© -Steven Cerra. Copyright protected; all rights reserved.
“In Big Band Renaissance (Smithsonian), an expertly compiled and annotated five-CD collection of 75 recordings made between 1941 and 1991, Bill Kirchner issues a gentle polemic and a firm corrective to those for whom big band music is shrouded in the fog of Glenn Miller's reed section. His intention is to show how the death of the Swing Era liberated big bands, and to induce wonder at the postwar accomplishment. Kirchner is himself an arranger, bandleader, and saxophonist, and his choices are weighted to represent the arrangers—though the soloists are also here, from Charlie Parker to John Coltrane. It's easy to quibble with selections—and in a minute I will—but it must be said of this compilation (as was said of Martin Williams's Smithsonian Collection of Classic Jazz) that its strength derives from the integrity of the compiler. This is no faceless assortment. It has pride and prejudice — a point of view.”
- Garry Giddins, Weather Bird: Jazz At The Dawn of Its Second Century
A recent reading of Garry’s essay - #34 They Never Went Away (Big Bands) - in his Weather Bird compilation prompted a re-posting of this piece. That, plus the fact that videos that conclude it were released from copyright restriction.
Bill Kirchner’s conclusion on The Inner Working of A Big Band is a classic description of the subject.
Sadly, the Smithsonian isn’t into Jazz recordings anymore.
The institution with it’s mission of preserving and perpetuating things related to Americana has discontinued its involvement with issuing recorded compendiums of the music.
I have no idea why it made the decision to abandon producing Jazz anthologies such as The Smithsonian Collection of Classic Jazz or Big Band Jazz: From the Beginnings to the Fifties, but I suspect that it may have something to do with the fact that many Americans today have little interest in Jazz.
Fortunately, for me, and quite by happenstance, an Australian internet acquaintance was having trouble negotiating the Smithsonian website during the early days of ecommerce and put out a call for help [sometime during the mid-1990’s] to the members of a Jazz chat group to which we both belonged.
I volunteered to try my luck on his behalf and luckily succeeded in ordering two copies of Big Band Renaissance: The Evolution of the Jazz Orchestra, the 1940s and Beyond.
After sending one boxed-set safely on its way “down under,” I sampled my copy and was as pleased with the written annotation accompanying the 4 CD set as I was with the music it contained.
The booklet’s introductory essay and the annotations for each of the retrospective 75 tracks were written by Bill Kirchner, who, as you may be aware, is a composer-arranger, multi-reed player, educator and editor of The Oxford Companion to Jazz. Bill also hosts Jazz from the Archives, a periodic radio series on WBGO. You can visit with Bill at his website.
Talk about a stroke of luck, if it hadn’t been for this Aussie friend-in-need, I might have missed out on this excellent retrospective of American big band Jazz from the Second World War until the close of the 20th century.
Incidentally, used copies of Big Band Renaissance: The Evolution of the Jazz Orchestra, the 1940s and Beyond are still available from CD resellers.
According to Bill’s acknowledgements, Bruce Talbot “… conceived the project and enabled it to become a reality.”
Both Bruce and Bill kindly granted the editorial staff at JazzProfiles permission to share the following excerpts from the series booklet.
© -Bill Kirchner; used with the permission of the author. Copyright protected; all rights reserved.
“This collection is intended as a follow-up to Big Band Jazz: From the Beginnings to the Fifties (Smithsonian Collection of Recordings RD/RC 030), compiled and annotated by Gunther Schuller and the late Martin Williams in 1983. The objective of that set was to trace the growth and development of the idiom from its beginnings to an arbitrary (by necessity) cut-off point at mid-century. By that time, the swing era had passed, and big bands were no longer the cynosure of either jazz or popular music. As author Ted Gioia observed, "In the early 1950s, jazz was undergoing a major upheaval; it was ceasing to be the popular music of the land and was evolving into a serious music for dedicated aficionados."
Until the end of the swing era, virtually all of the hundreds of working big bands—from the most jazz-oriented to the most commercial "Mickey Mouse" varieties—functioned primarily as dance and show bands. Engagements at ballrooms and dance pavilions, movie theaters, and hotels were mainstays of their bookings. True, the most ambitious of them entertained other aspirations: Benny Goodman led his band (along with guests from the Duke Ellington and Count Basie bands) in a famous 1938 Carnegie Hall concert, and in 1943 Ellington began a string of annual Carnegie Hall appearances, lasting through the decade, for which he wrote a series of extended works, the first and most famous of which was Black, Brown and Beige. Other big-band leaders, most notably Artie Shaw and Stan Kenton, chafed under the limitations imposed upon them by the entertainment industry and sought ways to expand the vocabulary and resources of popular music; several bands, for example, chose to add string sections, some more successfully than others. But for reasons we will explore presently, the number of big bands declined precipitously after 1946, and those of a jazz stripe that continued to function did so under new rules.
Our survey of these bands is divided into road bands, part-time bands, studio bands, and the avant-garde. The road bands were full-time ensembles that in most cases spent the bulk of each year on tour. Of the major swing-era jazz bands, those that survived into the ensuing decades were the Ellington, Basie, Kenton, Woody Herman, Harry James, and Lionel Hampton bands. Other more commercial entities such as the Glenn Miller, Tommy Dorsey, and Jimmy Dorsey orchestras continued as "ghost bands" after their leaders had died.
As the business risks of leading a road band became immeasurably greater, there emerged a number of major jazz orchestras that can best be described as part-time bands. Such groups assemble on a limited basis and, however praiseworthy their music might be, are not intended to provide full-time employment for their members. These ensembles are frequently described as "rehearsal bands," but that term does not do the most active of them justice. Many part-time bands have recorded (some of them extensively), appeared in clubs and concerts, and have even toured internationally; for this reason, Thad Jones and Mel Lewis, among others, resented the rehearsal-band label. While big bands declined as full-time touring aggregations and as the focus of popular music, they remained a backbone of recording until well into the 1960s. In a number of key cities—New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Toronto, London, and others—studio musicians recorded daily in ensembles put together for specific recording projects. Most of this work was non-jazz in nature—music for television and radio commercials, singers' recordings, film and television scores—but, not infrequently, record companies were willing to fund orchestral jazz on an ad hoc basis in the 50s and 60s. A great deal of the best post-1945 big band jazz was conceived for the recording studio, or for concerts presented primarily as opportunities for recording. As author Max Harrison has commented, "Despite their undoubted — if somewhat overrated — contribution to jazz, the swing bands, once established, stood in the way of further orchestral developments. These could only resume when the bands came off the road and orchestral jazz was created by ad hoc groups assembled mainly, if not exclusively, for recording purposes. Such conditions allowed far more varied instrumentation than hitherto, a wider choice of repertoire — which no longer had to be orientated to a dancing public — and the application of more diverse techniques of writing."
The last section is devoted to orchestral developments in the jazz avant-garde, which for our purposes can be defined as post-Ornette Coleman "new music." Like its postwar antecedents bebop, "cool" jazz, and hard bop, avant-garde jazz is primarily small-group music, but there have been efforts at using the language (or, more accurately, languages) of the avant-garde in orchestral settings. A few of the most successful are heard in this collection.
It goes without saying that some of the bands heard here do not fit neatly into a single category. The Les Brown band, for instance, was a road band until the 50s and thereafter was heard primarily on records and as a studio band on television, though it continued to make annual USO trips with Bob Hope as well as occasional appearances on its own. The Elgart brothers had bands that often played for dances, but the recordings were done with a mixture of studio musicians and road personnel—none of whom were identified on the album jackets, by the way. And Dizzy Gillespie's mid-50s orchestra, included herein as a part-time band, did two State Department tours and some other engagements but was laid off and reassembled while Gillespie participated in one of Norman Granz's Jazz at the Philharmonic tours as a featured soloist. But this Gillespie band lasted longer than, say, Artie Shaw's 1949 road band, which had a lifespan of only a few months.
In any case, the categories are used as a convenience. Most important is that all of the ensembles heard in this collection have exceptional musical merit, and all of the selections picked represent their best, though not necessarily their most typical, jazz efforts; the Billy May selection is a case in point.
Big Band Renaissance begins with Jay McShann's Swingmatism because that recording, with its featured soloist Charlie Parker, portends the beginning of post-swing era orchestral jazz as much as any one recording can. (Ironically, other McShann pieces featuring Parker that could have made that point even more emphatically went unrecorded.) All of the other selections date from 1945 and later and represent the blossoming of orchestral jazz as a listener's—as opposed to a dancer's—music. In a few cases, recordings are used that are not big-band formats as such, but that illustrate specific aspects of big-band craftsmanship—the Benny Carter and Curtis Fuller-Manny Albam selections, for example.
I have sought to avoid re-treading ground already covered in Schuller and Williams's Big Band Jazz set, so no selections by such bands as the 1940s Dizzy Gillespie band, Woody Herman's First and Second Herds, and the Claude Thornhill band are featured. Exceptions to this rule include the Boyd Raeburn band, this time represented by a George Handy composition. Handy's work—not included in the earlier set—was, I believe, central to the Raeburn band's impact.
In all, these 75 recordings represent a half-century of artistry in a musical genre that author Gene Lees has aptly called "the first important new orchestral formation since the symphony orchestra took shape in the time of C. P. E. Bach." Of course, any collection such as this can serve only as a sampling, and space limitations rear their ugly heads. There are many worthy bands and composer-arrangers who could not be included because of such limitations, and for that reason the listener is urged to continue pursuing the subject.
Whatever an individual's tastes may be, we hope that the diverse delights of post-swing era big band jazz will be a revelation and will lead to further investigation of its riches.
THE RISE, FALL, AND REBIRTH OF BIG BAND JAZZ
What is commonly known as the swing era (or, synonymously if not altogether accurately, the big-band era) lasted for little over a decade. Its unofficial inaugural was the Benny Goodman band's triumph at the Palomar Ballroom in Los Angeles on 21 August 1935, and the equally unofficial end came in December 1946 when eight popular leaders— Les Brown, Benny Carter, Tommy Dorsey, Goodman, Woody Herman, Ina Ray Hutton, Harry James, and Jack Teagarden—disbanded their orchestras almost overnight. While this turn of events did not mean the end of big bands, it did signal that the conditions that had facilitated their predominance were changing. We'll explore these conditions in a moment, but first it should be stated that big bands evolved over a period of at least two decades prior to the Goodman band's ascendance. Commentators such as Gunther Schuller, James T. Maher, and James Lincoln Collier have explored these beginnings in detail, but the following will serve as a brief summary.
In the second decade of this century the prototypes of the big band originated in early dance orchestras such as those of Art Hickman and George Morrison, as well as the 369th Infantry Hell Fighters Band, a 50-piece African-American ensemble led by James Reese Europe during World War I. In the 1920s and early 30s the developments were continued by both black orchestras (e.g., Fletcher Henderson's, Duke Ellington's, McKinney's Cotton Pickers) and white ones (Paul Whiteman's, the California Ramblers, Jean Goldkette's). There was much cross-pollination between the black and white orchestras, and their collective innovations were crystallized by a few key arrangers, including Ferde Grofe, Bill Challis, Ellington, Don Redman, John Nesbitt, Benny Carter, Gene Gifford, and Fletcher and Horace Henderson. Redman (1900-1964), who in the 20s was the chief writer for Fletcher Henderson and McKinney, incorporated Louis Armstrong's rhythmic innovations, the basis of "swing," into big-band scoring. Furthermore, he used the call-and-response (antiphonal) pattern common in black music and, along with Henderson, popularized it as a mainstay of big-band arranging—pitting trumpet, trombone, and reed sections against each other and then combining them. This became the modus operandi for most swing-era bands; Ellington, who conceived his orchestra as a collection of individual voices to be mixed at will, provided the most distinctive alternative.
By the mid-30s, these bands and numerous others—the Casa Loma, Earl Hines, Jimmie Lunceford, Bennie Moten, and Chick Webb orchestras as well as "sweet" bands ranging from Guy Lombardo's to Hal Kemp's—had advanced the concept of the big band to the point where a breakthrough to mass popularity could occur. Goodman's triumph at the Palomar ignited that breakthrough, which was largely made possible through radio: earlier that year, young West Coast fans had listened with particular attention to Goodman's live national broadcasts on the Let's Dance program, and had also bought his recordings. Unbeknownst to Goodman, these fans were waiting for him at the Palomar, as were many members of the Los Angeles music community.
From the start, then, radio was the greatest source of exposure for the big bands, and this remained so throughout the swing era. Four major radio networks broadcasted the big bands every night, including "remotes" done from hotels, ballrooms, and dance pavilions throughout America. In fact, until the 1940s, record companies prohibited the playing of commercial recordings on the radio; only specially licensed "transcriptions" were permitted airplay. This prohibition was increasingly ignored, and a number of artists and record companies sued to prevent airplay of their recordings. The suits ultimately were unsuccessful, and the result was the rise of commercial radio as we know it today—disc jockeys, "hit parades" and, later, "top forty," and the decline of live music on the air.
Another business-related development also had long-term cultural effects. In 1941 the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP) demanded an increase in money paid by radio broadcasters to ASCAP composers, among whom were most of the major Broadway songwriters. The broadcasters refused and a ten-month battle ensued, during which ASCAP-licensed music could not be played on the radio. This led to the rise of Broadcast Music Inc. (BMI), a rival licensing organization founded by the broadcasters. The dispute was resolved—in the broadcasters' favor—and as author Albert McCarthy has pointed out, "By this time BMI had destroyed the Tin Pan Alley monopoly, and writers and publishers of country and blues material found an outlet for their work that had previously been denied to them." This development aided the national rise of formerly regional genres such as country, folk, and rhythm-and-blues. And a decade or so later, it led to rock-and-roll.
But the most serious industry blow to big bands was the American Federation of Musicians (AF of M) recording ban, begun on 1 August 1942 and not fully resolved until November 1944. Federation president James C. Petrillo, fearful that the playing of recordings on radio and jukeboxes constituted a threat to live music, wanted the recording companies to prohibit the use of records in these media. Petrillo eventually revised his strategy, demanding instead a tax on recording dates which, once agreed upon, ultimately led to the establishment of the Music Performance Trust Fund, to this day an important funder of live music concerts of all sorts that are presented to the public free of charge.
Before this settlement, however, the union enforced a ban on the recording of instrumental music. This ban did not include singers, who were not Federation members; they continued to record, albeit only with choral backing, and by the end of World War II solo singers had outdistanced the bands as the dominating force in popular music. Also benefiting were small record labels, which settled with the union earlier than did the three majors, Columbia, Decca, and RCA Victor. The non-majors, with their lower budgets, tended to record small-group music of various kinds, in the process breaking the dominance of both the Big Three and big bands.
World War II of course created a slew of problems. Large numbers of musicians were drafted into the armed services, seriously depleting the ranks of bands, and gas rationing made travel more difficult for both bands and the public, as did midnight curfews. On top of all this was a 20-percent tax on "entertainment" (bands that played for dancing or that included singers), which discouraged dancing; the tax, in fact, lasted well beyond the war years.
For that matter, the effects of most of these problems, along with new ones, continued to mount even after the end of the war. A postwar recession and the return of veterans eager to settle down led to a reduction in spending for live music, and the introduction of television made most people that much more eager to stay at home. A second AF of M recording ban, lasting through most of 1948, simply worsened an already deteriorating situation. For the bandleaders, the costs of keeping a band on the road—salaries, transportation, lodging—kept growing. So did their nightly performance fees, which to some extent eventually priced them out of the market.
As for the music, it was growing, too, or at least the best, most jazz-oriented of it was. The innovations of bebop, in the main a small-group music, were leaving listeners dazzled, bewildered, or repelled, but in any case, jazz was drifting further and further away from dancers and dance tempos. For the most musically ambitious big-band leaders—Stan Kenton being a case in point—this was a welcome development even though most road bands still maintained a "dance book," since dances remained an important part of their bookings. Kenton was fortunate in that he was able to develop a large audience for a good deal of the music he wanted to play. Few post-swing era jazz orchestras, whatever their musical merits, have been able to make that claim.
Road bands, part-time bands, studio ensembles, and avant-garde configurations have all contributed to the wealth of big band jazz produced during the past half-century, but there are other milieus that should be mentioned as well. One is the rhythm-and-blues tributary, which produced some noteworthy orchestras, including those led by Les Hite, Lucky Millinder, composer-arranger Buddy Johnson, Johnny Otis, and more recently, singer Ray Charles.
Another is the largely European institution of state-supported big bands, many of which exist primarily for broadcasting. The British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) sponsored one as early as the mid-1930s; one of the orchestra's arrangers was Benny Carter. In the post-World War II era, the most notable among such orchestras have been the WDR band in Cologne, the Danish Radio Orchestra, the UMO Jazz Orchestra in Finland, and the Swedish Radio Big Band. Interestingly, many of these bands have imported Americans as resident conductors (Thad Jones, Bob Brookmeyer, Jiggs Whigham, Bill Dobbins, and Rich Shemaria), and many other American musicians have moved to Europe to play with them.
In the United States, tax-supported jazz orchestras are rare, and most of the few that do exist are maintained by the armed services. The Air Force Airmen of Note, the Navy Commodores, and the Army Jazz Ambassadors are all based in Washington, D.C., and others are based in the hinterlands. Also, in a handful of American cities, municipally named jazz ensembles have been founded.
Since the 1970s a new big-band development reflecting a growing interest in jazz history has gained momentum. Jazz repertory had its beginnings with the worthy but short-lived New York Jazz Repertory Company and Chuck Israels's National Jazz Ensemble, and other such ensembles have followed: the now-defunct American Jazz Orchestra, the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra, the Carnegie Hall Jazz Band, the Smithsonian Jazz Masterworks Orchestra, and bands led by Loren Schoenberg and Walt Levinsky. All of these bands have, in varying ways, concentrated on works of the past.
But the most important refuge for big bands has been the jazz education movement. Begun in earnest after World War II and based in large part on the foundation of big bands (or, as they were euphemistically known for years, "stage bands"), jazz education has flourished. In the United States alone there are thousands (estimates range between 15,000 and 20,000) of secondary schools with big bands, and hundreds of colleges. The best of the college bands, including those at the University of North Texas (formerly North Texas State), the Berklee College of Music, the Eastman School of Music, Indiana University, the University of Illinois, and elsewhere, play on a professional or near-professional level, and many of the finest jazz musicians of the past three decades have emerged from these programs.
The irony of this situation is that, all of this activity notwithstanding, professional opportunities for jazz orchestras are not expanding but may in fact be diminishing even further. Most of the few remaining road bands have become history in the past decade, or now work sporadically as ghost bands. Travel costs continue to mount, performance opportunities have declined in number and often do not pay a living wage when they do exist, and most commercial record companies display little interest in big bands. In recent years it has become the norm for aspiring leaders of big bands to produce (and pay for) recordings of their groups and then to "shop the master tapes" in hopes of having them released commercially by a label. The days when big-band leaders made lots of money are obviously long gone.
In the future it may be that big bands will survive in the way that symphony orchestras currently exist: through public and private subsidy or under educational auspices. There are pros and cons to such arrangements, but it remains to be seen whether jazz orchestras and their music continue to evolve or become period ensembles playing music of the past. Regardless of what happens, the music—big band jazz—deserves to endure, and no doubt it will.
THE INNER WORKINGS OF A BIG BAND
Despite the abundance of big-band recordings and fans thereof, there is frequently a lack of understanding about how these bands are organized. Some words about this will, I hope, add to the enjoyment of the music.
As most listeners know, a standard big band instrumentation comprises a trumpet section (usually four players), a trombone section (usually two or three tenor trombones and a bass trombone), a saxophone section (usually two altos, two tenors, and a baritone), and a rhythm section (piano, bass, and drums, frequently guitar, and occasionally additional percussion). The trumpet, trombone, and saxophone sections each have a leader, known to musicians as "lead players."
Lead players in big bands set the phrasing (how the written notes and phrases are articulated) and dynamics (degrees of loudness or softness); the ability to do this, and command a section in general, is a special skill, and a number of musicians have had distinguished careers as lead players. This is especially true of lead trumpet players, who have to dominate the entire band—not a job for the weak of nerve. In the trumpet personnel listings for the selections, certain names appear again and again: Cat Anderson, John Audino, Buddy Childers, Bernie Glow, Conrad Gozzo, Jimmy Maxwell, Al Porcino, Ernie Royal, Nick Travis, and Snooky Young. These are among the finest lead trumpeters in the history of big band jazz.
Many discographies and other listings of big-band personnel tend to muddle the order, especially of trumpet and trombone sections. The listings are often alphabetical or haphazard, giving no inkling of the actual makeup of the sections. When possible, I have attempted to list the section players in the order of the chairs they played, a matter complicated somewhat by the fact that trumpet and tenor trombone players tend to pass parts around the sections. Because of the nature of brass instruments, lead trumpet and trombone playing is physically demanding, and it is common for lead players to exchange certain parts with other musicians in their section in order to give themselves a rest.
Until recently, lead players, especially trumpeters, tended to be non-improvisers or only occasional ones, although this situation has changed somewhat. Improvising trumpet players normally play the third or fourth book in a section, trombone players lead or second.
In the saxophone section (sometimes called the reed section), things are somewhat different. The lead alto player is more likely to keep all of the first parts and to be an improviser; lead alto players, like lead brass players, sit in the center of the section in order to be best heard. All of the saxophonists may well be improvisers, though the tenors tend to be the most featured.
Most swing-era saxophonists were also expected to "double" on clarinet, and baritone players on bass clarinet. With the advent of the Boyd Raeburn and Sauter-Finegan bands, doubling took on a whole new complexity, and the results were very influential, especially for studio recording. It is now common for big-band saxophonists to double on flutes (which, unlike other woodwinds, do not have reeds) and clarinets, and sometimes on soprano and bass saxophones, piccolo, bass clarinet, alto and bass flutes, oboe, English horn, and bassoon. (Gil Evans took things a step further by eliminating the saxophone section from most of his bands and using mixed woodwinds instead.)
The rhythm section is the foundation of any big band, or for that matter, any jazz ensemble. All of the players have time-keeping functions, and all except the drummer (and non-mallet percussionists, if any) have harmonic functions as well. It is particularly important for the bassist and drummer to hook up rhythmically as a team; it is often said that the most important musicians in a big band are the drummer, the bassist, and the lead trumpeter. If all of these players do their jobs well, the rest of the band will follow.”
Here are three examples from the 75 annotations that Bill prepared to accompany the tracks in the Big Band Renaissance anthology along with a video tribute to the bands of Charlie Barnet, Buddy Rich and Clare Fischer, respectively, to give you an example of the music on hand in the collection and Bill’s excellent insights and observations about it.
CHARLIE BARNET AND HIS ORCHESTRA – EUGIEPELLIV [MUS. PAUL VILLEPIGUE]
Arr., Paul Villepigue. Rec. 1/16/49, New York. First issue Capitol T624; mx 3385-1D1.
John Howell, Tony DiNardi, Lainmar Wright Jr., Doc Severinsen, Dave Burns (t); Dick Kenney, Obie Masingill (tb); Kenny Martlock (btb); Barnet (ss); Vinnie Dean, Art Raboy (as); Kurt Bloom, Dave Matthews (ts); Danny Bank (bars); Claude Williamson (p); Eddie Safranski (b); Cliff Leeman (d); Diego Ibarra (bgo): Carlos Vidal (cga).
Soloists: Ibarra and Vidal; Barnet; Wright(?).
“Charlie Barnet [1913-91] re-formed his band around the same time as [Benny] Goodman did [late 1948], and it lasted about the same amount of time, but Barnet embraced the new music [Bebop], whereas Goodman merely tolerated it. Barnet acquired arrangements from a variety of forward-looking writers, including Gil Fuller, Manny Albam, Paul Villepigue, Tiny Kahn, Obie Masingill, and Dave Matthews, and he put together a band whose enthusiasm matched his. It included a five-man trumpet section with powerhouse players; others who passed through the section included Maynard Ferguson, Ray Wetzel, and Rolf Ericsson. (During this period, Stan Kenton was inactive, and Capitol Records apparently was hoping that the new Barnet band could fill the void. Barnet's orchestra, incidentally, was one of the first after Kenton's to use a bass trombone.)
One of the band's most interesting recordings was Eugipelliv, the title obviously the backward spelling of its composer's surname. At its core a blues in G-minor, the piece is an amalgam of rich Ellington-like saxophone scoring (led by the leader's soprano), Latin rhythmic elements, and Villepigue's considerable originality. Barnet also recorded Villepigue's lovely ballad Lonely Street, but what could have become a major writing career was tragically cut short in 1953 when Villepigue took his own life at the age of 33.
Barnet himself continued to lead bands for "pickup" engagements and occasional recordings as late as the 1970s.”
THE BUDDY RICH BIG BAND Goodbye Yesterday [MUS. DON PIESTRUP)
Arr., Don Piestrup. Rec. 7/10/68, Las Vegas. First issue World Pacific Jazz ST-20133.K
Al Porcino, Kenneth Faulk, David Gulp, Bill Prince (t); Jim Trimble, Rick Stepton (tb); Peter Graves (btb); Art Pepper, Charles Owens (as); Don Menza, Pat LaBarbera (ts); John Laws (bars); Joe Azarello (p); Walt Namuth (g); Gary Walters (b); Rich (d).
Soloists: Prince; Menza.
“Buddy Rich (1917-87) was a phenomenon: an enfant terrible who became, after stints with Artie Shaw and Tommy Dorsey, one of the most in-demand drummers of the swing era. He formed his own big band in 1946 and led one intermittently into the early 50s, but from then until 1966 Rich alternated between leading his own small group and working as a sideman, most frequently with Harry James.
In April 1966 Rich left a lucrative position with James and formed a new big band. This time, through a mixture of showmanship, a shrewd choice of material (including arrangements of current pop fare that attracted a young audience), and frequent television exposure, Rich achieved the success as a big-band leader that had eluded him in the 40s. For the rest of his life he maintained, with only short hiatuses, a road band that remained a popular concert attraction.
The band's music ranged from the substantial to the superficial, but to all of it the leader brought his own unsparing intensity. (Though he was a renowned terror to his musicians, Rich employed an abundance of exceptional, and mostly young, players.) Some of the most advanced writing was done by Don Piestrup (b. 1937), a freelance composer-arranger whose jazz activity was documented principally by the Rich band; Piestrup eventually settled into a career writing jingles and commercial music. Goodbye Yesterday is one of Piestrup's best efforts, and it's a good example of his style: a fusion of Bill Holman-like linearity with some of the newer harmonic ideas that were in the air in the 60s.
The band's performance has the searing quality typical of Rich. Though he was a widely acknowledged nonpareil technician—the highlight of any Rich concert was an extended drum solo—he was a superb ensemble player as well, and that quality is heard throughout this track, recorded live at Caesar's Palace. Aside from Rich, the band's most heavily featured soloist was always a hard-driving tenor saxophonist, and Don Menza (b. 1936) here fills that role to perfection. Don't miss, though, the subtle rhythm section work of guitarist Walt Namuth.”
THE CLARE FISCHER BIG BAND Miles Behind (MUS., CLARE FISCHER)
Arr., Clare Fischer. Rec. fall 1968, Los Angeles. First issue Atlantic SD 1520; mx 15398.M "
Buddy Childers, Larry McGuire, Conte Candoli, Steve Huffsteter, Stewart Fischer (t); Gil Falco, Charley Loper, David Sanchez (tb); Morris Repass (btb); Gary Foster (as, pic); Kirn Richmond (as, fl); Lou Ciotti (ts, cl); Warne Marsh (ts); Bill Perkins (bars); John Lowe (bsx); Clare Fischer (p, el-p); Chuck Dornanico (b); Larry Bunker (d); unidentified cga.
Soloists: C. Fischer; Bunker; C. Fischer; Marsh; Candoli; Bunker.
“Since his move to Los Angeles from the Midwest in 1957, Clare Fischer (b. 1928) has been one of the most versatile musicians in residence on the West Coast—a singular stylist as pianist, organist, composer, and arranger. He first gained attention as musical director of the Hi-Lo's vocal group, then as arranger for recordings by Dizzy Gillespie, Cal Tjader, and others, and most of all as leader on a memorable series of record dates for Pacific Jazz in the early 60s.
Fischer's wide-ranging musical interests have always included a deep knowledge of Latin music; Miles Behind is a case in point. Written in 7/4 time, it has a tuneful melody and distinctive harmonies typical of Fischer, plus expert orchestration using instruments ranging from piccolo and bass saxophone to Fender Rhodes electric piano and congas. (Notice the use of six saxophones.) An especially clever touch comes after the trumpet solo: Fischer gives the baritone and bass saxophones a complex line, then places them in counterpoint while the other saxophones repeat that same line in a higher register.
Fischer's band, which played in the Los Angeles area in the late 60s, included some of that city's most prominent jazz musicians. Of the soloists, the standout was probably Warne Marsh (1927-87), a tenor saxophonist best known for his work with pianist Lennie Tristano in the 40s and 50s. Here Marsh plays one of the most unusual solos of his recording career, in a Latin setting rare for him.”