Thursday, March 5, 2015

Ted Howe Jazz Orchestra - "Pinnacle"

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

As a young man learning his way through the world of big band drumming back when their was such a “World” [at least, a commercially viable one], I was aided and abetted in this journey by the generosity of a family friend who kept giving me big band LP’s to which I faithfully practiced on a regular basis.

He was an immensely popular DJ on KMPC, a very powerful AM radio station based in Los Angeles, CA.

Since his program focused on the big bands, vocalists and vocal groups of the Swing Era [1935-45] and the popular music of the post World War II era [1945-1960], he had no use for most of the albums released by independent, modern Jazz labels so he gave them away to family and friends.

One such gift became music that I practiced to so often that I had its charts [arrangements] memorized. I could have stepped in and played them in performance with a moment’s notice.

Of course, that would have been a geographic impossibility because the band on the LP in question - Life is A Many Splendored Gig - was the Herb Pomeroy Orchestra and it was based 3,000 miles away in Boston, MA.

What I liked best about Herb’s arrangements was the easy way in which they flowed forward; they were very linear in the manner of much of the writing for big bands on the west coast that I was hearing at the time from arrangers such as Gerry Mulligan Bill Holman, Marty Paich and Lennie Niehaus.

I found out later that the interconnecting thread for all of this was that Herb Pomeroy like the arrangers I noted had either been on the Stan Kenton band and/or wrote charts for the band during the 1950’s.

Herb’s Life is A Many Splendored Gig was released on Roulette Records in 1957 LP R-52001 and reissued on CD by Fresh Sounds records in 1989 FSR-CD 84.

When I received my copy of Pinnacle featuring the music of the Ted Howe Orchestra, it brought back many happy memories of the Herb Pomeroy Big Band for all the reasons mentioned in the annotations below by Holly Cooper, whose is handling the media distribution for the CD and by Ted Howe himself in his insert notes.

At one time or another many, if not most, Jazz musicians want to try their hand at playing in a big band.

When you are in one that clicks, there’s nothing in the world like it.

The surge of energy and rhythmic propulsion generated by a powerful big band leaves you giddy with excitement.

Navigating your way through a big band arrangement with fifteen or so companion musicians creates a sense of deep satisfaction that comes from successfully meeting a difficult challenge.

The art of individualism, which is so much a part of Jazz, gets put aside and is replaced by the teamwork and shared cooperation of playing in an ensemble setting.

When it all comes together you feel like you’re in love; overwhelmed by something bigger than you and that you don’t understand.

You gotta pay attention; you gotta concentrate and you gotta do your best, otherwise it’s a train wreck.

So much goes into it:

- great charts [arrangements]
- great section leaders
- great soloists
- a great rhythm section
- and most of all, a great leader who melds it all together.

Enter The Ted Howe Jazz Orchestra.

Suite #1 For Jazz Orchestra (1981) Ted Howe, insert notes.

“A musical Suite usually showcases something special: dance, group of smaller pieces tied together by a common theme or many other subjects and elements.
Most of the great classical composers have used Suite form, which was constantly evolving and changing over the years, to say something musically different and out of the ordinary for the time.

Tchaikovsky: Nutcracker Suite; Holst: The Planets; Copeland: Appalachian Spring, Grieg: Peer Gynt Suite, etc.

My Suite # 1 For Jazz Orchestra was inspired by many revered classical composers but especially by Duke Ellington and the many Suites he composed for his orchestra, among them The Far East Suite, Latin America Suite, Liberian Suite, New orleans Suite, etc.

In late 1980,Herb Pomeroy, trumpeter, arranger and professor at Boston's esteemed Berklee College of Music. Herb taught a very special two year arranging course there for over 30 years: his now famous, Herb/e's Line Writing class. It was based on a lot of techniques he acquired from his many years of listening and studying Duke Ellington's music. In my years as an instructor at Berklee, I was always fascinated with the sounds that were emanating from some of the rehearsal bands that students of Herb's were writing arrangements for but I had relocated to Atlanta, and Herb was in Boston. I approached him about studying with him long distance. He said ok, so we managed to do it on the telephone on most Sunday evenings, after Herb returned home from rehearsing his MIT Jazz Band, for well over a year. He was very kind to do that and asked for no compensation. (I did, however, have my Mom buy him gift certificates every month at his favorite Italian restaurant in the North End of Boston.)”

Pinnacle, Ted Howe's newest CD, features his 13 piece jazz orchestra and showcases five original extended pieces composed and arranged by Howe. With its beautiful melodies, rich textures, high energy, and virtuosic performances, this recording is intense and exciting while remaining highly accessible. Howe is a Los Angeles-based pianist, composer, arranger, producer, and teacher. Pinnacle is his seventh CD as a leader and showcases his strength as a melodist and his broad knowledge and command of many diverse musical traditions.

Howe's compositions touch on a wide range of styles, including swing, funk, and Latin, among others. The many time signature changes catch the listener by pleasant surprise. Howe's harmonization technique employs more of a horizontal, linear approach commonly used in classical music. His horn voicings and subtle use of dissonance create mysterious overtones that make his 13 piece ensemble sound as big as an 18-20 piece big band, but with far fewer musicians.

Howe's approach to arranging was greatly influenced by the late Herb Pomeroy, the well-respected trumpet player, arranger, and eminent jazz music educator at Boston's renowned Berklee College of Music. Pomeroy, Howe's friend and teacher, developed a method of arranging now widely known as "Herbie's Line Writing Course/' that was inspired by his love of Duke Ellington's music and arranging techniques. (Herb never stopped studying The Duke's music.) Like Ellington, who adapted classical music forms and techniques to jazz and wrote many extended compositions and "suites," Howe includes on this release a jazz suite with three distinct movements. There are also four other pieces that closely hew to the classical paradigm, all providing the space for these superb musicians to express themselves within the framework of these challenging compositions. According to Howe, "These pieces aren't just about the music; they're also about the instruments, the varied combinations of sound they make, and how great musicians can rise to just about any challenge and take the music to new and exciting places."

Take, for example, the opening piece, "Presto for Two Trombones” which features Los Angeles trombonists Andy Martin and Francisco Torres. This is a very challenging piece for slide trombone players, especially the solo section, where these two virtuosos rip through the very fast modal section. The inimitable John Patitucci also adds some heat to this piece with his own lightning fast solo.

Howe cites Chris Botti as the inspiration for "Impromptu for Trumpet," a sweetly melodic number that belies the tune's difficult chord changes. Lester Walker's beautiful interpretation deftly rises to the challenge.

The core of this project is the "Suite #1 for Jazz Orchestra." This piece premiered in 2011 at the Conant Arts Center in Oglethorpe University in Atlanta, GA. The three movements are based solely on a single four-bar motif using many of the time signatures and instruments usually used in jazz.

Howe showcases his own playing in the lovely "Adagio for Piano." His touch is light and graceful on this piece, the second of the only two numbers which he plays on in this project.

The final work on this disc is "Jazz Etude for Three Clarinets," featuring solos by Sam Skelton on Eb clarinet, and John Patitucci on bass. This intriguing piece is characterized by the frequent use of diminished chords which create tension and an interesting, intense display of dissonance.

Currently based in Los Angeles, Howe lived in Atlanta for many years. He has performed with and/or produced for many well-known artists, including Mel Torme, Lainie Kazan, Cherly Bentyne (of the Manhattan Transfer), Dave Weckl, Joe LaBarbera, and Tom Kennedy, among others. He travels around the country performing his two very popular shows, "An Evening of Duke Ellington," and "Shaken Not Stirred: The Music of James Bond." Howe has also produced three other well-reviewed CDs as a leader on the Summit Records label, "Ellington," "Love Song," and "Elton Exposed," which became a big hit on the official Elton John Fan Club web site -- a rarity for any jazz CD!

Pinnacle is a marvelous work from a mature artist who clearly has an ear for beautiful melodies and great respect for and knowledge of musical traditions. This CD will certainly expose Howe's achievements and talents as a musician and composer to a much wider audience, which he so richly deserves.
Pinnacle is available on Amazon and iTunes.

You can sample Howe's work from Pinnacle on a Soundcloud link featuring "Jazz Etude for Three Clarinets."

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