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"In February of 1967, Oliver Nelson recognized Kennedy’s contributions and assembled a big band to play music in his honor, with taped segments of his speeches as preludes. The result is a heartfelt yet eerie combination, perhaps a bit off-putting, but absolutely relevant decades later. The music is reflective of the changing times as identified by Nelson, ranging from commercial movie score-type music, to soulful or straight-ahead jazz, bop, and the modern big-band sound that the leader, composer, and orchestrator owned... it's a stark reminder of how one man can positively influence the human condition aside from politics and corporate greed, and how another can change his world musically.”
- Michael G. Nastos, allmusic.com
Recorded on February 16 and 17 in Capitol Studios, the eight tracks that were subsequently issued on Impulse! Records as The Kennedy Dream [AS-9144] “contain only a modicum of big band Jazz,” according to Kenny Berger, “since part of the album is written for a string-and woodwind based studio orchestra. In addition, seven of the eight tracks begin with recorded excerpts from Kennedy’s best known speeches.”
Of the eight movements, Berger goes on to say in his insert notes to Oliver Nelson: The Argo, Verve and Impulse Big Band Studio Sessions [Mosaic MD6-233]:
LET THE WORD GO FORTH begins with a somber introduction which segues into an ear-catching sequential figure in 7/8 meter. This figure is derived from another example in Oliver’s Book Patterns for Saxophone (...), and is based on a series of altered pentatonic scales that descend in whole steps. Next comes a dramatic-sounding theme in 9/4, stated by the low brass, followed by the full ensemble. Clarinets restate the 7/8 theme, which builds in tension till a return of the 9/4 theme. Nelson's imaginative use of the tuba here is noteworthy, as is Don Butterfield's flawless execution.
A GENUINE PEACE begins as a straight waltz stated by Phil Bodner on oboe. The low brass then take over, and the rhythmic feel begins to take on a martial quality, especially when the drums begin a rhythmic pattern that feels like a cross between a march and a waltz. This section segues into a jazz waltz with unison brass stating a theme that bears a strong resemblance to GREENSLEEVES. Two English horns take over the theme and the mood darkens as the intervallic tension between the melody and the bass line increases.
The melody of THE RIGHTS OF ALL is stated by Bodner on English horn followed by the album's first jazz solo, by Phil Woods on alto saxophone.
THE ARTISTS' RIGHTFUL PLACE is actually PATTERNS FOR ORCHESTRA wisely reorchestrated so that only the saxes play the wide skips in the melody, which hung the trumpet section out to dry on PATTERNS.
DAY IN DALLAS begins with a sense of foreboding, segues into a conventionally tuneful ballad, and then takes on a dirge-like atmosphere. This last section is a good illustration of the ways in which Nelson's compositional skills allowed him to make use of harmonic devices outside the realm of conventional jazz harmony. The increase in disquiet as the piece develops is achieved with subtlety, though carefully controlled increases in intervallic tension [intervals in pitch usually expressed in semitones].”
In his review of The Kennedy Dream for wwwallmusic.com, Michael G. Nastos offered the following views of the suite and its significance.
When the late President John F. Kennedy was assassinated on November 22, 1963, the world lost not only a prominent politician, but one who truly championed the arts and civil rights. In February of 1967, Oliver Nelson recognized Kennedy’s contributions and assembled a big band to play music in his honor, with taped segments of his speeches as preludes.
The result is a heartfelt yet eerie combination, perhaps a bit off-putting, but absolutely relevant decades later. The music is reflective of the changing times as identified by Nelson, ranging from commercial movie score-type music, to soulful or straight-ahead jazz, bop, and the modern big-band sound that the leader, composer, and orchestrator owned. Kennedy's most famous speech about fellow Americans, asking what they can do for their country, is folded into the last track "John Kennedy Memory Waltz" with a string quartet and the regret-tinged alto sax of Phil Woods.
The 35th President's oratorios on human rights act as prelude to the soft clarion horns, 7/8 beat, flutes, and vibes, giving way to the modal and serene passages of "Let the Word Go Forth," or the cinematic, military beat, harpsichord-shaded, plucked-guitar-and-streaming-oboe-accented "The Rights of All," which is also reflective of the immortal spiritual song "Wade in the Water." Where "Tolerance" has a similar verbal tone, the mood is much more ethereal between the flutes, oboe, and strings, while the two-minute etude for the first lady and widow,
"Jacqueline," is in a loping stride, reflective of how much longer it always took her to get dressed and organized. "A Genuine Peace" is an anthem for all time in a soul-jazz mode that parallels Aaron Copeland's Americana moods, while "Day in Dallas" is the expectant, ominous, foreboding calm before the chaos. Nelson's straight-ahead jazz exercise is "The Artists' Rightful Place," a spoken word tonic for musical troops in a bop framework that has the horn section jumping for joy.
As always, Nelson surrounds himself with the very best musicians like Woods and Phil Bodner in the reed section, tuba player Don Butterfiled, bassist George Duvivier, pianist Hank Jones, and all produced by Bob Thiele.
Now reissued on CD some 40 years later, it's a stark reminder of how one man can positively influence the human condition aside from politics and corporate greed, and how another can change his world musically.
On August 26, 2009, Douglas Payne published this review of The Kennedy Dream on his Sound Insights blog.
“At a time when most of what used to be called “record companies,” are slashing budgets, cutting staff or going out of business altogether, Universal Music has been doing a superb job reissuing their huge treasure trove of jazz on CD. Through its Originals program, dozens of nearly forgotten jazz gems from the old Verve, Impulse, A&M, Philips, MGM, Mercury and Limelight catalogs are finding their way back onto the nearly 30-year old CD format.
The other majors (WEA, Sony, EMI) are either (thankfully) licensing albums out to boutique reissue labels like Water, Wounded Bird, Collector’s Choice and Collectables or making the music available for download only. Universal Music’s Original series is catering its great wealth of music to what has become an appreciative, though small and shrinking, market base that still likes to have and hold music with great cover art, musical credits and, in some cases, liner notes (which CDs tend to make almost impossible to read).
To get an idea of just how obscure some of these Originals releases are, take the Oliver Nelson (1932-75) album The Kennedy Dream: A Musical Tribute To John Fitzgerald Kennedy, originally released in 1967 by the Impulse Records label. Even in 1967, hardly anyone knew the record existed. These days, Oliver Nelson’s name barely registers. Sadly, he does not get the recognition he so richly deserves outside of the required nod to “Stolen Moments,” Blues and the Abstract Truth, the brilliant 1961 album “Stolen Moments” appeared on, and – often snidely – a handful of Jimmy Smith’s Verve albums.
The release of Oliver Nelson’s The Kennedy Dream is, indeed, cause for celebration. It is a masterful work that ranks high among the composer’s very best work. This tribute is probably one of the most personal, deeply felt pieces he was ever asked to do outside of Afro/American Sketches (Prestige, 1961) or Black Brown and Beautiful (Flying Dutchman, 1969). And the sincerity of his conviction shines through, producing an impassioned tribute to an inspired leader who inspired much hope for a brighter future and a better world.
The Kennedy Dream is a semi-orchestral suite in which seven of the eight compositions are launched by brief, yet memorable sections of John Kennedy’s speeches about equality and positive change. The recording was made over two days in February 1967, with a small, uncredited cast of New York’s finest session men, including Snooky Young on trumpet, Jerome Richardson and Jerry Dodgion on reeds, Phil Woods on alto sax (and solos), Phil Bodner on English horn, Danny Bank on bass clarinet, Don Butterfield on tuba, Hank Jones on piano and harpsichord, George Duvivier on bass and Grady Tate on drums.
Despite the stirring of Kennedy’s words and the rush of the occasional solo, one’s attention and admiration is drawn throughout to Nelson’s beautiful melodies, constructed with evocative passages and very personable turns of phrase. His writing for strings, for which he never got his proper due, is remarkable; filled with a purposeful passion and a rare and poetic restraint.
Each of the suite’s eight pieces have a chapter-like quality in what could be considered a musical novella – not quite the magnum opus it might have been under different circumstances (thanks to producer Bob Thiele, Nelson was probably lucky to get this record made at all) but certainly more reflective and insightful than a mere song could have ever conveyed. Still, the album’s highlights include “Let The Word Go Forth” (based on Example 45 from Nelson’s instruction Book Patterns For Saxophone), “The Artist’s Rightful Place,” known elsewhere as “Patterns For Orchestra” and, most notably, the outstanding “The Rights of All,” featuring a pizzicato strings rhythm and a gripping Phil Woods solo.
Released on CD* in what would have been Kennedy’s 82nd year – and during the first year into the term of a president who presents as much hope for positive change as Kennedy once did - The Kennedy Dream is a remarkable work from a period when orchestral jazz was not all that uncommon. It is as much a musical tribute to the presidential legacy of John Fitzgerald Kennedy as it is a documented tribute to the beautiful musical legacy of Oliver Edward Nelson.
* The Kennedy Dream was included on the 6-CD Mosaic boxset, Oliver Nelson: The Argo, Verve and Impulse Big Band Studio Sessions issued in February 2006.”