat diminished compared to the other tracks, but a tweak of the volume control took care of that. Copies aren’t entirely scarce but they are now pricey. Mine came in shrink with the folded 4-sided paper insert.
This album isn’t really obscure among collectors but it certainly isn’t mainstream. It’s also as good an introduction as any into the world of private label, “rare groove” jazz. Though he only released one album as a band leader, and passed away while still in his prime, Winds of Change is as fitting a tribute to Jothan Callins as any. A gorgeous record.
 Credits include work with: Max Roach, Sun Ra, B.B. King, Lionel Hampton, Stevie Wonder, Milt Jackson and Chuck Mangione, among others.
 According to the BYJE web site (still up as of this writing), Callins specialized performance/workshops for children and adults and developed jazz programs for elementary, middle and high schools across the country.