Sunday, September 8, 2019

“Tom Talbert: A Different Voice”

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

“The music of Tom Talbert is the essence of creative Jazz composition. Like all great artists, Talbert gains inspiration from his surroundings, both past and present, and molds it into his own musical voice. His music has been described as ‘a stylistic combination of Jazz, French Impressionism, abstraction and blowing.”
- Ken Poston, Director, Los Angeles Jazz Institute

“Since the mid-1940s, Tom Talbert has kept to his own path and his own vision, writing extraordinary music. Judged on talent and quality alone, he would be as well known a composer and arranger as Gil Evans, Bill Holman, Thad Jones and Bob Brookmeyer.”
- Doug Ramsey, Jazz author and critic

"A jazz classicist, schooled in the past, with a yen for the future, Tom Talbert is a romantic who shuns the cliché. He is a technician who trusts the heart. Even when he's being clever his notes are warm and tender."
- Budd Schulberg, writer and columnist

I’ve always had a fondness for rehearsal bands and over the years I’ve played in a great number of them.

A few of these were led by notable bandleaders, but the majority were assembled by composer-arrangers who were “amateurs” in the true, French meaning of that term.

Their main interest in running a rehearsal band was to have a vehicle in which to hear their arrangements, which, interestingly enough, is in line with the main reason why the great Duke Ellington maintained his own orchestra throughout his lifetime.

Because there is so little money involved, finding a time and place to rehearse and a group of musicians who can make it on a regular basis can be challenging. It also takes a few volunteers to copy all the parts for the arrangements.

Musicians play and interpret music differently, so it helps if the rehearsal band leader can keep at least a core or nucleus together and substitute around them.

The first trumpet and first alto chairs, lead trombone and rhythm section are the sources for most of the continuity in the “sound” of a big band arrangement and the “style” of the band itself.

Soloists obviously add a lot, too, but they are more interchangeable, because when someone gets up to blow, they are usually expressing their individualism and not that of the writer/leader of the band.

Some pretty talented arranger-composers have toiled in the relative obscurity of rehearsal bands.

A few of these rehearsal band leaders have become “discovered” and contracted with to write arrangements for well-known bands and vocalists .

Occasionally, they may even catch the ear of a producer who hires them to score an album of their own for a lesser known recording company.

One of the benefits of volunteering for rehearsal bands is that you often come across very different and even unconventional arrangements. It’s always fun to try and sound like the Basie Band or deal with the elaborate arrangements of Pete Rugolo and Stan Kenton or try to get into the light and airy feeling of the Thad Jones – Mel Lewis Orchestra, but nobody ever does it as well as the originals.

That’s why it’s enjoyable to play the original music and/or arrangements of a New Voice, a writer who takes your ears in a different direction.

Someone who fits this mold perfectly is Tom Talbert, a composer-arranger who began his career in this manner. Following the Second World War, he put together a series of rehearsal bands that were primarily based in Los Angeles.

He described how it all began in the insert notes to a CD that Sea Breeze issued which documents Tom’s music 1946-1949 [SB-2069]. It’s a very familiar and almost classic story of the evolution of a series of rehearsal bands under a then-unknown composer, arranger and leader.

“My first Los Angeles band began rehearsing in the spring of 1946.

I had been in the army and was discharged from a band at Fort Ord, California the summer before. I had no formal music schooling and the year I spent as chief arranger for a good army dance band was a major part of my education. Worked with several bands and met arranger-bandleader Johnny Richards in Boston. Moved to Los Angeles the winter of 1946 and was soon living at the Harvey Hotel...a musician's hangout fondly referred to as the Hot Harvey.

Before long Richards appeared and, in his generous manner, started looking for things I could do. He soon encouraged me to start a band and that seemed a logical move for an out-of-work twen­ty-one year old arranger. We started with a group of guys who wanted to play and as we rehearsed some were changed and others just left for a real job. The trumpet section of Lou Obergh, Ronnie Rochat and Frank Beach was very strong. Veteran Babe Russin brought his beautiful tone to the sax section.

Richards' brother, Jack Cascales, had a small label, Paramount Records, and he was also acting as my manager. (Last I ever had.) He wanted to record the band. The session at Radio Recorders Studio in June 1946 went very well and we, the orchestra and my arrangements, were out in the world.

I took a smaller group to a nice but miniature casino at Lake Tahoe for July and August. Back in Los Angeles that fall, we were rehearsing and working occasionally. I wrote Flight of the Vout Bug. It was recorded with a good band put together for the date and having the great Al Killian playing lead trumpet was a joy for me. Dodo Marmarosa was tops as my featured piano soloist.

When we went to Tahoe I hired a fine drummer, Dick Stanton. He would later introduce a num­ber of good, young players into the band who were Los Angelenos. Then, in the summer of 1947, I went on the road with Anita O'Day and wound up in New York.

Returning to Los Angeles I started rehearsing the band again. There was considerable arrang­ing work as another musician's union recording ban was imminent. We did some sessions for Paramount with singer Joan Barton that were used on television, lip-synched in early TV fashion. Although I was unhappy with the engineering, we did a good date early New Year's Eve to beat the ban and to record a couple of forgettable pop tunes for the company. We included my Love Is A Pleasure, then called Never Meant For Me.

The band continued to rehearse and play an occasional job during 1948. Warne Marsh and Steve White were the tenors when we played the Trianon Ballroom that April.

Early in 1949 I met Ed Nathan, a warm-hearted, erudite man who worked at CBS. Ed put a lot of effort into trying to get something going for the band but L.A. was not the place nor was it the propitious time in the business. We were playing some jobs, rehearsing weekly, and the band was very tight and up for some concerts at the Coronet Theatre that spring. Don Prell was on bass. Wes Hensel now played lead trumpet between Johnny Anderson and Johnny McComb, so that section was set.

Art Pepper's arrival in the band gave us a new voice. We hadn't had an improvising alto player before and, at the time, Art was already one of the greatest players around. Harry Betts joined John Haliburton in the trombone duo. El Koeling and Don Davidson were still playing lead alto and bari­tone saxophones. Jack Montrose and Johnny Barbera were the tenors.

Pianist Claude Williamson had just left Charlie Barnet and was often in the audience we regu­larly had at rehearsals. I had broken my arm in a fall from a horse, and Claude started playing with Prell and the lightly swinging Jimmy Pratt on drums. The final band was now in place.

Everyone was young and full of energy. I wrote new music for each rehearsal and Don Davidson copied it. (As Ronnie Rochat had done for the first band. What great friends!) The band was extremely faithful about rehearsal and job commitments and good natured with my demands on shading and intonation. As a group, they grew to play with confident authority. Plus, we liked each other and each other's playing. Twenty-six years later Art Pepper reflected, "They were all such nice guys."

So, in November 1949, I was back in Radio Recorders good studio where we had first recorded. I was sending acetate audition discs east to the recording companies where they were then judged not commercial. Perhaps that surprised only me. Bands were being canceled, not signed. But, we kept having .rehearsals. That winter, 1950, Stan Kenton decided to reorganize. Pepper and Betts went on the Innovations Orchestra and I was asked to write. We disbanded.

I followed the audition records east that spring.”

In what has to be considered a true labor-of-love, Bruce Talbot, who is always doing nice things for Jazz, put together a fascinating book about Tom and his music.

Bruce was born in Wellington, New Zealand, where, as a young radio producer in the late 1950s he first heard and was moved by Tom Talbert's music. Moving to London, England in 1963 he worked for the BBC in radio, television and record production before being invited, in 1991, to come to the U.S. as Executive Producer of the Smithsonian Collection of Recordings record label.

Bruce’s book is entitled Tom Talbert: His Life and Times: Voices From a Vanished World of Jazz, Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press, 2004 | Series: Studies in Jazz (Book 45).

The following is a brief synopsis of the book.

"A jazz classicist, schooled in the past, with a yen for the future, Tom Talbert is a romantic who shuns the cliché. He is a technician who trusts the heart. Even when he's being clever his notes are warm and tender."

Budd Schulberg wrote these words in 1957. Almost 50 years later they still apply. A contemporary of Gerry Mulligan, Shorty
Rogers, Gil Evans, Bill Holman, and Ralph Burns, Tom Talbert is a composer, arranger, bandleader, and pianist. In the late 1940s he led his own big band in Los Angeles, featuring star artists like Art Pepper, Warne Marsh, and Claude Williamson. In New York in the 1950’s he wrote for Charlie Barnet, Buddy Rich, Claude Thornhill, Marian McPartland, Kai Winding, Machito, and conceived and scored some strikingly original jazz recordings that were issued under his own name.”

Tom Talbert returned to
Los Angeles in 1975 and has continued to record his own innovative, impressionistic, and subtly swinging music using the finest players, even to this day. In this account of his life and career, Bruce Talbot paints a vivid portrait of Tom Talbert and his world. Utilizing first-hand accounts, the book is crammed with memories of Los Angeles in the 40s, road tours of the Mid-West, a rare glimpse of the Twin Cities jazz scene during World War II, and a portrait of New York City in the 50s when it was truly the jazz capital of the world. The book includes a complete discography of Tom Talbert's work and a CD containing fourteen of his most important and representative recordings.

The editorial staff at JazzProfiles collected these Editorial Reviews to give you some additional perspectives on the significance of Tom Talbert’s music and Bruce’s book.

“He could have been as famous as Gil Evans or Quincy Jones. Certainly the talent was there in abundance. Instead, Tom Talbert remains one of jazz's most neglected figures, his unique arranging and composing abilities known only to the discerning few who listen to music based on its content rather than its name value. Expatriate New Zealander Bruce Talbot, formerly head of the BBC and Smithsonian record divisions, brings his own vast jazz knowledge and experience to this fascinating biography. In dealing with Tom Talbert's life and works he depicts the man against the backdrop of an equally neglected period of American music, that of the post-war experimental years of the late 1940s and early 1950s, where talent bloomed in the unlikeliest of places, flourished despite the awful conditions imposed on the traveling musicians, only to choke and die on the creeping blight known as rock 'n' roll. Truly a golden age that has been overlooked by jazz historians, here brought vividly to life again by the author.” (Brooks, Michael )

 “Since the mid-1940s, Tom Talbert has kept to his own path and his own vision, writing extraordinary music. Judged on talent and quality alone, he would be as well known a composer and arranger as Gil Evans, Bill Holman, Thad Jones and Bob Brookmeyer. In this fascinating biography, Bruce Talbot examines the circumstances and choices that have won Talbert the admiration of music insiders and left him a secret to most of the public. Talbot's book should do much to bring Talbert recognition he has long deserved.” (Doug Ramsey, Jazz Matters: Reflections on the Music )

“Bruce Talbot's edgy biography of an American Jazz original reads like a John dos Passos epic novel of America in the World War II and Post War years. Only it isn't a novel - it's the jazz life captured through the wide eyes of a young mid-western musician who was born to make his mark in jazz. Bruce Talbot turns in a dazzling writing performance - it's a very hip, very real, very full biography of a brilliant musician known until now as "the best kept secret in jazz'. Discover Tom Talbert and live life on the road, in the studios and in Jazz history.” (Dom Cerulli )

“This well researched book should bring belated recognition to one of the music's most neglected figures.” (Jazz Journal International )

“…not only a source of intrigue for the jazz enthusiast, but also fascinating for the average reader who may be unfamiliar with Talbert's quiet legacy. (International Musician)

“A fascinating view of this talented gentleman from the world of jazz. Beyond that, however, it also gives a perceptive insight into the various musical environments that formed Talbert's style, and the ways in which he contributed to the development of modern big band music. For those of you who just dig hearing inside stories from musicians, many of them full of humor, there is plenty of meat here for you. If you love delving more deeply into jazz history, you will also find great satisfaction in this volume.” (Jersey Jazz )

“Don't let the opportunity pass to learn more about [Talbert]. His is the stuff of real quality, and the Jazz world and anyone with an interest in composing and arranging should be made more aware of this fact.” (Jazz Now )

“There is an abundance of gorgeous writing and arranging on this disc, and combined with the book's many great stories, and its reevaluation of one of the music's great arrangers, this is truly one of the Jazz publishing events of the year.” (Cadence )

The following video tribute to Tom contains a sampling of his music with an audio track comprised of Shipping Out from his Louisiana Suite.