Jeff Sultanof


Articles, Publications and Links

NEW: A review of Ricky Riccardi’s book published in the ARSC Journal

Heart Full of Rhythm: The Big Band Years of Louis Armstrong. By Ricky Riccardi. NY: Oxford University Press, 2020. 432 pp., photos. ISBN 9780190914110. $34.95
“Armstrong was bigger than jazz.”
Ricky Riccardi’s thesis for his M.A. at Rutgers University was later adapted for the book “What a Wonderful World,” which dealt in detail about Armstrong’s later years leading a small group. Riccardi is now the director of research collections for the Louis Armstrong House Museum, and although he did not plan writing about Armstrong “in ‘backward’ fashion,” Riccardi has chosen to explore another era that has been misunderstood over the years: when Louis led a big band. He certainly had a lot of first-hand sources to work with, namely Armstrong’s legendary tape recordings of his thoughts, feelings, and reminiscences, as well as scrapbooks, jazz magazines, and the Black press of the period. One can’t say that the life of Armstrong is not well documented at this point in time, but any artist’s life needs context and insight to present his life and world to the lay reader as well as the scholar, and with great detail. Yet again, Riccardi has done that magnificently.
After writing about how Armstrong regularly sold out the Apollo Theater in Harlem, he tells us that Louis did not play the venue for the last nineteen years of his life. When Armstrong was inducted into the Apollo Hall of Fame, a prominent jazz writer (whom Riccardi does not name) told him that Armstrong “only played there a few times…(the Apollo is) not the institution for all of black music.” This one statement reveals how much this book is so needed, but Riccardi also points out that such writers as Gunther Schuller and James Lincoln Collier did him no favors either, looking at Armstrong through a filter in which he didn’t belong: as a jazz artist who betrayed his talent and pandered to the public. “He ultimately transcended the world of jazz – and for that, the jazz world never truly forgave him” is a statement of immense power, setting the reader up for what Armstrong really did accomplish.
The first part of Armstrong’s career is defined by King Oliver, Fletcher Henderson, and the Hot Fives and Sevens. This volume deals with the years of Armstrong’s transition from jazz legend to African-American superstar before the term was coined. As bad as Louis’ big bands sometimes were (and Riccardi reminds us that they often suffered from terrible playing, poor arrangements, and sloppy presentation), Armstrong himself was more often than not great to spectacular. He found a manager who was colorful to say the least, but ultimately took care of Louis, leaving him to do what he did best.
Jazz critics such as John Hammond and Leonard Feather routinely criticized Armstrong’s recordings and his live performances in harsh terms. One must remember that such words were often published to fuel controversy and sell copies of Down Beat and Metronome, but they were still hurtful. Like Glenn Miller, who was clear that he led a band to make money, Armstrong was an entertainer who knew he would have starved if he only played music jazz purists wanted him to play, even though the more traditional New Orleans jazz was being rediscovered by the late 1930s. If Jack Kapp at Decca Records asked him to record Hawaiian music, Louis figured Kapp could sell it, and he didn’t argue (Bing Crosby recorded Hawaiian music as well). Kapp even let Louis record Elder Eatmore routines originally performed by Bert Williams twenty years prior, which were very popular in the Black community (and on 12” platters no less; this was not juke box fare). That was part of Armstrong’s performance style as well. Armstrong didn’t want to recreate music he’d already played; he wanted his audience entertained so they would come back and see him again!!
The book begins as Tommy Rockwell represented Armstrong in 1929 and ends as Armstrong forms his “All-stars.” Rockwell was responsible for some of Louis’ most important and influential records, including “Star Dust,” a recording that Riccardi considers Armstrong’s greatest recording. He tells us that with each new Armstrong release, pop culture changed. The comedy, allusions to marijuana, and free use of African American slang as asides were all new and are still funny, especially the joyous way Armstrong delivers them. By the early 1930s, Armstrong was also appearing in the movies (his first film is regrettably lost), and although they have racist stereotypes, so did many other films of the era, and the footage of Armstrong as a young man is priceless.
Armstrong’s manager after Rockwell was Johnny Collins, who had a questionable background to put it mildly. That relationship finally ended when Collins got drunk during a trip to England and told Armstrong what music he should play during his shows. He called Armstrong a racial slur, and then took a swing at John Hammond who was also on the ship. Joe Glaser had been a prize fight manager, night club operator and eventually managed quite a few bands such as those led by Lionel Hampton, Les Brown, and Andy Kirk. He’d also sold fake diplomas to medical students, sold used cars, bred dogs, and owned whorehouses. When Louis came to Glaser to manage him, Glaser was broke, but he paid Collins $5000 for Armstrong’s contract, and got Louis’ career back in gear. Luis Russell’s big band became Armstrong’s big band. One of Armstrong’s earliest Decca sides is “Old Man Mose,” a song Zilner Randolph sold to Glaser for $50. It was a huge hit with Black audiences.
Louis was the first African-American jazz musician to publish an autobiography. When he appeared in “Pennies from Heaven,” he received top billing with Bing Crosby. He replaced Rudy Vallee on the Fleischmann’s Yeast Show on the NBC Blue Radio Network, another first for a Black entertainer. But this was also the era where Louis’ classic 1920s recordings were reissued, along with sides that never came out at the time. Beginning in 1940, Yale student George Avakian put together albums of “Hot Jazz Classics” with Armstrong’s participation, and the response was overwhelming. Recordings that hadn’t been in circulation in years were now admired for the masterpieces they were. But this backfired as well; suddenly these classic sides were being used to criticize what Armstrong was doing in the present day, and jazz critics even had the temerity to suggest that Armstrong’s finest days were well behind him. But Armstrong was tremendously popular during the war years and ignored critics. Audiences ignored them as well.
Riccardi reminds us that Armstrong hired and championed young musicians who would be key in the new jazz being played and heard in the mid-1940s. Kenny Clarke played drums for Louis until Glaser fired him, but Armstrong recognized that he brought something new to the music. Charles Mingus played bass for a short time. Dexter Gordon was 21 when he played with Louis’ band and got many solo opportunities. Personal happiness finally caught up with Armstrong in the form of Lucille Wilson, a dancer at the Cotton Club. It was thanks to her that Louis had a home in Corona, Queens that became the Armstrong museum. Although he was hardly a faithful man, the marriage was successful. What with bebop, the New Orleans revival, and the big band era slowing down after the war, it was inevitable that Louis would return to the small-group format. Louis was hardly a bopper, and didn’t want to go backward stylistically either. A Carnegie Hall concert on February 8, 1947 and especially the Town Hall concert on May 17 brought Louis back to small group playing for the rest of his career. That first group featured trombonist Jack Teagarden, in many ways Armstrong’s musical soul mate.
Riccardi does not worship his subject. He highlights some of the questionable songs Armstrong recorded (e.g., “When it’s Sleepy Time Down South,” “Shine”), but explains why Louis recorded them. In fact “Sleepy Time” became his theme. His feuds with musicians such as Zilner Randolph and Zutty Singleton were unfortunate and unpleasant. He left the running of his accompanying ensembles to Collins and Glaser; in 1940, Glaser fired six musicians, including the legendary Pops Foster, and cheaper musicians were hired.
We get Armstrong in his own words as much as possible, as well as sources that have not been commonly quoted. And Riccardi even explains where the term “Moldy Fig” came from.
We all know the obvious question: when is Volume 1 of the Armstrong saga going to be written? Ricky Riccardi has produced two masterpieces relating the story of a legendary musician who changed World Music. I can’t be the only one who is waiting for Ricky Riccardi to tell the rest of the Armstrong story his way. It is obvious it is in such good hands.

Over the years, I’ve written many reviews, articles, forewords, liner notes and miscellaneous bits. This page will be a resource to find them via their individual websites where currently available.


Experiencing Big Band Jazz: A Listener’s Companion. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2017

Information on this publication may be found on its own page listed below. It was designed for teachers as an added resource for use as a text for a course or for a music class. Sample lesson plans are included.


Interviews for “Experiencing Big Jazz: A Listener’s Companion.”

A television interview with Michael Fitzgerald

A radio interview with Judith Schlesinger


Kirchner, Bill, ed. (2005) Oxford Companion to Jazz. New York, N.Y.: Oxford University Press. ISBN: 019-512510-X

1) Jazz Repertory

2) Pre-Swing Era Big Bands, Jazz Composing and Arranging (co-authored with James Maher).


“The Miles Davis Nonet Manuscripts Lost and Found – From Manuscript to Publication” – Journal of Jazz Studies (Rutgers University), Vol. 7, No. 2


Adventures in Big Band Musicology – published 7/11/14 –


Award-winning writer Ted Gioia invited me to contribute to the website, an ambitious undertaking that produced many articles and reviews from the top writers in music; I was honored to be among them. The website was abandoned, and is now only available through Wayback Machine, which is accessed via the Internet Archive ( This is only a sampling of the hundreds of contributions I made. The texts for some of these articles are found below, with updates and corrections where appropriate; many of the original Word files were lost.


Bill Finegan –

Bill Finegan was one of the most gifted American composers in our history. I do not make this statement lightly. If we consider that someone who changes, adds to, and improves every song he sets for some ensemble somewhere, then Finegan joins that rarefied list that includes Evans, Farnon, Sauter and others.

His first recorded arrangement, “Lonesome Road” for Tommy Dorsey was so good that T.D. allowed it to take up two sides of a 10″ 78. For someone who was only 21, this was a great achievement. Finegan gave Glenn Miller some of the bandleader’s earliest hits, such as “Little Brown Jug”, and some of the most beautiful arrangements Miller had in his book, like “It’s Always You” and “A Handful of Stars.” Bill was always pushing the limit with Miller, who edited him unmercifully. I hope that the estate still has the many pages that Miller cut from Finegan’s scores to make them more commercial. That would be a Doctoral study.

Similarly, his work for Dorsey after his experience with Miller was often profoundly beautiful even as it swung up a storm (I’m thinking of “Wagon Wheels,” another gem). Dorsey clearly loved Bill’s writing; Bill said that that Tommy never changed anything he wrote.

Bill agonized over arrangements, even of pop tunes that didn’t deserve that much attention. One song that did became one of his finest arrangements, the standard “The Continental.” Bob Farnon told me that he visited Finegan in France when Bill was writing this classic setting and was trying to figure out an ending. He told Bill to finish the thing already, perhaps not realizing that what was easy for Farnon was often madness for Bill. “The Continental” is one of the finest arrangements for big band written by an American, an arrangement I have analyzed when I’ve taught arranging in the classroom. After hearing it many hundreds of times, it still surprises me.

The ensemble he led with Ed Sauter was a great adventure that few people really understood. It is no wonder that Bill had very mixed feelings about what happened to it. He told me that the band should have remained a studio ensemble that never toured, and he fought hard to have his way, but lost. Bill Kirchner has long suggested a complete Sauter-Finegan boxed set, and it is criminal that this was not done when he was alive.

I was fortunate to take a lesson with Bill. He was opinionated and a bit of a maverick. He could tell you precisely why he wrote something the way he did, and since I knew a great deal of his music, my meeting with him that day was something I will always treasure. He pointed out that when he arranged “The Continental” for Dorsey that he left out part of the song and no one ever noticed, and of course he was right. Go back to the recording and check this out for yourself. He couldn’t say enough good things about Ed Sauter; it was clear Bill considered him one of his favorite composers.

He liked the music I showed him and encouraged me. I feel sorry now that I did not continue working with him.

Over the years, I’ve accumulated about 30 of his scores, and I’ve learned from every one of them. Technically, they are assured and showed rare mastery of his materials. Musically, they are some of the finest examples of what music can be. Some pieces like “Bingo, Bango, Boffo” and “Pussy Willow” can be appreciated by young children, and yet they have mysteries that professionals can appreciate if they listen closely.

And there are treasures of his to be discovered. I understand that his arrangements for the British bandleader Geraldo have been archived. Very few of them have been heard on this side of the Atlantic.

Bill Finegan was a major influence on me and I am sorry he left us. Moreover, I’m sorry he was not fully appreciated during his lifetime, although he knew that there was interest in his work. I know he is in a better place, and I will continue to listen and to treasure his music.

Jerry Graff –

Jeff Sultanof is an astute commentator on jazz matters, and one of’s resident experts — especially when the discussion turns to big bands and jazz arranging. His recent contributions to these pages include Dozens on Gerald Wilson and Stan Kenton, and we are looking forward to publishing his forthcoming piece on the Birth of the Cool recordings. Below Sultanof shares a personal tribute to his friend and mentor Jerry Graff, who passed away earlier this year. T.G. (Ted Gioia)

On February 14, singer / arranger / conductor Jerome Graff quietly passed away in his home in Encino, California. For those who knew him, and they included hundreds of singers and instrumentalists he’d worked with, wrote for and conducted all over the world, he was a major figure. His vocal arrangements and musical presentations garnered standing ovations. His musical sketches were photocopied and studied by arrangers of many generations, including some of the biggest names in the field. Such orchestrators as Larry Wilcox and Ron Roullier, both of whom scored his work, thought he was one of the best musicians they’d ever worked with.

And he is a great example of a man who had a tangential but profound relationship to jazz in subtle ways. I knew him for thirty-five years as a teacher, mentor, friend, and confidante. I found him when I needed someone to believe in me, and he more than fulfilled my deep need. I learned harmony, form, vocal group writing, production, engineering and any number of other things from him, and was exposed to the top orchestrator/arrangers and playing musicians in recording studios and at rehearsal/performances, but as I learned more about American concert and popular music, I began to understand that he’d touched American music profoundly. And his story needs to be told.

Jerry Graff was born in Brooklyn and was convinced to major in music at Brooklyn College. He never missed the Fred Waring radio program, where he heard the brilliant choral arrangements of Kay Thompson, whose post-war act with the Williams Brothers was one of the highest paid in the country (she can be seen and heard in the movie Funny Face with Fred Astaire; one of the numbers from her act appears on a Milton Berle DVD). He was also a big fan of Six Hits and a Miss, as was Mel Torme. During Jerry’s college years, he and his future wife Judy were members of the Robert Shaw Collegiate Chorale.

He was a member of the Special Services Unit during World War II, a group of actors, singers and musicians that included Allen Ludden, Carl Reiner and Hal David. It was during this time that he composed and orchestrated incidental music for a production of the play The Glass Menagerie. He also put together a vocal group with a Hawaiian woman and three men called The Beachcombers. After the war, he brought a test record of his group to Robert Shaw, who was helpful in getting them hired by bandleader Johnny Long. While a major name, Long’s band was certainly not as popular as Dorsey’s, Shaw’s or even Charlie Spivak’s, yet Long’s post-war recordings for Bob Thiele’s Signature Records show the ensemble to be excellent and await re-discovery. Jerry’s first recorded arrangement was “Hawaiian War Chant” with an instrumental background by Julian Work. Other recordings include “Unless it Can Happen With You” and perhaps their finest record with Long, “Easter Parade.” They made other recordings with Leroy Holmes on MGM, and while these are hardly jazz, the vocal work can only be described as stunning.

Eventually The Beachcombers came to the attention of Jack Entratter of the Sands Hotel in Las Vegas, and their glory years began. In the 50s, The Beachcombers were the main attraction in the lounge of the hotel, where they were seen and heard by every star appearing in Las Vegas; the group also performed in the main auditorium as an opening act. To this day, people who went to Vegas during this time get excited when I mention The Beachcombers and have warm memories of their performances. Jerry’s arrangements were so popular that such stars as Lena Horne commissioned material from him. The late Gene Puerling told me how much The Beachcombers influenced him (he was the vocal arranger/leader of the Hi-Lo’s and Voices Unlimited, the two most influential groups in the vocal jazz movement in high schools and colleges), and Bob Alcivar also raved about their sound and Jerry’s arrangements in particular. Alcivar would later put together an impressive jazz vocal group called The Signatures, and would write for The Association and particularly The Fifth Dimension (originally a jazz vocal group). Alcivar told me that without question, The Beachcombers were the finest lounge act in Vegas during the fifties, and one of the best vocal groups he ever heard.

And yet their recordings during the early fifties never really showed what they could do; a recording with the Dorsey Brothers Orchestra of “You Could Make Me Smile Again” went nowhere (although Jerry told me with pride that one of his heroes, Victor Young, was in the studio when it was made and loved the recording), and a single on RCA (“Don’t Call Me Coach, Call Me George”) was a topical novelty, based on a football coach’s life, that also failed to make a dent in the marketplace.

Enter Frank Sinatra. A big Beachcomber fan, he’d asked for his own record label within Capitol Records when he signed the group and produced a single, “Hey Ho”/”Hank’rin for You.” The record was starting to get airplay when Capitol informed Sinatra that if they gave him his own label, then every other Capitol artist of stature could demand the same thing. Sinatra was furious and vowed that he was finished with Capitol. End of promotion for The Beachcombers. The group was never told what happened, and it wasn’t until many years later that I was able to find out what occurred thanks to Will Friedwald’s book on Sinatra recordings.

Once that record died, the morale of the group did as well. A deal for an album on Verve Records to be arranged and conducted by Buddy Bregman was voted down. Jerry walked out, and got a call to lead the vocal group for the Nat King Cole television show on NBC, where Jerry’s arrangements were orchestrated by Nelson Riddle (the Beachcombers had previously been prominently featured on one of the Cole programs with Tony Bennett). The Jerry Graff Singers can be seen on-camera in some numbers from the show that have gotten into circulation on Public Television and DVD.

With few other prospects on the West Coast, Jerry moved back to New York with his family. He told me it was like starting all over again. But luckily word quickly spread of his abilities, and Jack Pleis, musical director for Decca kept him busy as a group singer and eventually contractor. He was soon to work with vocal group legends Elise Bretton [one of the singers on Billie Holiday’s Lady in Satin and co-composer of “For Heaven’s Sake (Let’s Fall in Love”)] and Lynn Roberts (the last female vocalist with the Dorsey Brothers Orchestra, who later toured with Benny Goodman and Mel Lewis). He sang on hundreds of recordings. In 1973, I began going to recording sessions and rehearsals with him to observe, ask questions and learn the music business. To list whom I met and worked with would be an exercise in name-dropping I don’t wish to indulge in because this article is his show, but I will say that he only worked with the best in his field. Eventually he asked me to supervise some of his recording work, and I produced a CD called “Life Dreams” which was only distributed privately. This CD was made at the Capitol Tower in Los Angeles, and recording there is one of my most cherished memories. I later orchestrated one of his arrangements for Lynn Roberts for the Palm Beach Pops, another amazing experience (a photo from a rehearsal appears elsewhere on this website).

Jerry was well known for his special material for acts of all types, and for over thirty years, he would review almost every arrangement he wrote with me, first to explain what he’d written, later to solicit my opinion. (“Should this be two bars or four in this transition?” he would ask. I would answer, and he would call me from the road to tell me if it worked). He made total amateurs sound like professionals, such was his gift, and when he worked with a professional performer, that artist sounded like a star.

His particular skill in changing keys and tempos within an arrangement would have made him an excellent teacher of harmony and form, because he could fully explain why he did one thing and not another. He prided himself that he’d won an argument with Nelson Riddle during a Nat Cole rehearsal over a modulation that Nelson did not think worked very well. His medleys were full of surprises, yet were always coherent and logical. They were journeys that listeners adored — audiences applauded in six different places during his Christmas medley for Lynn Roberts when it was first written and performed. They still applaud in the same spots.

I learned about wonderful four and five-piece vocal groups because he would talk about them, and I would go out and find recordings of The Pied Pipers, The Stardusters, The Starlighters, The Dave Lambert Singers and many others. When trombonist Warren Covington bought the Pied Piper name, Jerry became the arranger and sang with the reconstituted group. I even got to sing with them when one of the members of the group was late to a rehearsal. Incredible . . . and a great way to write good vocal parts.

I was not the only young person whom he encouraged. Perhaps his closest tie to modern jazz was his close relationship to the composer / pianist / professor David Lopato, the son of his best friend. Jerry did not understand everything David wrote or played, but he knew talent, and Lopato has since proven that he is an important voice in American music, and a gifted, perceptive teacher. Jerry was enormously proud of David and me, and during hard times, was there to help us keep going with kind words and strong hugs.

The show business in which Jerry blossomed changed quite a long time ago, and obviously popular music and jazz changed profoundly as well, but he kept going, and was still writing for and coaching singers when he died. He was thrilled when he heard high school jazz choirs singing arrangements by Gene Puerling with perfect intonation and excellent diction. He was touched deeply when I told him that I played The Beachcomber recordings to young children, who thought they were ‘cool.’

Jerry Graff’s life reminds us that many people whose names are not well known in historical circles need to be remembered for the contributions they made, and I hope there are others who will come forward to tell about those they knew or studied with who touched jazz, although perhaps in unheralded ways. There are many such people in the United States and also in Europe, and the record needs to be filled in, so their stories are not lost.

Neal Hefti –

Jan Savitt Orchestra – Two parts


Individual Recordings

On, complete albums were not reviewed, but individual tracks were. The format has been slightly changed in posting them here to get rid of repetition. Originally these tracks had ratings from 1-100; these have been eliminated, as well as CD issue numbers and band personnel.

I have made minor edits where information needed correction, or an awkward phrase needed fixing.

23 Degrees N., 82 Degrees W. (Stan Kenton: 2008)

Recorded: Chicago, IL, September 11, 1952

The title names the coordinates for Cuba, and Russo would later say that this was one of his better pieces for Stan Kenton. George Roberts would suggest to Nelson Riddle that a variant of the percussive bass trombone line be used as a transition in the arrangement of “I’ve Got You Under My Skin” for Frank Sinatra. Also interesting is Russo’s use of 7/4 time after Konitz’s solo, and how it flawlessly switches back to 4/4 without calling attention to itself. Rosolino also solos in this track. A short trumpet solo for Candoli was cut, Russo later restored this for his own Chicago Jazz Ensemble, and then cut it again in later performances.

All About Rosie (George Russell: 2008)

Recorded: New York, June 10, 1957

George Russell’s contribution to the 1957 Brandeis University Jazz Festival of the Arts is his masterpiece. Initially known as a drummer and arranger/composer for bands led by Benny Carter, Artie Shaw, Claude Thornhill and Buddy DeFranco, Russell spent several years developing a system of music based on the idea that the Lydian scale could have its own set of sub-scales, creating more musical possibilities for improvisers and composers (this was called “The Lydian Chromatic Concept”). Russell illustrated these ideas with his contributions to Hal McKusick’s RCA Victor album “Jazz Workshop,” and then his own album in the same series. Reviews on both projects were ecstatic, and the Brandeis commission soon followed.

“All About Rosie” is based “on a motif taken from an Alabama Negro children’s song-game entitled ‘Rosie, Little Rosie,'” according to Russell. The work is in three movements, the first of which introduces Russell’s take on the melody.The developmental section has the brass and saxes playing improvisational-sounding lines over an ostinato figure in the rhythm instruments (although guitarist Barry Galbraith’s part is written out as a single-line part, common in Russell’s music)., while bars of two and three alternate in an irregular pattern. All of this comes to a head as the movement ends abruptly. Movement two is bluesy, with John LaPorta and McKusick the main solo voices. Movement three commences in the same tempo as the first, and this movement has improvised solos, starting with a young Bill Evans on piano, one of the finest solos of his career (it was transcribed when this piece was published as a score). Other solos by LaPorta, Art Farmer, Teddy Charles and McKusick lead to a recap of the beginning of movement one, cutting suddenly to the end of that movement for an explosive ending.

“All About Rosie” is that rarity: a composition using the language of jazz in a concert setting that speaks in a familiar yet modern language. Russell would orchestrate the piece for the Gerry Mulligan Concert Jazz Band in 1961, and in some ways that performance is even more impressive. “All About Rosie” is most assuredly one of the high points of American music regardless of genre.

All the Things You Are (Gerry Mulligan: 2008)

Recorded: Chicago, IL, Early September, 1952.

Kenton admired Gerry Mulligan, but didn’t like his attitude or his insistence on everything played his way. Yet for a time, Stan not only bought Mulligan’s original compositions such as “Young Blood” and “Limelight,” but he assigned Gerry to write arrangements for the dance book, which Mulligan later called “dog work.” Mulligan used the opportunity to experiment; his setting of this classic standard is a study in counterpoint and alternate harmony. Childers solos beautifully in this live performance taped in early stereo, but the arrangement is the star. Mulligan would later adapt this setting for a recording of his own big band in 1957.

April Showers (Les Brown: 2008)


A Bird in Igor’s Yard (Buddy DeFranco: 2009)

Blee Blop Blues (Normania) (Count Basie: 2008)

Recorded: New York, August 5, 1949

One of the last recordings by the original Count Basie Orchestra, this composition is the work of A.K. Salim, who would go on to write for Dizzy Gillespie, Machito and Tito Puente. Even though the title as originally issued is an early tribute to impresario Norman Granz (who would later sign Basie to his Clef label), the name of the piece was always “Blee Blop Blues.” The recording also reveals the original tempo of the piece (some of the original parts exist, showing that the intro was longer). The piece later became a cornerstone in the book of the later Basie big band (called the New Testament ensemble), and as each year went by, the tempo became faster and faster. The soloists are a young Clark Terry and Bill “Weasel” Parker.

The Blue Belles of Harlem (Paul Whiteman: 2008)

Blue Moon (Boyd Raeburn: 2008)

Recorded: New York, January 17, 1945

Raeburn began his career in the Midwest leading a functional Lawrence Welk-type band. By 1943, he switched gears and put together a jazz ensemble that by 1946 was one of the most admired and controversial groups in American music. But in 1945, his band reflected a Basie-esque approach to music and attracted the top young musicians on the scene. Dizzy Gillespie was not a regular member, but his “A Night in Tunisia” was written for Raeburn initially. Lang-Worth transcriptions (recordings made for radio play) recorded most of the Raeburn library over several sessions and with numerous personnel changes. “Blue Moon” is an exciting dance arrangement with solos by Johnny Bothwell, Gillespie and Ike Carpenter (who would lead his own excellent orchestra in 1948). But the real star is the band, and a terrific arrangement by baritone saxophonist/arranger Milt Kleeb, who lived for many years in the Seattle area, leading an eleven-piece group with Bill Ramsey.

Bogota (Stan Kenton: 2008)

Recorded: Fairfield Hall, Croyden, Surrey, UK, February 10, 1972 (2nd Show)

Written for Hanna’s own band and recorded in 1955, the composer re-styled it as a feature for the Kenton ensemble’s conga player, Ramon Lopez. A recording from August 13, 1971 was issued on Creative World in quadraphonic sound and is spectacular, but this performance is even more exciting. Unfortunately, it was not recorded very well and the tapes were almost scrapped. Shearer, Brown, Torres and Vax get to show off.

Bopple Sauce (Les Brown: 2008)

Cheek to Cheek (Count Basie: 2008)

Recorded: Los Angeles, April 11, 1949

Count Basie was having a rough time in 1949. He was scraping for gigs, and was finishing out his contract with RCA Victor, an association which did neither the label nor the bandleader much good. This edition of the band would be history by September, and the Count would lead a wonderful small group for a time until he started another big band, this group more successful in many ways than the first. Even when work was not plentiful, he could still attract excellent musicians and make some great records. This version of “Cheek to Cheek” swings nicely and is perfect to dance to, boasting a colorful, bop-tinged arrangement which was probably written by Gerald Wilson. Solos are probably by Harry “Sweets” Edison, Dicky Wells, and Paul Gonsalves. We even get to hear the Count on celeste during the first chorus.

Child’s Play (Sauter-Finegan Orchestra: 2008)

Clementine (Alphonso Trent: 2008)

Recorded: Richmond, IN, March 24, 1933

The Alphonso Trent band worked mostly in the South and Midwest during the 1920s and early 1930s, disbanding during the depression, and reformed during the swing era. Trent’s bands included many musicians who later became world famous – besides Peanuts Holland, Harry Edison and Snub Mosely, Stuff Smith and Charlie Christian were Trent alumni. The band made a handful of recordings (of which “Clementine” was one of the last) during a very bad period for live music; the band struggled to stay on tour for fewer and fewer gigs. This last session was for Champion Records, a subsidiary of the once-prominent Gennett label. Hardly anyone was buying records during this time, so few people heard this recording. Gennett would soon be out of the pop and jazz business and would transform into a label supplying sound effects!

Heard now, it is clear that “Clementine” is a pioneering souvenir of the very early days of the Swing Era. Within seconds, the loose rhythm and clever harmony draws us into this excellent arrangement by Gus Wilson, Teddy Wilson’s brother. Brief solos and clever arranging touches (a two-bar modulation based on whole tones is a standout) are overshadowed by the fire of the ensemble. If you listen closely, you can hear one of the musicians (perhaps Trent himself) yell ‘Hey,’ further telling us how the band enjoyed making this side. This recording reminds us of the excellent bands that were heard only in rural parts of the country that were as good and sometimes better than well-known ensembles that recorded for major labels, broadcast and made appearances in hotels and theater chains. Thanks to specialist CD labels, these so-called territory bands will continue to be re-discovered.

Cryin’ for the Carolines (Ben Pollack: 2008)

Dizzier and Dizzier (Katy) (Dizzy Gillespie: 2008)

Recorded: Chicago, May 6, 1949

Under the name “Katy,” (named for Mrs. Basie), this composition was originally recorded in April by the Basie band. Not a very good performance, it stayed in the vault until 1955. Meanwhile, renamed “Dizzier and Dizzier,” the Gillespie band recorded essentially the same arrangement on this date. Not one of Gerald Wilson’s better efforts, one wonders why it was recorded a second time, unless someone at RCA Victor liked it and thought it might have hit potential. The performance is half-hearted and the disc is forgettable. It should be noted that the main soloist is Gillespie until about halfway through the record, when trombonist Andy Duryea (?) plays a written solo.

Dodging a Divorcee (Reginald Foresythe: 2008)

Easy Go (Stan Kenton: 2008)

Recorded: Hollywood, CA, August 21, 1950

During his “Innovations” period, Stan would drop the strings in between tours and play dance gigs to recoup the money he lost. He also continued to record singles which he and Capitol Records hoped would sell so that he’d get airplay. Easy Go is another riff-based tune which got the dancers up on the floor and gave Rogers and Fitzpatrick a chance to blow.

Elegy for Alto (Stan Kenton: 2008)

Recorded: Hollywood, CA, September 24, 1947

After disbanding his Artistry in Rhythm ensemble, Kenton reformed the band and called the resulting music Progressive Jazz. Desiring to play concert tours rather than dance jobs, Stan allowed Pete Rugolo a great deal of musical freedom, and listeners either embraced Kenton’s new direction or argued that his band was pretentious, the music wasn’t jazz, and it didn’t swing. Elegy for Alto is through-composed in the-then unusual time signature of 5/4. George Weidler is soloist.

An Esthete on Clark Street (Stan Kenton: 2008)

Recorded: Hollywood Palladium, January 31, 1953

William Russo recorded this composition with his own orchestra for the Dee Gee label, and later created this setting for the Kenton ensemble. The piece reflects his study with Lennie Tristano as it sounds like a written improvisation over a set chord sequence. If Bach had written for the Kentonians, this is probably what the result would sound like; this has a very baroque-classical feel with near-even eighth notes over Stan Levey’s subtle brushe work (fellow Tristanoite Lee Konitz would begin gigs by playing Bach Two-part inventions when he played with Lennie). Later on, the band breaks into counterpoint, which is beautifully balanced. In fact the entire track shows how the band played with precision and the kind of discipline needed for much of Russo’s writing during this era. Soloists are Russo, Bob Burgess, and Frank Rosolino on this live performance. It is a pity this piece was not commercially recorded by the Kenton Orchestra.

Fascinating Rhythm (Stan Kenton: 2008)

Father Knickerbopper (Ted Heath: 2008)

Recorded: London, October 7, 1949

The Ted Heath band’s exploration of the modern jazz repertoire ended at about this time, when Heath realized that his audience did not like this music, preferring pop songs and novelties. It is to Heath’s credit that he never stopped playing jazz-oriented, sometimes challenging music (particularly at the band’s Palladium concerts on Sundays), but he needed to keep the group working playing dance jobs and music halls to pay the bills. Reg Owen was probably asked to adapt Tiny Kahn’s stock arrangement of his own tune (originally written for Chubby Jackson), and this is more than a respectable performance, since bop was relatively new in England at that time. Frank Horrox, Dave Shand, Henry MacKenzie, Tommy Whittle and Ronnie Hughes (who sounds like he’d been listening to Miles Davis) take solos.

Four Months, Three Weeks, Two Days and One Hour Blues (Stan Kenton: 2008)

Recorded: Hollywood, CA, January 14, 1946

This is one of vocalist June Christy’s best records with the Kenton band. Originally from Chicago, she married tenorman Cooper and went on to become a very successful club and concert artist in the fifties (recording several excellent albums for Capitol with arrangements by Pete Rugolo). Gene Roland was the only arranger who wrote for almost every edition of the Kenton organization, and this recording is a good example of his sound. Boots Mussulli solos, and Vido Musso plays under Christy in this blues by Mel Torme.

From the Land of the Sky Blue Water (Johnny Bothwell: 2008)

Recorded: New York, ca. May, 1946

Bothwell was called “the white Johnny Hodges” for his beautiful sound and florid technique. Formerly a member of the Woody Herman and Sonny Dunham bands, his initial recognition came as a soloist with Boyd Raeburn’s 1944 Orchestra. Raeburn even let Bothwell use arrangements from his book for the altoist’s recordings sessions with Signature Records in early 1945. Bothwell left Raeburn, joined Gene Krupa for a short time, and then formed a good small group before putting together a big band in 1946. He scraped by for two years, formed another small group, and then disappeared in the early 1950s, turning up in Florida shortly before his death. Most of Bothwell’s big band recordings were attempts to get hits with poor material, but there is one constant that makes all of them worth hearing: the arrangements of the brilliant Paul Villepigue. “From the Land of Sky Blue Water” is perhaps Villepigue’s finest moment with Bothwell. Because of its form of fast-slow-fast, this is clearly not a record for dancing , but Villepigue’s use of a flute and his lovely harmonies clearly enhance the original piece; his transition from slow to fast using four 3/4 bars and one 2/4 bar to get back into 4/4 is one of the most graceful uses of time change in jazz ensemble writing that I’ve heard, and rarely done during that era. Villepigue would later write for Claude Thornhill, Charlie Barnet, Mel Torme and Stan Kenton.

Get Happy (The Happy-Rose Orchestra: 2008)

Recorded: New York, ca. May, 1930

Hit of the Week was a flexible one-sided record sold at newsstands for 15¢ beginning in early 1930. By summer, sales were over 500,000 units a week, an amazing success at a time when such major labels as Columbia, Brunswick and Victor’s sales were poor. Most of the HOW fare were new songs chosen by a committee, and performed by popular dance bands led by Vincent Lopez, Bert Lown and Donald Voorhees. In it’s first year of operation, HOW also recorded bands led by Duke Ellington and Ben Pollack, but this particular track was perhaps the hottest in the company’s history. It was made to advertise an orchestra for hire, was not intended for sale and the band’s personnel is unknown (although the trombonist is most certainly Tommy Dorsey).

This disc raises several questions: Who was the leader? Who else plays on this record besides Dorsey? The trumpet soloist might be Red Nichols, Mannie Klein or Bunny Berigan, all active in New York at the time – to these ears Klein is the soloist. Is this a pickup group, or was this an organized band? These questions are not likely to be answered at this point in time. It doesn’t make the recording any less exciting or enjoyable.

The Good Earth (Woody Herman: 2009)

Guarachi Guaro (Dizzy Gillespie: 2008)

Recorded: New York, December 29, 1948

Out of the studios for over a year due to the second AFM recording ban, Gillespie’s band came back with a roar, starting with this Machito-like composition written by Diz and Chano Pozo, arranged by Gerald Wilson. Pozo was murdered earlier in the month, and it is Sabu Martinez who leads the singing while the band answers him. The montuno that follows is built by orchestral layering, groups of instruments added on top of others, finally exploding in swing. Gillespie used this as a concert opener with extended trumpet and percussion solos. Wilson later recorded this piece with a pickup orchestra in California, which took up two sides of a single record. This is an excellent example of a style that came to be known as Afro-Cubop, with equal elements of Latin music and jazz.

Half Past Jumpin’ Time (Woody Herman: 2009)

Henry IX (Ted Heath: 2008)

Recorded: London, February 14, 1954

Ted Heath’s Sunday night Palladium concerts gave him a chance to introduce new members of the band (vocalists Lita Roza and Dennis Otis were first heard at these Sunday night bashes), try out new material and play concert music inappropriate for dancing. In particular, these concerts were a way to show off Heath’s soloists, and such musicians as Don Lusher, Bobby Pratt, Frank Horrox, Les Gilbert and Ronnie Verrell were regularly featured.

Based on Henry MacKenzie’s fabulous solo on this composition by Johnny Keating, MacKenzie could go head-to-head with any of the top clarinetists active then or earlier, including Benny Goodman. MacKenzie’s gorgeous sound and clean technique combined with the powerhouse Heath band (clearly on fire playing for their die-hard fans) is over far too soon.

Here’s That Rainy Day (Stan Kenton: 2008)

Recorded: Redlands University, Redlands, CA, August 4+5, 1970

Dee Barton began his career with Kenton as a trombonist and drummer, and contributed his first composition to the band in 1961. An entire album of his music was recorded in 1967 that Capitol Records didn’t promote. Barton was at the start of a successful career as a composer for motion pictures when he wrote this beautiful arrangement of one of the great standards in American song. Despite the fact that Kenton’s band was known as an ensemble that featured screaming brass, Stan liked to open his concerts with something softer and meditative. This was a popular opener for years, remains in the book of the Kenton alumni band, and has been played by hundreds of ensembles all over the world.

Hit the Road to Dreamland (Sauter-Finegan Orchestra: 2008)

Recorded: New York, November 2, 1952

This version of the Mercer-Arlen gem is a gem itself, issued as the ‘B’ side of a single and forgotten until Collector’s Choice dug it out of the vault. Eddie and Bill had the pick of the New York musician’s pool on their sessions, and when someone couldn’t make a recording date, there were any number of other excellent players who were on call to fill in. Even the singers were the best in the business: Sally Sweetland had been in Hollywood dubbing for stars, Lillian Clark was a member of the Clark Sisters and Mrs. Sy Oliver, Artie Malvin and Steve Steck had been with the Crew Chiefs during the war with the Glenn Miller AAF ensemble. Joe Mooney’s participation was icing on the cake; Bill’s wife Kay was not only his copyist, but a big fan of the accordionist/pianist/arranger/singer, and would manage him during the 1960s.

The arrangement is Finegan’s work. Amidst the imitation of bells by the singers and a lot of woodwind and percussion colors, the intro ends and the band slowly swings out with the melody in medium tempo. The singers take over in hip vocal fashion; one nice touch occurs when Mooney sings, “Dig you in the land of Nod” and the singers fire back with “and Wynken and Blynkyn,” not part of the original lyric. After the vocal, almost the entire first part of the record repeats, returning to the bell imitation. The singers return speaking “Sleep?…Sleep!” with a run on the celeste in the background. The record is clever without being gimmicky, welcome sounds in the morass of the pop music of the early 1950s.

Horseplay (Sauter-Finegan Orchestra: 2008)

Recorded: New York, February 18, 1953

Eddie Sauter and Bill Finegan were asked to write 6 minute compositions for release on extended-play 45RPM records to promote the EP medium. (Perhaps RCA Victor was still smarting from the 45’s failure to win the competition with 33 1/3 RPM LPs). Giving an extra three minutes per side to these particular composer/arrangers was a gift to them, and ultimately a gift to listeners. The sheer virtuosity of the band and the compositional brilliance of both men created one of the great ensemble experiences of all time.

“Horseplay” is Sauter’s composition. The piece is based on the melody of a children’s song, repeating and expanding to a climax – a favorite Sauter compositional device. This is a subtle piece that rewards the listener each time it is heard, as there is so much to hear that cannot be experienced only once or twice. This is certainly one of the gems in the orchestra’s catalog.

I’m Following You (Ben Pollack: 2008)

If You Were the Only Girl in the World (Gene Krupa: 2008)

I’ve Got My Love to Keep Me Warm (Les Brown: 2009)

Invention for Guitar and Trumpet (Stan Kenton: 2008)

Recorded: Chicago, IL, September 11, 1952

Kenton first heard of Willis Holman when Gene Roland played him a recording of a 12-tone contrapuntal blues Bill wrote during his years at Westlake College of Music. Holman joined the band on tenor saxophone, and one day Kenton asked him to write a piece for Ferguson and Salvador. Holman was never happy with “Invention,” but it features virtuoso playing from both participants. Holman became an important contributor to the band over the years, writing many compositions which the members of the band often requested, arrangements for vocalists, and unique takes on standards culminating in an album called “Contemporary Concepts” which was one of Kenton’s all-time best.

Jambangle (Gil Evans: 2008)

Jambangle (Hal McKusick: 2008)

Jazz Clarinet Concerto (Henry Brant: 2009)

Just a Gigolo (Les Brown: 2008)

The King (Count Basie: 2008)

New York, February 4, 1946

This variation on “Jumpin’ at the Woodside” features the Count, Jaquet, Berry and a young J. J. Johnson, who stumbles a bit on his solo. This is Jacquet’s show, and he makes the most of it. The band smokes on this track (as well as the other tracks recorded on this date), and the sound quality is fantastic for the period.


Lady McGowan’s Dream (Woody Herman: 2009)

Ladybird (Ted Heath: 2008)

Recorded: London, March 14, 1949

By this time in its history, the Heath band’s schedule was made up of dances, tours, broadcasts, recordings for U.K. Decca, and a series of sold-out concerts at the London Palladium. Heath wanted the most versatile band in England, and this recording is one of the first in the U.K. to embrace the new jazz called bebop. The arranger was George Shearing, already well known as a pianist, but a fine arranger for ensembles as well, playing his arrangements on the piano and having them transcribed for the instruments. An American bandleader of stature would have been thrilled to have this creative, exciting arrangement in his book. The trumpets have stunning Dizzy Gillespie-esque figures, played as if they are the simplest parts in the world – typical of the Heath band’s discipline. Jackie Armstrong and Dave Simpson are the soloists. Reportedly composer Tadd Dameron liked this arrangement very much, and would contribute to the Heath book as well later in the year.

Laura (Woody Herman: 2009)

Leap Frog (Les Brown: 2008)

Let it Snow, Let it Snow, Let it Snow! (Woody Herman: 2009)

Lonesome Road (Tommy Dorsey: 2009)

Love Locked Out (Maynard Ferguson: 2008)

Recorded: Hollywood, CA, September 13, 1950

Maynard Ferguson led an impressive band in Canada as a teen, and would soon join the bands of Jimmy Dorsey, Boyd Raeburn and Charlie Barnet. By 1950, Ferguson was a featured member of the Stan Kenton Innovations Orchestra, and he amazed nearly everyone who heard him with his screaming style and lightening-fast technique. It was Kenton who talked Capitol Records into giving Maynard his own record date, and most of the musicians were members of the current Kenton band. Love Locked Out is the standout of the four sides recorded. This is a lovely statement by Maynard that shows that he had a beautiful low register in addition to his incredible high register sounds, and that he could play very lyrically; he was not simply a freak high-note player. The other star is the arranger Paul Villepigue. His linear writing, as well as his use of ensemble coloring, is the work of a master. In this writer’s opinion, this is his finest work.

Manhattan (George Russell: 2008)

Recorded: New York, NY, September 12, 1958.

Russell’s album-length tribute to New York City remains a major work of the period and one of Russell’s  most important projects. The first  track opens with Hendricks and drums extolling the city, and then Russell begins his exploration of “Manhattan”, except that the only explicit statement of the melody is his use of the first five notes of the song. Solos are played by Brookmeyer, Brookmeyer and Rehak alternating, and Evans (how wonderful to hear him in a large ensemble setting this early in his career). Then a most extraordinary thing happens. From out of a transition by the band, John Coltrane sings out in a solo so arresting that the rest of the track (which has a Farmer solo later on) is almost anti-climactic. Coltrane asked for a break in the session to go over the chord changes; the result is gripping and powerful. Trane later told Russell that he didn’t like his solo. Amazing!!! (For the musically inclined, the full story of this solo can be found in Russell’s Lydian Chromatic Concept textbook).

Melancholy Clown (Reginald Foresythe: 2009)

Nina Never Knew (Sauter-Finegan Orchestra: 2008)

Recorded: New York, November 3, 1952

Except for an instrumental midsection with solos by Nick Travis (muted) and Bill Harris, this recording features Joe Mooney backed by an all-star studio vocal group supposedly led by “The Other” Ray Charles (Sally Sweetland, Lillian Clark, Gene Lowell, Artie Malvin and Steve Steck), all of whom sang with the big bands during the 1940s and were busy on recordings and live television. Mooney originally had an act with his brother named The Sunshine Boys, and went on to become a pianist and arranger for various big-name bands. In 1946, he formed a quartet which only lasted a few years, but has been re-discovered via its Decca recordings and surviving air checks (issued on the Hep label).

“Nina Never Knew” was a new pop song in 1952, and the fact that it was given to Sauter and Finegan shows the confidence that A&R director Dave Kapp had that they could turn it into a hit. This is certainly one of the most well-known recordings of the S-F ensemble among average listeners, and the record got a lot of airplay for several years. The record is also the source of a story still told by veteran group singers: at the end of the record, the singers whisper “Nina Never Knew” individually, and the entrances overlap. The last time this was done, the male singer whispered “Nina Never Heard” by accident. Until those last seconds, the recording was near perfect. After the tape recorder stopped, the room exploded in laughter and the offender was understandably embarrassed. Eddie and Bill saw no reason to remake the side, and very few listeners even realize that the ending has a huge ‘clam.’

Out of Nowhere (Buddy DeFranco: 2007)

The Opener (Stan Kenton: 2008)

Recorded: Hollywood, CA, March 2, 1954

Kenton may not have been entirely comfortable with Bill Holman’s musical direction, but he bought everything that Bill wrote for the band, and recorded an entire 10” LP featuring his music. “The Opener” is relatively quiet at the beginning, but the musical lines weave in and out, engaging the listeners’ ear immediately. Rosolino, Mariano and Noto solo (and Kenton comps nicely behind them). The beauty of Holman’s writing for Kenton is his relaxed swing feel (even though these are almost even eighth notes), with the harmonic and linear advantages of all those horns to use. Kenton must have felt the proceedings were getting out of hand; he disbanded soon after these recordings, and the next few recording sessions were all his arrangements.

Opus a Dollar Three Eighty (Stan Kenton: 2008)

Recorded: Hollywood, CA, April 20, 1944

Pete Rugolo, one of Darius Milhaud’s composition students (another was Dave Brubeck) submitted this piece to Kenton while still a soldier. Stan didn’t play it immediately, but he was impressed when the band finally ran it through at a rehearsal. Except for a short solo by the maestro, this is an ensemble piece that doesn’t really hang together all that well, but it certainly shows Rugolo’s penchant for interesting harmony. His talent would blossom when he became Kenton’s chief arranger in 1946, writing music that is still fresh these many years later.

Opus in Beige (Stan Kenton: 2008)

Recorded: Hollywood, CA, December 12, 1956

Gene Roland first wrote for Kenton back in 1944, and not only contributed music for almost thirty years, but played trumpet, trombone and mellophonium with the band. Usually Roland’s music is upbeat and swinging. Here he is in a more reflective musical mood, and the result is one of his loveliest pieces. Kent Larsen and Bill Perkins solo.

Out of Nowhere (Buddy DeFranco, 2007)

Recorded: New York, February 19, 1951

DeFranco was an excellent musician who graced the bands of Tommy Dorsey, Charlie Barnet and Boyd Raeburn. Although he was certainly on the level of Benny Goodman and Artie Shaw, DeFranco did not achieve the type of superstar popularity that his talented warranted, although he always played with excellent musicians. DeFranco started his own big band but it didn’t last very long, and then joined Norman Granz’s stable of soloists who toured around the world. This track comes from his first session for M-G-M as a big band leader (an earlier big band session for Capitol was not really very successful, although the classic “A Bird in Igor’s Yard” was recorded, a side that DeFranco never liked). The personnel is filled with excellent musicians.

Under a straightforward ensemble background, DeFranco states the melody in an equally straightforward manner during the first chorus. The second chorus begins with an improvised solo in the low register of the instrument and maintains the easygoing feel until the repeat of the ‘A’ section. Then DeFranco cuts loose in a breathless burst of bop for another chorus and a half, even throwing in a quote from “Fascinatin’ Rhythm.” The result stuns and grips the listener with the sheer virtuosity and melodic beauty of DeFranco’s art. The record seems to be over before it has started.

Over the Rainbow (Charlie Barnet: 2008)

Recorded: New York, NY, August 16, 1949

Norman ‘Tiny’ Kahn was a prodigy who was a self-taught pianist, drummer and vibraharpist. He became a mainstay of 1940s modern jazz as a drummer and composer, and it is Johnny Mandel’s opinion that Kahn would have become one of the most respected composer/arrangers had he lived. But Kahn had a weight problem and passed away of a heart attack at much too young an age. He left several Basie-inspired original pieces for the Elliot Lawrence Orchestra, and this gem for Charlie Barnet’s short-lived bebop band. Barnet disliked most of the music this ensemble played, but he wrote that this arrangement was one of the best items in his book.

While this version of the Arlen/Harburg classic was clearly written to be danced to, it offers a valuable musical experience for the listener. After an introduction of two muted trumpets playing moving lines against each other and an unusual cadence by the full band, the trumpet soloist plays the melody against a contrapuntally-based harmonization of the song. Barnet’s soprano sax lead introduces a six-man reed statement of the melody, and he continues while the remainder of the section plays figures under him for the bridge. Full brass takes over (Dick Kenney has a lovely solo here), and there is a short transition to a key change. At 2:07, there is a cut of eight bars; the original score repeats the bridge in a new key, which included a written baritone sax solo (this score was restored by this writer from surviving original parts and a transcription by Mark Lopeman). The recording has a sudden key change in the ‘A’ section, and a repeat of the two trumpets as in the beginning to tie things up.

This arrangement is a lovely original treatment of a standard that continues to speak to us. Even college students raved about Kahn’s setting when an ensemble I led at Five Towns College presented this in concert in 2003.

Poem for Brass (J.J. Johnson: 2008)

Recorded: New York, October 23, 1956

This composition directly resulted from the formation of the Jazz and Classical Music Society, an ensemble led by Gunther Schuller and John Lewis to present both rarely heard and newly composed music played by an ensemble of classical and jazz musicians. The first concert took place in 1955 and included the Modern Jazz Quartet. The second concert featured compositions by Schuller, Jimmy Giuffre, Gabrielli and this sparkling multi-part work by J.J. Johnson. All of the new music played at this concert remains impressive, but “Poem for Brass” is exceptional. A full score of the work is available, and the piece has been played by brass sections of major symphony orchestras. (A highlight of my own student concert going experience was hearing the Philadelphia Orchestra brass section play this piece).

The work has four movements, and while each has a subtitle, these do not appear in the published score, suggesting that Johnson may have added them later. At least one commentator (George Russell) has mentioned the influence of Paul Hindemith, but the result is still pure Johnson. “Sonnet for Brass” features a Miles Davis fluegelhorn solo over various brass textures and combinations (and imagine for a moment: six trumpets and Miles on the same date).The end of Miles’ solo is written, and almost immediately Johnson takes over for a short solo, the beginning of which is also written. A short melodic statement by Baritone Horns leads to an incomplete cadence, ending the section. A short elegiac-like section leads to “Ballad for Joe,” a beautiful statement by the highly underrated Joe Wilder, who was as comfortable with a Haydn concerto as a jazz solo. The next section is called “Meter and Metal” and features the brass alternating phrases with Osie Johnson’s cymbals (his part is fully notated). Before we know it, the tuba begins a fugue, the highlight of the work. Recasting the pitches of the melody from the beginning of the piece, this is a grand and glorious tour-de-force with voices all over the place. A short recap leads to a freely-played ending with a delicious major chord.

This was certainly one of the highlights of J.J. Johnson’s musical career. In the minds of many of this fans, he was a master trombonist, but “Poem for Brass” will always remind us that he was a great composer as well.

Polska mid Trumpet (Nils Lindberg/Jan Allen: 2008)

Recorded: Stockholm, Sweden, December 19, 1968

Jan Allen was one of the Sweden’s finest trumpet players, collaborating in live performance and recordings with such musicians as Gil Evans, George Russell, Bob Brookmeyer, Lee Konitz, Warne Marsh, and fellow Swedes Lars Gullin and Rolf Billberg. This track is included in an album which features three compositions for small ensemble and three for large big band by Nils Lindberg, a classically trained composer/pianist whose music for saxophone ensemble, symphony orchestra and/or choir is drenched in Swedish folk music. The ten minute “Polska with Trumpet” is in sonata-allegro form, and is an excellent example of a concerto with big band accompaniment. The solo in the ‘A’ section of the work is fully notated, while the solo in the development is improvised, culminating in a trumpet/timpani cadenza. Also included in this section are exciting solos by Rune Gustafsson and Lennart Aberg backed by trombones. This is a triumph for all participants, and not surprisingly, the album “Jan Allen – 70” won the Golden Record as the Best Swedish Jazz Recording of the year by the magazine Orkester Journalen.

Rambo (Count Basie: 2008)

Recorded: New York, NY, February 4, 1946.

J.J. Johnson was a promising young trombonist/arranger when he left the Benny Carter band and joined up with the Count in May of 1945. Only two recordings with Basie have solo statements by Johnson, “The King” and the track described here. “Rambo” did not remain in the book, and was not issued in the United States at the time, but it has been reissued frequently over the years and has even been covered by The Manhattan Transfer. The composition itself is a good one, with a terrific written half-chorus for the saxophones, and good solos by Johnson, Jacquet and Edison.

Rock Me to Sleep (Les Brown: 2008)

St. James Infirmary (Duke Ellington: 2008)

Sing You Sinners (Duke Ellington: 2008)

Stay On It (Count Basie: 2008)

Recorded: New York, NY, July 31, 1946.

It says quite a bit when ensembles led by Basie and Dizzy Gillespie give equally convincing performances of a particular piece. But Tadd Dameron was a particularly gifted composer. He began his career with Harlan Leonard and his Rockets, and wrote beautiful songs and compositions for Billy Eckstine, Gillespie, Sarah Vaughan (If You Could See Me Now is now considered a standard) and his own groups. Stay On It seems to have been a rehearsal or a test recording; no matrix was ever assigned, and the recording remained buried in the vaults until it was issued in France during the 1970s. Jacquet has the most solo space, but Edison makes a solid contribution as well.

Teach Me Tonight (Count Basie/Sarah Vaughan/Joe Williams: 2008)

Recorded: New York, NY, July 14, 1960

Vaughan and Basie were regulars at the jazz club Birdland on Broadway in New York City; Williams was still the vocalist with the Basie Band. All were on career highs and signed to Roulette Records. It was natural that label head Morris Levy would combine Basie and Vaughan for a record album. According to Frank Foster, “Teach Me Tonight” was the song of choice when Vaughan would drop by the club and sit in with the band, and she and Williams would “break up the house every time.” The familiarity of the material shows in this performance, which crackles with excitement; clearly everyone is having a great time with this roaring Ernie Wilkins setting. The performance is a standout by all participants and is a deserved classic. Ironically, it was only available as a single until it was issued on CD in 1996. Equally ironic, Basie himself was missing from the proceedings; the pianist was Ms. Vaughan’s accompanist at the time, Kirk Stuart.

Their’s Tears (Clare Fischer: 2009)

The Thrill is Gone (Stan Kenton: 2008)

Recorded: Chicago, IL, July 22, 1955

Ann Richards has both fans and detractors as a singer. Married to Kenton for a few years, many listeners feel that her best work was after she left Kenton. This track was recorded at the same sessions that produced one of the band’s finest albums, “Contemporary Concepts,” so the band was in a good place musically and personally. Sam Noto has a short solo, but the focus is on Richards, who does a good job with this difficult song.

Tiare (Stan Kenton: 2008)

Recorded: Redlands University, Redlands, CA, August 4+5, 1970

Like Gene Roland, Ken Hanna began writing for the Kenton band in 1944. He joined the trumpet section in 1946, and then led his own dance band during the fifties (one of the band’s albums was in the “Stan Kenton Presents” series on Capitol Records and was recently issued in Japan). Long retired from music when he wrote Tiare for the Kenton Neophonic Ensemble in 1968, he re-scored it slightly in 1970 for the touring band. Written in 7, this piece opens dramatically, then becomes a romantic ballad with Dick Shearer playing the melody. The remainder of the piece is played freely with a lovely solo by Quin Davis, continues to build and then ends as dramatically as it began. It’s success with audiences convinced Kenton that Hanna should go back on the road and keep writing for the outfit, and in fact, the music he wrote during this period was the finest of his career.

Warm Blue Stream (Stan Kenton: 2008)

Recorded: Patio Gardens, Lagoon Park, Salt Lake City, UT, August 23-25, 1962

Recorded by Wally Heider during a live gig, this track is notable for several reasons. The song itself deserves more exposure and performances, this is a beautiful arrangement for the mellophonium ensemble by Lennie Niehaus, and the track highlights one of Kenton’s finest singers. Turner was 25 when she joined the band, one of the few black musicians Stan featured in his long career. Turner later joined Harry James’ band in 1965 and then she disappeared. There are many listeners who don’t associate Kenton’s music with such lovely and jazzy sounds.

Where’s Prez? (Les Brown: 2008)

Wild Root (Woody Herman: 2009)

You and the Night and the Music (Stan Kenton: 2008)

You Go to My Head (Bill Holman: 2008)

Recorded: Hollywood, CA, February 11-13, 1958

By 1958, Holman was a composing/arranging heavyweight, and the second album of big band music under his own name contains several masterpieces. “You Go to My Head” is an excellent example of re-composition using a short, improvised-sounding riff that had been in Willis’ head. This four-note phrase frames a presentation that starts out with the melody being broken up and explored by the saxes, with the brass playing the four-note riff as underpinning. all with minimal rhythmic support. Eventually the whole band takes off swinging melody and riff leading up to solos by Mariano and Williamson. An uneasy transition leads to a solo by the leader. The whole thing ends with similar uneasiness, but we have been on quite a journey. That riff may have gone to Holman’s head but it has been thoroughly explored by the end. The setting of the song sounds like it has been made up on the spot, part of Willis’ compositional gift. This track is one of his greatest achievements.

Young Blood (Stan Kenton: 2008)

Recorded: Chicago, IL, September 10, 1952

Mulligan and Stan Kenton was an odd mix that didn’t work out. Mulligan’s music was light years away from Kenton’s dynamic musical approach (Kenton was always concerned that this type of music would make his band sound like Woody Herman’s). But the musicians loved his music and frequently requested his pieces during the last set of a gig. Candoli, Kamuca, Konitz and Childers have great solos, and the band really swings out. Bill Holman was listening carefully to Mulligan’s linear writing and harmonic approach, and would write important pieces for Kenton soon after. Despite their differences, Kenton still played Mulligan’s music as late as 1959.

“Dozens” – Twelve of the best recordings of an artist/bandleader.


Miles Davis – The Birth of the Cool (2008)

Many years ago on September 4, there was a live broadcast from the Royal Roost featuring a group led by Miles Davis. This was not a quartet, and Charles Parker was nowhere to be found. This was a nine-piece all-star ensemble with arrangements by some of the top young writers on the scene. Its instrumentation was a bit unusual, and the musicians had to work hard to make the music sound right. Count Basie was one of the featured attractions at the Roost during the band’s gig, and reportedly liked the band. Luckily, it was heard by Pete Rugolo and Walter Rivers at Capitol Records, and it was thanks to them that twelve sides were recorded over a fifteen-month period. By March 9, 1950, the date of the last session, the musicians had moved on to different groups (although they played together at Birdland one last time at the end of the month with Bud Powell at the piano). Capitol only released a few of the tracks, and there the story might have ended. Except that eight of the recordings were collected on a 10” LP in 1954 called “The Birth of the Cool,” were heard all over the world, were embraced by musicians and arrangers, and sent shock waves through the critical community. These pieces remain among the most widely discussed, imitated, analyzed and transcribed in the history of ensemble jazz.

Pretty good for a group that was only going to be a rehearsal band.

The nonet’s working thesis was that a small band could sound like the Claude Thornhill orchestra. Claude, a fine arranger himself, conceived the idea of adding French horns and tuba to the standard big band instrumentation, resulting in a warm, ballad sound under his gentle piano stylings. From 1941 until Thornhill joined the Navy, Gil Evans was its chief arranger. After the war, Evans rejoined and turned the ensemble into one of the most admired bands of the time, its repertoire drawing from pop songs, classical themes, and especially the modern jazz of Charlie Parker and Miles Davis. By 1948, Evans left Claude and had a small apartment where musicians came to hang out, sleep, argue and study scores Gil borrowed from the library. Gerry Mulligan, Johnny Mandel, John Lewis, John Carisi, and George Russell were regulars and joined in the spirited conversations about politics, chord changes, arranging and composition, and they decided to put together a band to try out some of the ideas discussed. When discussion began as to who should play in the band, Miles Davis was suggested to fill the trumpet chair. Davis ran with the idea, organized rehearsals and secured the gig at the Roost. The arrangers were never paid for their work, but were thrilled to put this music before the public. To his regret, Mandel did not participate in the project, electing to get his union card in Los Angeles and establishing residence there.

Although eleven of the recordings have never been out of print since 1957, broadcasts from the Roost were finally issued legally in 1998 after years of bootleg releases. Most of the actual parts for the repertoire remained in Davis’ possession and were later put in storage (the album “Re-Birth of the Cool, which revisits this repertoire under the musical direction of Gerry Mulligan, used transcriptions except for the two Evans arrangements, “Rouge” [Lewis’ score still exists], and “Israel.”). This writer was able to examine the instrumental parts in late 1996, and after extensive editing, produced a score folio of the music which was published by Hal Leonard in 2002. Study of these original documents answered a lot of musical questions, as well as confirm that the arrangers copied their own parts. Because Hal Leonard did not issue these as scores and parts, Jazz Lines Publications issued the titles they could license, so I had the rare opportunity to prepare a second edition of this music, which I consider definitive.

These recordings also document the early solo stylings of the band members, as well as the early writing styles of Mulligan, Lewis and Carisi. Moreover, they confirm that in 1949, with the shift away from big bands, ensemble jazz had many new areas to explore.

Track: Boplicity

Recorded: New York, April 22, 1949

Even though Gil Evans was one of the chief architects of what became the Miles Davis Nonet, he only wrote two arrangements for the ensemble. He was a co-writer of this piece, and for some reason was never credited. As he proved in his writing for the Claude Thornhill ensemble, Evans was an orchestrational and contrapuntal master, and “Boplicity” is proof: instrumental parts that are carefully crafted, beautiful to play and sounding improvised, yet when played result in a rich-textured ensemble that seems bigger than nine musicians. Mulligan, Davis and Lewis solo (although the short trumpet solo at 1:36 is fully notated). Evans gave Gunther Schuller copies of the parts for both Evans pieces, so Miles did not have them.

Track: Budo

Recorded: New York, January 21, 1949

Pronounced Bud-o and not Boo-do, this composition is also known under the title “Hallucinations.” After a series of rhythmic parallel dissonant chords interspersed with fills by Roach, the ensemble plays one of the most boppish pieces in the “Birth” repertoire. Even though the ensemble playing is a bit sloppy at times, this track is certainly exciting. Davis, Mulligan, Konitz, Winding and Roach are featured.

Track: Darn That Dream

Recorded: New York, March 9, 1950

The only real ‘dog’ in the “Birth of the Cool” series of recordings, this track remained unavailable for many years until it was finally dug out of the vault in 1972 for a ‘complete’ LP release in Holland. Hagood is not at his best here, and the ensemble playing of the indifferent Mulligan score is lackluster and tired. It is a real pity that Mulligan’s “Joost at the Roost” was not recorded instead.

Track: Godchild

Recorded: New York, January 21, 1949

One of the popular jazz compositions of that era, “Godchild” boasts a wonderful Mulligan arrangement with very clever touches. Taking a cue from Evans (who was an important influence on Mulligan during this era), Gerry focused more on individual part writing versus block harmonic writing during this period. This contrapuntal approach freed Mulligan from following a stated harmony slavishly. He also plays with time signatures here; a 2/4 bar in the turnaround is a refreshing touch. Another arrangement that was opened up for solos, Davis, Mulligan and Winding are featured.

Track: Israel

Recorded: New York, April 22, 1949

Carisi and George Russell were the resident ‘ultramoderns’ in the group that hung out at Gil Evans’ place. A composition of Russell’s for this band exists but does not seem to have been played publicly. Carisi was one of the few white musicians who jammed at Minton’s during the early years of bebop, and was studying composition with Stefan Wolpe in the late 1940s. In the one known musical contribution he made to this ensemble, Carisi blended the traditional blues with modern harmony (some of the chords are dissonant clusters) and counterpoint, with solos for Davis and Konitz. “Israel” became a standard in the jazz repertoire, and Carisi would later arrange it for Mulligan’s Concert Jazz Band. John later taught at Queens College, part of the City University of New York, where this writer studied composition with him.

Track: Jeru

Recorded: New York, January 21, 1949

Gerry Mulligan wrote more music for this ensemble than any other writer save John Lewis, and most of his contributions were played and recorded. “Jeru” is another example of Mulligan expanding his linear thinking, the harmony derived from the part writing rather than chordal blocks. Mulligan also indulges in changing time signatures – the twelve-bar bridge is written as one 4/4 bar, one ¾ bar, one 2/4 bar, four bars of ¾, a bar of 6/4 and then four bars of 4/4. The band obviously rehearsed this piece carefully, as they play this section with authority and confidence. Davis and Mulligan take the solos. Mulligan would write a version of this piece for the Thornhill band, although a recording for the Trend label made in the 1950s has a cut that misrepresents the arrangement.

Track: Moon Dreams (live)

Recorded: The Royal Roost, New York, September 4, 1949

The Claude Thornhill band featured extended medleys for dancing. One of these medleys arranged by Gil Evans consisted of Easy Living, Everything Happens to Me, and Moon Dreams. Probably the first arrangement written for the nonet, Evans originally envisioned a clarinet instead of an alto sax in the instrumentation, as such a part exists. Except for a few changes in harmony, “Moon Dreams” is a re-orchestration of the Thornhill original. This live recording comes from a broadcast from the Royal Roost during the ensemble’s only extended live gig. One of the most dissonant settings Evans prepared up to that time, the band never did play this arrangement effectively; audiences must have been totally bewildered when it was over.

Track: Move

Recorded: New York, January 21, 1949

Written by drummer Denzil Best, this is another “Birth of the Cool” arrangement that could be opened up for solos, and Miles, Konitz and Roach deliver. Lewis writes driving musical figures with economy of orchestration, and it says a great deal about Collins and Barber that they could play such exciting musical lines on instruments that ‘spoke’ slowly, one of the challenges that this ensemble had to rise above. That they did it so well is a testament to the excellence of these musicians.

Track: Rocker (Rock Salt)

Recorded: New York, March 9, 1950

Another example of Mulligan’s linear thinking versus chordal block writing (Mulligan once told me “Thank goodness I was never a slave to chord changes.”), Gerry creates some soft dissonances as the voices move, but they go by so quickly so that the ear is not disturbed by the sound, and hears a non-moving melody against moving parts. Mulligan later arranged this for Charlie Parker with strings, and wrote a big band version for Elliot Lawrence (he complained that the tempo on the Lawrence recording was too fast). Davis, Konitz and Mulligan solo. And just to set the record straight, “Rock Salt” was the original title of this piece.

Track: Rouge

Recorded: New York, April 22, 1949

Lewis catches our collective ears at the beginning of this charming piece by not only writing an introduction in ¾, but starting the intro on beat three. Soon the piece goes into 4/4 time and really swings. An exercise in ii-V cadences moving in half-steps, some of the writing is awkward, particularly the rhythm of the second bar of the bridge. Lewis later corrected this rhythm for the 1991 album “Re-Birth of the Cool” and this has become the definitive version. Lewis later used part of the chordal structure of “Rouge” for “The Queen’s Fancy,” recorded in 1954. Lewis, Konitz, Miles and Clarke solo.

Track: S’il Vous Plait

Recorded: The Royal Roost, New York, September 4, 1949

When I was preparing edited scores for the “Birth of the Cool” folio, one of my hopes was that enough parts still existed for Lewis’ “S’il Vous Plait” so that it could be included. Alas, this was not the case and the title had to be dropped. Lewis’ blues with a bridge is another up-tempo piece that could be opened for more solo space, and on this particular occasion, Konitz, Davis and Mulligan (a bit awkward here) really jump.

Track:  Venus De Milo

Recorded: New York, April 22, 1949

Gerry Mulligan began his career writing for local bands, then hit the big time playing and writing for the Gene Krupa Orchestra for a year. Krupa thought him a bit brash and cocky, but loved his music and played everything he wrote (several of these arrangements were recorded for Verve in 1958, and are just as fresh as they were when first played). It was clear that Mulligan was a major compositional voice, and Gil Evans convinced him to move to New York and got him a gig writing for Claude Thornhill. Mulligan later said that Evans was his last important influence. One of the few pieces for the nonet that Mulligan never prepared for big band at a later time, Venus De Milo is an elegant gem, spontaneous sounding, yet with every musical element carefully chosen. Davis is featured, as well as Mulligan himself (a sixteen-bar solo for Konitz before Mulligan’s solo was cut for the recording.). Mulligan was still finding his way as an improviser, and his solo is a bit awkward. By the time he joined forces with Chet Baker, he’d become an instrumental master as well.

Miles Davis – Porgy and Bess (2008) – partial

Stan Kenton (2008)

Stanley Newcomb Kenton led one of the most controversial big bands in the history of American music. People either loved or loathed his music. But pinning him down to one direction is nearly impossible as Kenton led many editions of his ensemble, with excellent writers and instrumentalists bringing new perspectives to the Kenton sound. Through it all, Kenton played dance gigs, concert and jazz club appearances, and college clinics until his death. He even supported what became the IAJE (International Association of Jazz Educators) professionally and financially in its early years.

There is no way that twelve selections cover the many worlds and sounds of the Stan Kenton Orchestra, but at least they make for a coherent timeline of a man who wanted to contribute to the growth of jazz and big band music. He certainly succeeded.

Track: Eager Beaver

Recorded: Hollywood, CA, November 19, 1943.

Kenton formed his band in 1940 and played a successful 1941 summer season at the Rendezvous Ballroom in Balboa, California. Radio broadcasts and transcriptions heralded a new band with new ideas – sharp, accented offbeats and a driving swing which some found plodding. Above all, this was a LOUD band. Kenton’s early recordings for Decca were disappointing, but a new firm named Capitol Records signed the group. “Eager Beaver” was featured at the band’s first session for the label, and became a huge hit. Like many of Kenton’s riff-based compositions, this tune was infectious, easily remembered, and requested by listeners for years. This edition of the band was called “Artistry in Rhythm.”

Track: And Her Tears Flowed like Wine

Recorded: Hollywood, CA, May 20, 1944

The Kenton band was the staff orchestra on the Bob Hope radio program when Anita O’Day joined the band. O’Day was already a ‘name’ singer from her tenure with the Gene Krupa band, and gave the band a needed boost. This track was another big hit, which is available in two versions; take one with a straightforward vocal, take two with O’Day much freer now that she is more familiar with the song (Kenton also plays on this take). Drummer Jesse Price was invited to make this session by O’Day, and he really kicks the band into high gear. It’s a pity he couldn’t have stayed longer.

Track: Machito

Recorded: Hollywood, CA, March 31, 1947.

The Kenton band’s music attracted excellent young instrumentalists, as the band provided an exciting forum for new music. Pete Rugolo was this era’s chief composer/arranger, from pop songs to anything he wanted to write. Stan loved the Machito Orchestra, and asked Rugolo to write something to dedicate to the Cuban maestro. The band first recorded this music in February without the bongos and maracas, but it is this performance that really crackles with excitement, one of the earliest instances of Afro-Cuban big band jazz on record. Solos are by Kenton, Kai Winding, Chico Alvarez, and a spectacular duet of Buddy Childers (trumpet) and Skip Layton (trombone).

Track: Unison Riff

Recorded: Hollywood, CA, October 22, 1947.

Even though Kenton led a composer/arranger’s band in many ways, many musicians later became major jazz personalities. Rugolo wrote both abstract compositions which established him as an important American composer, as well as riff-based, harmonically interesting pieces to feature solos as well as get dancers’ feet going. Ray Wetzel (muted), Kenton (with Jack Costanzo on bongos), Art Pepper (who’d been a member of the band back in 1943 before being drafted), Ed Safranski, Chico Alvarez and Eddie Bert make the most of their solo opportunities.

Track: Ennui

Recorded: Carnegie Hall, NYC, October 19 or 20, 1951.

Kenton took his Innovations in Modern Music concert jazz orchestra on two tours throughout the U.S. Although there were sellout crowds at several of the venues it played, the tour lost a lot of money. However, it proved Kenton’s belief that audiences existed for modern jazz-tinged orchestral music. Many composers were asked to contribute, including a young trombone player/leader who’d studied with Lennie Tristano in his hometown of Chicago. William Russo would become a distinguished composer, teacher and writer. One of the earliest modal compositions for jazz orchestra (phrygian to be precise), the composer called this a study in a quiet and relaxed mood. Harry Betts is the soloist.

Track: Frank Speaking

Recorded: Chicago, IL, September 10, 1952.

By 1952, Kenton was leading an ensemble called “New Concepts in Artistry in Rhythm” and continued to attract excellent soloists and composers. William Russo was the chief composer/arranger, although Gerry Mulligan and Johnny Richards contributed some important music to the band during this period. Russo was known for his deep, brooding studies for the orchestra, but he could write upbeat, swinging pieces as well, as shown by this feature for Frank Rosolino, which starts off in medium tempo and then suddenly takes off in high gear.

Track: All About Ronnie

Recorded: Chicago, IL, May 25, 1953.

Chris Connor was recommended to Kenton by June Christy. Connor did not stay very long, but her stint with the band made a good send-off to a solo career that continues at this writing. One of songwriter Joe Greene’s better efforts, Connor delivers a sultry performance against a lovely William Russo setting, with Conte Candoli contributing an excellent muted solo. This track also proves that Kenton could deliver commercial pop hits in addition to his more experimental repertoire.

Track: Hav-A-Havana

Recorded: Hollywood, CA, March 2, 1954.

From a jazz standpoint, the ensemble Kenton led that featured the music of Willis Holman is the highpoint of Stan’s career. Holman had been a student at Westlake College of Music, where he studied with Russell Garcia and Paul Villepigue. Regardless of his music’s complexity over the years, Holman’s art features linear beauty and coherence, balanced with sonic fullness without heaviness, and his early pieces show the influence of Gerry Mulligan’s pieces for the band. The musicians loved Holman’s music, and it shows in the spirited performance of this Latin-based study. Holman’s use of a simple motive (which never becomes a full melody), developed into a nearly three-minute composition, shows his early mastery. Sam Noto’s wonderful solo is almost icing on the cake.

Track: Fuego Cubano (Cuban Fire)

Recorded: New York, NY, May 23, 1956

The title track from the Cuban Fire Suite, this album is another Kenton masterpiece. Stan was determined to record a suite that would combine a big band jazz approach with authentic Cuban rhythms and song forms, and he commissioned Johnny Richards to compose the music. Richards, one of the most schooled composers of big band music, did a great amount of research, and assembled an excellent rhythm section with the help of Willie Rodriguez. The title track begins freely and powerfully, and then calms down at the introduction of the melody played by Kent Larsen with a muted Sam Noto improvising under him (a favorite Richards device). Lucky Thompson and Carl Fontana also solo. This album was so successful that it helped to launch Richards as a leader.

Track: My Old Flame

Recorded: Balboa Beach, CA, January 20, 1958

Those familiar with Marty Paich’s Dektette and his recordings with Mel Torme and Art Pepper might be surprised at this intense concert setting of a standard song from 1934 introduced by Mae West. Yet Paich loved writing such ambitious music for Kenton (he’d studied with Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco and Arnold Schoenberg, and earned a Masters Degree in composition). He would contribute additional pieces and settings for Kenton as late as the ‘70s. Bill Perkins and Sam Noto solo in this recording made at the Rendezvous Ballroom.

Track: Tonight

Recorded: Goldwyn Studio, Hollywood, CA, March 15, 1961

Kenton’s ultra-slow ballad style featuring piano and trombones was one of his stylistic trademarks resulting in one or two hit singles, but here it appears with a difference. His “New Era in Modern American Music” ensemble of the early 1960s featured four mellophoniums to provide a French-horn-style section sandwiched in between the trumpets and trombones. Richards’ setting is lyrical and rich in warm yet powerful sound. Kenton’s piano is the main solo voice, but there is a muted improvisation by Conte Candoli. The score to “West Side Story” was perfect for this ensemble, and the album won a Grammy Award. Composer Leonard Bernstein loved it, and came to hear the Kenton ensemble when they played this music at a gig in New York.

Track: Chiapas

Recorded: Redlands University, Redlands, CA, August 4+5, 1970.

Still on the road, still leading an excellent band, this was taped during a week-long clinic. Stan formed his own record label and continued to explore new directions in big band music along with dance gigs, where “Eager Beaver” was still requested. Enamored of the Don Ellis Orchestra’s performance of music in unusual time signatures, Kenton asked one of Ellis’ composers to contribute to the band. Hank Levy had played baritone saxophone with the old man in 1954, and was on the staff of Towson College in Baltimore, Maryland when he contributed this composition. The band despised this music at first, but they finally got the hang of it, as this exciting performance shows. Dick Shearer plays the trombone solo, and there are improvisations by Quin Davis and Warren Gale. Levy would contribute quite a number of pieces in a similar vein until 1976. Kenton passed away in 1978.


Although Kenton stipulated that there was to be no ghost band after his death, Mike Vax gathers alumni to make annual tours to keep Kenton’s music alive (Full disclosure: this writer has contributed compositions and arrangements to this ensemble). Kenton’s music continues to influence younger musicians due to the availability of the band’s music in printed editions , and the continual reissue of the ensembles’ many recordings.

Gerald Wilson (2008)

DVD Review

Don Ellis (2008)


Rifftides is a blog authored by Doug Ramsey, and is hosted by Doug has printed the following contributions:

Exploring Buried Treasure in Plain Sight – Editing arrangements for Nat “King” Cole

Benny Carter: An appreciation

Remembering Robert Farnon

Remembering Russell Garcia

Remembering Gene

Remembering Pete

Jazz Archeology: Gerry Mulligan and “Yardbird Suite”

Weekend Extra: Sultanof on the Blu-ray Nat King Cole



Lees, Gene (2000) Arranging the Score. U.K.: Cassell. ISBN: 978-0304704880



Manny Albam Music





Brant, Henry “Textures and Timbres: An Orchestrator’s Handbook” in Music Educator’s Journal, Vol. 98, No. 1 (September 2011), pg. 23

Jazz Perspectives

“Earl ‘Fatha’ Hines: Selected Piano Solos, 1928-1941, edited by Jeffrey Taylor  – Vol. 1, No. 1 (May 2007), pg 94

Journal of Jazz Studies

Book Review – Charlie Parker: New books by Chuck Haddix and Stanley Crouch, plus one revised edition by Gary Giddins –

Liner notes (CD)

The Hawk in Hi-Fi – Bluebird (2001 reissue of an album made in 1956)

Bluebird’s Best: Big Band (Swingin’ Through the Night – Bluebird (2002- Also compiled the tracks on the CD)