Friday, December 6, 2013

Revisiting Jazz Repertory with The Beau Hunks Saxophone Soctette

© -Steven Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

When this feature was first posted way back in October/2008, the video that now concludes it had not been developed.

The Beau Hunks performance of Irving Berlin's Blue Skies on the video now provides an actual sampling of the music under discussion in this feature.

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This feature is a continuation of the Jazz Repertory theme initiated on Jazz Profiles with an earlier piece on The Raymond Scott Chesterfield arrangements commissioned and performed by the Paul Whiteman Orchestra in 1937-38 and recently recorded by the Metropole Orchestra with The Beau Hunks Saxtette [see June 2008 archives].

Jazz Profiles now focuses exclusively on The Beau Hunks Saxophone Soctette involving their two beautifully recorded BASTA CDs that deserve to be heard and appreciated by the widest possible audience.

It may also be helpful to keep in mind that during the early decades of the 20th century, the saxophone may have been the equivalent of today’s electric guitar in terms of popularity or to put it another way:” During roughly four decades, the saxophone evolved from a rather cumbersome marching band instrument into a hugely popular and versatile Jack of all Trades.”

As was explained in the earlier piece, in searching for a context in which to highlight this music, the editors at Jazzprofiles came across the phrase “Jazz Repertory” as used by Jeffrey Sultanof in his essay of the same name that appears in Bill Kirchner, ed., The Oxford Companion to Jazz [New York: Oxford University Press, 2000, pp. 512-521].

According to Mr. Sultanof: “The phrase ‘jazz repertory’ has many definitions and dimensions. Perhaps the most basic is: the study, preservation and performance of the many diverse musical styles in jazz. In recent years, the phrase most often applies to big bands and jazz ensembles performing classic and new music written for reeds, brass, and rhythm section in various sizes and combinations.” [p.512]

And, as was the case with the earlier Dutch Metropole Orchestra and Beau Hunks Saxtette performance of the Paul Whiteman Orchestra’s Raymond Scott Chesterfield arrangements, the two retrospectives by the Beau Hunks Saxophone Soctette would seem to fit precisely into this definition.

A close listening to these two discs will also serve to reinforce Will Friedwald’s assertion to wit:

“We Yanks are long accustomed to the irony that it often requires Europeans to tell us what's best about our own culture.”

Here are the insert notes to The Beau Hunks Saxophone Soctette BASTA CD [30-9089-2] as written by Robert Veen, one of the group’s members [pictured second from the left, above] as well as graphics taken from the insert booklet. Following these will be the notes and illustrations to Contrasts, the Soctette’s sequel BASTA CD [30-9128-2]. 


THE BEAU HUNKS are a project band or “documentary orchestra." They began their crusade to preserve the works of forgotten pioneers of American music in 1992. The first project was devoted to the music of Leroy Shield and Marvin Harley, who composed music for the films of Laurel and Hardy, The Little Rascals and many other comedies from the Hal Roach Studios. Because no original sheet-music or recordings of this music were available, our arrangers had to make note-for-note transcriptions from tapes provided by Piet Schreuders, who had somehow managed to reconstruct Shield's compositions on tape from the soundtracks of countless Hal Roach talkies.

Between 1992 and 1995, this resulted in 4 CDs:

The Beau Hunks play the Original Laurel and Hardy Music, Vols. 1 & 2 [Basta 99003, 990251]

The Beau Hunks play the Original Little Rascals Music, Vols. 1& 2 [Koch Screen 8702, 89021].

In 1994, we directed our attention to the works of composer Raymond Scott [1908-1994] with the Beau Hunks Sextette. Scott's compositions for his Quintette from the 1930’s were, again, transcribed from archive recordings by our staff of arrangers and recorded on 2 CD's: Celebration on the Planet Mars [Basta 30-9056-21]

and Manhattan Minuet [Basta 30-9036-2].

The most ambitious project to date materialized in 1997 when the band was expanded to a 35-piece outfit for the purpose of performing Ferde Grofe’s symphonic Suites as composed for the Paul Whiteman band in the 1920s. This was the first project where we could actually use the composer's original scores and parts which were retrieved in the collections of Williams College and the Library of Congress by the Hunks' leader, Gert-Jan Blom. The results of this project are available as The Modern American Music of Ferde Grofe [Basta 30-9083-21].

The present album introduces the Beau Hunks in yet another setting. For this project the brass, strings and piano were omitted, while the woodwind and saxophone sections were dramatically expanded. The aim of this project was to pay tribute to the various saxophone bands from the first four decades of this century, when the saxophone was still a 'new' instrument.

The idea for this CD originated when we discovered the original arrangements for the Paul Whiteman Sax Soctette and Woodwind Ensemble in the Paul Whiteman Collection at Williams College, Massachusetts.

During the 1938/39 season, the Whiteman band had a weekly job on The Chesterfield Program, a very popular radio show sponsored by Chesterfield cigarettes. In these shows Whiteman presented the various sections of his large orchestra as independent groups. He had special arrangements made for "The Bouncing Brass," "The Singing Strings," "The Swing Wing," "The Woodwind Ensemble" and the "Sax Soctette."

The extremely virtuoso arrangements for this Soc-tette were made by Nathan Van Cleave for a lineup of nine saxes doubling on clarinets, accompanied by two guitars, bass and drums. Four of these Soc-tette recordings were released on 78rpm discs: "Blue Skies"/"What'll I Do?" [Decca 2698] and "I Kiss Your Hand, Madame"/"After You've Gone" [Decca 2467, both recorded 4/7/39]. Van Cleave also arranged Irving Berlin's "Tell Me, Little Gypsy" and "Crinoline Days" [Decca 2694] for the Woodwind Ensemble with a lineup of clarinets, bass clarinets, flutes, oboe, bassoon and rhythm section.

While rehearsing the original charts we noticed that various cuts had been made, due to either the limited duration of a 78rpm disc or the available airtime on the Chesterfield Program. On this CD you'll hear the complete, uncut versions as originally intended by Nathan Van Cleave.

Nathan Lang Van Cleave was born in 1910 in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Together with Lynn Murray and George Gershwin, he studied composition with Joseph Shillinger. He started out as a trumpet player with Charlie Burnet, but concentrated mainly on writing and arranging. He was a staff arranger for Paul Whiteman's Orchestra, for Andre Kostelanetz, and for CBS New York. In 1945 he went to Hollywood to become head arranger at Paramount.

His numerous film scores include:
· Conquest of Space [1955]
· The Colossus of New York [1958]
· The Space Children [1958]

He also composed music scores for the TV series The Twilight Zone, Gomer Pyle USMC, Gunsmoke, Have Gun Will Travel, Perry Mason, Hogan's Heroes, I Dream of Jeannie, and Rawhide. He died in 1970.

During our research at Williams College we came across a woodwind arrangement of Raymond Scott's most popular tune, "The Toy Trumpet," by Irving Szathmary, another arranger from the Whiteman organization. This was never recorded commercially by Whiteman but used for radio broadcast only.

There are several interesting connections between Scott and Whiteman. Scott's Quintette and Whiteman' Orchestra were both regulars on the Chesterfield Program. (During 1938/'39 Whiteman had 17 arrangements made of Scott compositions for his band. These arrangements are now safely in our library and were recorded for CD release in January of 1999 by the Metropole Orchestra featuring the Beau Hunks Sextette.)

When Whiteman guitarist Artie Reyerson left the Whiteman band in 1940 he joined Raymond Scott's Orchestra and worked with him for many years. When Raymond Scott became A and R manager for Everest Records in 1957, he employed Van Cleave as the label's staff arranger. In this capacity, Van Cleave led an orchestra backing Scott's then wife Dorothy Collins on her 1958 album Won't You Spend Christmas With Me?

On the original Soctette recordings one can hear some outstanding soloists. We dedicate this CD to all of them - but especially to the Soctette's first alto and clarinet virtuoso, Alfred Gallodoro.

Over the past three years, Al Gallodoro has become a dear friend, Our saxophone players had worshiped Al's impressive recordings for many years and were surprised to find out that he was still alive. At the initiative of Robert Veen, Al Gallodoro, performed with the Beau Hunks at the 1996 Breda Jazz Festival before a flabbergasted audience. Mr. Gallodoro - who had to obtain a passport for his first trip ever outside the U.S. - moved several audience members to tears with his playing and impressed the musicians with his incredibly accurate memory and wonderful stories about his career and the people he had worked with, including Whiteman, Scott, Grofe, Shield, Toscanini and many others. Al is a living encyclopedia of American music history.

The following year, by public demand, Al returned to Holland for a series of concerts, TV  and radio appearances and several Master-classes at music colleges. A funny thing occurred when Beau Hunks' sax players Ronald Jansen Heijtmajer and Robert Veen drove Al to the Hilversum Conservatory where he was to give a Master-class. Robert played the new Beau Hunks recording of the original Nathan Van Cleave arrangement of "Blue Skies" over the car stereo. Hearing the introduction and the first chorus, and believing he was listening to the Whiteman original, Gallodoro remarked, "Yeah, we were great in those days..." As the music continued, he "recognized" Artie Reyerson [guitar], Sal Franzella [clarinet], Art Drelfinger [tenor sax], and even his own virtuoso cadenza in the coda! Having played a couple of our recordings, Robert stopped the car and told Al that what they were hearing was not the original Soctette but the Beau Hunks' renditions of the same arrangements. Al couldn’t believe it and was raving about it for the remainder of the trip, thus giving us the best compliment we could have dreamed of.

Along with Nathan Van Cleave’s Soctette and Woodwind arrangements from the late ‘30’s you’ll find some pre-thirties material to illustrate the history and evolution of saxophone bands.

As a special tribute to John Philip Sousa, Ronald Jansen Heijtmajer wrote an arrangement of Anchors Aweigh for seven saxes, based on a transcription of an original solo by Rudy Wiedoeft who started the saxophone craze in the decade from 1910-1920.

Clyde Doerr led a saxophone ensemble for more than 10 years. We included its greatest hit “Down Home Rag” from 1923, performed by nine saxophones and a banjo.

Ruben Bloom was a pianist/composer who worked with several jazz greats of the 1920s [Beiderbecke, Lang, Venuti, Dorsey, Trumbauer and other]. Ronald Jansen Heijtmajer arranged Bloom’s enchanting composition “Soliloquy” for seven saxophones.

Legendary cornetist Leon Bix Beiderbecke composed a Modern Suite for the Piano in Four parts: “In a Mist,” “In the Dark,” “Flashes,” and “Candlelights.” Since Bix recorded “In a Mist” as a piano solo in 1927, it has been recorded by a great variety of artists: Jess Stacey, Bunny Berigan and His Men, Ralph Sutton, The Swingle Singers, Ry Cooder, Lew Davies and Michel Legrand to name just a few. To our knowledge, this is the first arrangement of “In a Mist” for nine saxophones.

Mr. Jansen Heijtmajer scored “In a Mist” and “Candlelights” for the whole range of saxes, from the bass sax all the way up to the little soprano.["In the Dark" and "Flashes" are included on the sequel CD - Contrasts]

Tenor saxophonist Merle Johnston, well known teacher and performer on the instrument, led a saxophone quartet in the 1920's and 30's and had a column in the prestigious Metronome Magazine in the 1930's where he wrote articles and answered questions about saxophone playing. Only four sides were ever recorded by his magnificent group; listening to those recordings today it seems hard to imagine that they were recorded back in 1929. Robert Veen transcribed three of those four sides so they could be included on this album [Baby, Oh Where Can You Be?; Always in All Ways; Do Something].

In a way, this CD is the companion of Fingerbustin’ by Ronald Jansen Heijtmajer and the Beau Hunks [Basta 30-9058-2] from 1995, an exploration of the development and history of saxophone music before 1940 with repertoire taken largely from Mr. Jansen Heijtmajer’s extensive collection of novelty pieces for alto saxophone and piano.

We hope that these recordings will contribute to a better understanding and appreciation of the pioneers of saxophone playing and arranging.

-Robert Veen, September, 1998
As one would imagine, in the interests of authenticity, special provisions were made in the making of these retrospective recordings and they are described in the insert notes as follows:

“About the recording … This album was recorded with pioneering back-to-basics technology, employing vintage microphones. Equipped with the low noise Telefunken triode AC 701k, the NEUMANN M49 condenser microphone works as a node amplifier feeding a transformer which is astatically wound to avoid hum pickup. The capsule consists of two sections, each with a vacuum gold-plated plastic diaphragm. Each half of the capsule works as a pressure gradient transducer with a cardioid characteristic. They can be switched to omni-directional, cardioid, or figure-of-8 on the power supply unit. The microphone capsule is rubber mounted on a Perspex cover. Underneath this cover is the microphone amplifier which, in turn, is mounted on a rubber plate. Due to this construction, the microphone is insensitive to low frequency disturbances such as floor vibrations due to walking.”

Perhaps the above falls under the heading of too-much-information, but it is interesting nonetheless as a classic definition of “labor of love.”

In 2003, Contrasts was issued by the Beau Hunks on BASTA CD [30-9128-2] and this sequel carried the following introductory explanation.

The Beau Hunks Saxophone Soctette was formed in 1997 after we discovered Nathan Van Cleave’s original “Soctette” arrangements in the collection of the Paul Whiteman Archives. Written half a century after the invention of the saxophone, the recordings of the Paul Whiteman Sax Soctette from 1938-’39 stand out as a landmark achievement in the development of saxophone music.

During roughly four decades, the saxophone evolved from a rather cumbersome marching band instrument into a hugely popular and versatile Jack-of-all-Trades. In its early years, vaudeville groups, circus bands, novelty acts and early dance bands incorporated the relatively new instrument into their programs. Some of these ensembles, like The Six Brown Brothers, were offered recording contracts, which helped spread the growing popularity of the instrument even further.

In the 1920’s, Rudy Wiedoeft [1893-1940], a professional clarinetist who had deliberately made the switch to the saxophone several years earlier, crafted the first specialized compositions and arrangements for the instrument.

In collaboration with the Frank Holton Co. from Elkhart, Indiana, he modified the saxophone to facilitate higher action and smoother projection of the lower notes in order to accommodate his virtuoso style. Thanks to the pioneering contributions of Wiedoeft, the saxophone finally gained the respect of professional musicians as its voice became more mature. By the late 1920s a veritable “saxophone craze” was underway and there was an increasing demand for saxophones of all shapes and sizes, which were eagerly supplied by a rapidly growing industry.

Our previous album [BASTA 30-9089-2] include
s all of Van Cleave’s original arrangements for the Paul Whiteman Sax Soctette and Woodwind Ensemble. This new album is a further exploration of the history and development of saxophone music in a wide variety of musical dialects and formats. You’ll hear the entire range of the saxophone family, from bass sax to sopranino, including the extremely rare Swanee-sax!”

In closing this Jazz repertory retrospective of early saxophone music by the Beau Hunks, Jeff Sultanof offers these further thoughts about the relevance and importance of such efforts [paragraphing modified].

“Jazz repertory represents and important direction and challenge for the future: to acknowledge the creative gifts of the men and women who created ensemble music for listening and dancing, and to prepare usable performance materials so that ensembles can easily play and study it.

Just imagine if materials from the baroque and classical eras of music had been allowed to collect dust in attics and languish in special collections and colleges and archives without editing and publication; by this time, they would have probably ceased to exist.

We are only now accepting that the music of the big band era is unique and warrants saving, not just in terms of American cultural history but of world music as well. It is imperative that this work continue for the sake of indigenous American music. Perhaps wide interest in this music is still several years away; yet the time to save it is now.”
 [p. 521] 

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