Friday, May 7, 2021

"GOODBYE, FRANK" by Joe Lang

 © Copyright ® Steven Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

“Before Frank, there were Rudy Vallee and Bing Crosby, but they only laid some groundwork for the man who would write the book on how to sing those great songs of the Gershwins and Berlin, Kern and Porter, Mercer and Carmichael, Arlen and Rodgers, and, most particularly for him, the words of Sammy Cahn blending with the music of Jimmy VanHeusen and Jule Styne.  No one could swing harder or be more tender with a ballad.  He respected both the words and the music.  He made us aware of what phrasing meant in a musical sense.  He didn't always sing them the way that they were written, but when he applied his sensitivity to a song, it was somehow his forever.”

- Joe Lang

The banner under JazzProfiles reads: “Focused Profiles on Jazz and its Creators while also featuring the work of guest writers and critics on the Subject of Jazz.” [Emphasis mine].

My intention from the outset was to share this page with others whose writings on the subject of Jazz I respect. Over the years, I learned a great deal about the music from the insights, observations and commentaries of many knowledgeable and experienced authors, essayists and critics, so why not share some of these with you from time-to-time?

Which brings me to Joe Lang who lives in New Jersey and writes articles and audio-visual reviews about Jazz and popular culture for JerseyJazz the magazine of the New Jersey Jazz Society which you can locate more about by visiting their website.

Given the transcontinental distance between us, Joe and I visit via the internet, a chat group devoted to West Coast Jazz to which we both belong and via the occasional phone call.

Joe wrote this on May 14, 1998 - the day Frank died. Ultimately, I suppose there is something quintessentially congruent about bringing up a piece about Frank Sinatra by a writer of Jazz and socio-cultural themes based in New Jersey.


“He wasn't a jazz singer, but he was a jazz kind of guy.  A skinny kid from Hoboken who had the will, wit and talent to become one of the defining figures of 20th Century American culture.  There never was and never will be another quite like him.  Francis Albert Sinatra a.k.a. The Voice,  a.k.a. Ol' Blue Eyes, a.k.a. The Chairman of the Board.  Well, Ring-A-Ding-Ding and Scoobee-Doo-Bee-Doo, he's seen the final curtain, but he will live on through his music and his legend.


There are certain figures who become bigger than life in the eyes of the masses.  Frank stood right up there with Louis, Bing, Judy and Elvis, those special someones who didn't need the formality of a second name.  Mention any of them, and only the very unhip or very young will give you a blank stare.  Of them all, however, Sinatra stands alone, for his fire and influence has burned brightly until this very day, and will continue to do so for a long time to come.


Before Frank, there were Rudy Vallee and Bing Crosby, but they only laid some groundwork for the man who would write the book on how to sing those great songs of the Gershwins and Berlin, Kern and Porter, Mercer and Carmichael, Arlen and Rodgers, and, most particularly for him, the words of Sammy Cahn blending with the music of Jimmy VanHeusen and Jule Styne.  No one could swing harder or be more tender with a ballad.  He respected both the words and the music.  He made us aware of what phrasing meant in a musical sense.  He didn't always sing them the way that they were written, but when he applied his sensitivity to a song, it was somehow his forever.


Listen to any who came after him, Tony Bennett, Vic Damone, Mel Torme, Jack Jones, Matt Monro, Harry Connick, Jr., John Pizzarelli or any of hundreds of others, and you hear part of The Man.  Sure he spoke of his influences, Bing, his inspiration, Louis, who played with words, Billie Holiday, who started the book on phrasing, Tommy Dorsey, who taught him how to breathe, and Mabel Mercer, a lyric's special friend.  Listen to Bing after Frank, however, and you will hear the inspiration being influenced by the insipireree.  That is how important Sinatra was to pop music.


Ah, the music!  Before all else comes the music.  Once he decided to make it as a singer, nothing could stop him.  The boy was brash, and you had better not get in his way.  The Hoboken Four on Major Bowes, a sustaining show on WNEW, the Rustic Cabin gig, a few minutes with Harry James, a bit longer with Dorsey, and then he was ready to take on the world.  The world would never be the same.  The Paramount with the screamers, and on to Hollywood for some nifty musicals.  Then came Ava, and the constantly shifting highs and lows.  Mitch Miller didn't help, but Frank didn't either.  He was running himself into the ground, physically and emotionally.  The voice disappeared and the bottom arrived swiftly.  Thank God for Maggio!


Funny how it happened, but the turnaround for the greatest of all popular singers found its roots in an acting role.  The Oscar was the icing, the real thing was the return of the voice.  Great as those 40's Columbia recordings were, they never unleashed the real Capitol swinger who tore up the musical world.  If they thought he was cocky the first time around, they hadn't seen anything yet.  He could out swing and out sensitive them all.  There were songs for swinging lovers to come fly and dance and swing with all the way. Others were for only the lonely, to be heard in the wee small hours of the morning when no one cares.


Power gives one a need to control even more and more.  He decided to Reprise his Capitol success on his own, no bosses to tell him what he should record.  It was a kick being the boss for a while, but it gets in the way of the music and the fun times.  Some cats at Warner Bros. made him an offer he couldn't refuse.  You can be your own boss without the responsibilities.  OK!


The true quality recordings were fewer and farther between, but the concerts were getting better and better.  Suddenly, enough was enough.  Time to step back and take a break.  Maybe for a day, maybe forever.  A couple of years off were as long as it took.  The music was still within and had to come out.  All the affirmation coming from the audiences didn't hurt either.  The voice was heavier, wearing the years of hard living on its sleeve.  That's all right, the phrasing was still there, and the wisdom grown from experience made for deeper readings of lyrics.


Time plays its own game, however, and the best was no longer yet to come.  There were still the flashes of brilliance, and even on most off nights, he was still better than most, but not better than all.  Still they came, perhaps expecting miracles, perhaps just happy that he was still there for them.  Funny, but the last song sung publicly was not "My Way," but "The Best Is Yet to Come."  He never stopped believing, at least in public.


He made no formal announcement, but we all knew that the public side was over.  We were sad that he couldn't do it anymore.  We were glad that he didn't continue to try.  There were still the recordings and videos to provide a fix for those addicted to his art.     


There was another side to his oh so public life.  The fighter for the rights of  black Americans long before it was the thing to do.  The pugnacious swinger who loved and fought and partied right on the front pages.  He just couldn't be ignored.  This Jersey guy became a world figure who influenced not only music, but also lifestyles.  There he was, shoulder to shoulder with presidents, but always thought of by the folks on the street as one of them.


Then there was the private side.  No one could be more generous.  Countless stories came to light of how he was there to help, usually with little or no fanfare.  Some of those he assisted were friends, but many were just acquaintances or even strangers.  They needed a helping hand, and he was moved to be the one to offer it.  It was not pleasant to be on his wrong side, however, for he had a long memory for those he didn't favor.  Ask especially some of those in the world of journalism who felt his wrath.  This anger should have remained private, but such was his nature that he often felt the need to make it public.  Truly a man of extremes!


I have always loved music, but must admit to having come to Sinatra later than I wished that I had.  I was naive about his genius for too long a time, but when I saw the light, the passion became intense.  The first album I bought was Come Fly With Me, then Only the Lonely and then and then and then...  Books also, more than I can remember or probably find.


The in-person thing didn't happen for me until the mid-80's at the arena in the Meadowlands.  Buddy Rich opened.  Nice, but we weren't really there for that.  When it was time for Frank, an electricity burst through the crowd like nothing I had ever experienced.  The love and devotion of the Sinatraphiles jumped out of every pore of their essence, and you could not help but become part of this very special feeling.


Several times after this I saw the same thing happen, and reveled in being a part of it.  The moment I remember most vividly is an unbelievably powerful reading of "Soliloquy" at the Garden States Arts Center.  Here was a man who was really too old to sing this young father's song, but he made you believe that he was once again in his twenties and waiting for his first child.  Underneath it, however, he brought a depth of wisdom that could only have come from a man who had already experienced all of life.  I was moved then, and I am moved now with the remembrance.


The last time I saw him, I recall less fondly.  Again it was at the Garden State Arts Center.  He was only a dim ghost of what I had come to expect.  The words were sometimes forgotten, the voice just could not reach the right notes, and some of his comments you would rather not have heard.  I can remember what served as an exclamation point for my disappointment that evening.  As I left, I overheard a young man say to his date "Well, I'm glad that I saw him, but he's no Harry Connick."  I could have cried, but quickly realized that it had become time to listen to the recordings and remember the good times.


When I heard the news of Frank's passing, I felt a mixture of sadness and relief, a reaction which I am sure was shared by countless others.  He was no longer a living part of our world, but his difficult last years were finally over.  We still have the music and the memories, and that should be plenty enough to carry us through the grief.


He sang of doing it his way.  His behavior did not always please everyone.  His music, however, has crossed more generational lines than any other performer.  There are still teenagers today who respond to his music.  Some may have "jewelry" stuck into parts of their body that I cannot believe were meant for such things, and buy albums that I find it difficult to believe even exist, but I am never shocked when they hear Sinatra playing and are visibly moved by what they are hearing.  Words of admiration often follow.  From the 1930's into the 1990's, his star stayed brighter than any other.  There were a lot of pretenders along the way, but there was only one Sinatra, and we are glad that there was.  We'll never stop listening, Frank.”       

Thursday, May 6, 2021

Thelonious Monk - Bemsha Swing

Blumenthal on Thelonious [From the Archives]

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

“He dealt in phrases with odd shapes, placed into odd niches on the bar line, stressed in odd places. Melodically, he created tight, stark nuggets that served as seeds for complete musical statements once cultivated through his surprising use of modulation and accent. Monk's strong, aggressive touch produced tones of hornlike boldness on the piano, and his rhythmic patience highlighted the rich overtones this attack produced.

When he worked with horns, this tonal character carried over to the rough-edged ensembles he preferred to bebop's characteristic unison lines. And there was Monk's dense and pungent harmonic palette, which Andre Hodeir likened to an acid bath when applied to popular material. These various techniques functioned so integrally as to seem inseparable.

These attributes of Monk’s music, so familiar to us now and more central to the ongoing evolution of Jazz with each passing day, took an uncommonly long time for the public to grasp.”
- Bob Blumenthal, Jazz writer, columnist and critic

During the many years that he wrote about Jazz for The Boston Globe, CD Review, The Atlantic Monthly, Downbeat and numerous other publications, Grammy-Award winning author, columnist and critic Bob Blumenthal became one of my most consistent teachers about all-things-Jazz

For his long affiliation with it and studied application of it, Bob knows the music.

Equally important is his ability to communicate this knowledge and awareness in a writing style that is clear, cogent and concise.

Bob’s a mensch and a mentor.

My first awareness of Thelonious Monk’s music was based on the LPs he recorded for Orrin Keepnews at Riverside Records from approximately 1955-1960. The significance of these recordings was that they helped make the Jazz public of that period aware of Monk’s genius, such that Thelonious career was set on a path that would lead to fame and fortune.

The Riverside albums were a renaissance of sorts for Monk who, although he was one of the originators of modern Jazz along with Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, and Kenny Clarke and others from the Minton's Playhouse days of the early 1940’s, had largely become a forgotten man by the end of that decade.

In 1994, Blue Note Records issued a boxed set of the music that Thelonious had recorded for the label under his own name and as sideman on a 1957 date with Sonny Rollins as the leader. The set also includes the five tracks that were recorded by John Coltrane's wife Naima at the Five Spot in NYC during Coltrane's tenure with Monk's quartet in 1958.

This reissued set provided a sort of missing link in my quest to appreciate the early years of Monk’s music.

And if that wasn’t enough, wouldn’t you know that the insert notes to the four CD’s that make up Thelonious Monk: The Complete Blue Note Recordings [CDP 7243 8 30363 2 5] were written by none other than … you guessed it … Bob Blumenthal.

Bob has kindly granted the editorial staff at JazzProfiles permission to use the introductory portion of his Blue Note annotations on these pages.

© -  Bob Blumenthal, copyright protected, all rights reserved; used with the author’s permission.

“Thelonious Sphere Monk inherited his striking name, yet it is doubtful that the collective energy of all the slogan-makers could have devised a more appropriate appellation. Never has a moniker so perfectly reflected someone's music. "Thelonious" announces imposing complexity and originality with roots in tradition, "Monk" signals abrupt angularity, and the rhythmic impact of the two in juxtaposition is indelible and unique. The rich internal detail was frequently lost on others in the past, who tended to fashion the first name as "Thelonius," mirroring the confusion that surrounded Monk's music (fortunately, misunderstandings of both types have diminished over time). Most revealing of all, though, is "Sphere," with its intimations of rounded, three-dimensional completeness, of a self-contained planet pursuing its own course in the musical universe.

That sense of fullness, together with Monk's brilliant use of sound, silence, dissonance, rhythmic surprise and melodic cogency, marked the music in this collection from its initial appearance as something exceptional. For many, musicians as well as listeners, it was also somewhat undecipherable when first released on a series of 78 rpm records taken from the six sessions that form the bulk of this collection. At the time, Monk was considered the jazz world's primary enigma, the farthest out of the far out. He was said to be one of the fountainheads of bebop, its "high priest"; yet his music did not sound like bebop. The breathless, arpeggio-driven virtuosity of bop that was already becoming cliche when Monk recorded his first sessions as a leader was replaced in his music by a concept of space that was poetic. He dealt in phrases with odd shapes, placed into odd niches on the bar line, stressed in odd places. Melodically, he created tight, stark nuggets that served as seeds for complete musical statements once cultivated through his surprising use of modulation and accent. Monk's strong, aggressive touch produced tones of hornlike boldness on the piano, and his rhythmic patience highlighted the rich overtones this attack produced. When he worked with horns, this tonal character carried over to the rough-edged ensembles he preferred to bebop's characteristic unison lines. And there was Monk's dense and pungent harmonic palette, which Andre Hodeir likened to an acid bath when applied to popular material. These various techniques functioned so integrally as to seem inseparable.

These attributes of Monk’s music, so familiar to us now and more central to the ongoing evolution of Jazz with each passing day, took an uncommonly long time for the public to grasp The uniqueness of his music was reinforced by the eccentricities of his personality. He may have been the "genius of modern music," as Blue Note proclaimed when it first reissued some of the enclosed performances on 10-inch IPs in the early '50s; but to many he was a mad genius, given to wearing odd hats and sunglasses and with what his wife Nellie once described as a "marvelous sense of withdrawal." When he cut his first session as a leader in October 1947, he was five days past his 30th birthday, a point at which too many of the music's innovators had exhausted both their creative and biological spans. By the time of his sixth and final Blue Note date as a leader in 1952, he was nearly 35 and, thanks to public indifference and his willingness to take a drug possession rap for a friend, seemingly even further from the acclaim that would put him on the cover of Time Magazine little more than a decade later and elevate him still further in the years following his death in 1982.

Of course, Monk was nothing if not patient. At the time of his first Blue Note session, he had been a key figure in the emergence of the modern style for years; yet all he had to show for his efforts on record were four titles cut in 1944 with Coleman Hawkins and some samples of the already legendary jam sessions at Minton's taped at the club and issued under Charlie Christian's name. As a composer he fared better, with Hawkins, Cootie Williams, Dizzy Gillespie, Kenny Clarke and Bud Powell already having introduced several of his most famous compositions. The three sessions he led for Blue Note in a span of 38 days in 1947, which included 10 of his compositions, might be viewed as one of the greatest bursts of creative energy in history if Monk had not been waiting to unleash this brilliant music for a decade. On record at least, he began fully formed and more than ready.

Monk was born on October 10, 1917 in Rocky Mount, North Carolina and was named after his father. (His son, the drummer T. S. Monk, is actually Monk III.) His family moved to New York City in 1923, occupying a house on West 63rd Street in the San Juan Hill neighborhood that would remain Monk's home for much of his life. His musical career began typically enough for an African-American youth of the time: piano lessons at 11, rent parties and amateur contests three years later, and regular work in church, where he accompanied his mother. Despite excelling in math and science at Stuyvesant High School, Monk dropped out in 1934 to accompany an evangelist on a tour that ultimately took him to the Midwest. Mary Lou Williams, one of his earliest champions, heard him at the time and later reported that he displayed a fluid swing piano technique, with touches of Teddy Wilson.

Back in New York by 1936, Monk studied briefly at Juilliard and began taking the diverse gigs that are a young musician's lot. He also quickly immersed himself in the Harlem after-hours scene, landing a job in the house rhythm section at Minton's Playhouse in 1940. This was the period during which young musicians began developing a more technically advanced approach that went beyond the conventions of swing music, in clubs like Minton's and Monroe's Uptown House. At Minton's, Monk and his rhythm section mate Kenny Clarke jammed with such sympathetic contemporaries as Charlie Christian, Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker.

The pianist also began introducing his compositions to the sessions, and encouraged a second generation of even younger players, especially his protege Bud Powell. These efforts continued when Monk moved with Clarke to Kelly's Stables in 1942.

Gillespie and others have verified that Monk participated actively in the give-and-take of these sessions, and the music that evolved from this period expressed, especially in its harmonic approach, certain aspects of Monk's thinking. The rapid tempos and arpeggiated melodies generally identified with bebop are far removed from Monk's aesthetic, however, and he quickly distanced himself from the center of bop activity. Although he did some work with Lucky Millinder, Coleman Hawkins and both the early combo and big band of Dizzy Gillespie, much of his time in the remainder of the '40s was spent organizing his own groups, often with young players like the teenaged Sonny Rollins. A few jobs cropped up, but his bands spent much of their time rehearsing in Monk's kitchen (where he kept his piano), even after he began recording for Blue Note.

The notoriety of his accompanists was less important to Monk than their ability to learn his music correctly. He had little tolerance for complaints about his music's difficulty - he famously told Sahib Shihab at one of the Blue Note sessions, "You a musician? You got a union card? Then play it!" - his insistence on writing little down and forcing players to use their ears only heightened the challenge. Most responded surprisingly well, whether they turned out to be giants like Art Blakey and Milt Jackson, or obscure journeymen who would be totally forgotten if not for their role in the documentation of Monk's music.

Saxophonist Ike Quebec, a Blue Note leader and adviser to label owners Alfred Lion arid Francis Wolff, was

instrumental in bringing Monk to their attention when they expressed interest in documenting modern jazz. His input is most obvious on Monk's initial session, recorded on October 15, 1947, where Quebec takes composer credit on two of the four titles and where his 17-year-old cousin Danny Quebec West is the alto saxophonist. The other saxophonist, tenor man Billy Smith, is similarly unknown, while the remaining sidemen proved to have greater longevity. Trumpeter Idrees Sulieman, born Leonard Graham in 1923, worked in various big bands and combos before moving to Europe in 1961 and is still playing in 1994. Bassist Gene Ramey (1913-84) was a colleague of Charlie Parker's in the Jay McShann orchestra and became one of the most widely recorded players of the period. Art Blakey (1919-90), soon to be identified as Monk's perfect drummer, would begin his own career as a leader for Blue Note before the year was out. …”

At this point, Bob begins a session-by-session analysis of the tunes and musicians that make up the music on the four Blue Note CD’s and concluded his essay with the following observations about the importance of Monk’s music on Blue Note in the evolution of Monk’s own career and to the development of modern Jazz in the 1950s and beyond.

“Some might consider the lengthier tracks with Rollins and Coltrane extraneous additions to what otherwise would be a perfectly acceptable set of "complete" Blue Note Monk. Given that Monk's music grew and expanded, though, sounding ever more clearly in the ears of musicians and listeners, these later performances strike me as essential complements to the groundbreaking sessions of 1947-52.

They take us into the future, where Monk becomes more and more central to jazz of the late 20th century and where, in the years following the issuance of this collection, he will no doubt assume his rightful place as one of the greatest contributors to American culture.”

- Bob Blumenthal

Wednesday, May 5, 2021

"The Forgotten Ones:" Don Fagerquist - Gordon Jack [From the Archives]

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

Gordon Jack, author of Fifties Jazz Talk: An Oral Retrospective and a frequent contributor to JazzJournal “dropped by” the editorial offices of JazzProfiles recently with a generous offer to post his piece on trumpeter Don Fagerquist [1927-1974] to the blog.

Don was one of the musicians based on the Left Coast who always knocked me out.

He had one of the most beautiful sounds that I ever heard on trumpet; plus, he was one heckuva swinger, which always caught me by surprise. Here’s this lyrical, pretty tone, and the next thing you know the guy is poppin’ one terrific Jazz phrase after another.

The trumpet seemed to find him. His was one of the purest tones you will ever hear on the horn. In Don Fagerquist, the instrument had one of its clearest forms of expression.

Don never seemed to get outside of himself. He joined big bands and combos to work in that both complimented and complemented the way he approached playing the trumpet.

His tone was what musicians referred to as “legit” [short for legitimate = the sound of an instrument often associated with its form in Classical music].

No squeezing notes through the horn, no half-valve fingering and no tricks or shortcuts. Even his erect posture in playing the instrument was textbook.

If you had a child who wished to play trumpet, Don would have been the perfect teacher for all facets of playing the instrument.

He was clear, he was clean and he was cool.

His sound had a presence to it that just snapped your head around when you heard it; it made you pay attention to it.

No shuckin’ or jiving’, just the majesty of the trumpeter’s clarion call . When the Angel Gabriel picked trumpet as his axe [Jazz talk for instrument], he must have had Don’s tone in mind.

Here’s the full text of Gordon’s article which appeared in the July 2014 edition of JazzJournal. You can locate more information about JazzJournal by going here.

© -  Gordon Jack/JazzJournal; used with the author’s permission; copyright protected; all rights reserved.
“Don Fagerquist’s distinctive trumpet sound graced the bands of Gene Krupa, Artie Shaw, Woody Herman and Les Brown as soloist and section leader for a number of years from the mid-forties. Although a prolific recording artist (Tom Lord lists 364 sessions)  he is almost unknown today and for that reason it is worth highlighting a few comments about him from former colleagues: “I loved Don’s playing” (Gerry Mulligan); “Marvellous. He was ahead of his time” (Herb Geller); “He was a genius – a class act” (Dave Pell); “A tremendous jazz player” (Arno Marsh); “He really is a player - he’s the best” (Les Brown) and “He was a great improviser…everyone liked him” (Phil Urso).

Carl Saunders one of the most in-demand trumpeters in Los Angeles has cited him as a primary influence along with Kenny Dorham and Freddie Hubbard. (Bill Perkins once told me that “Carl idolised him”). In 1956 when Leonard Feather conducted a poll exclusively for musicians, both George Shearing and Urbie Green listed Don as one of their favourite trumpeters. Despite these testimonials his name has rarely been included on a list of the music’s finest soloists except once in 1955 when he secured fifth place in Metronome magazine’s annual poll. Robert Gordon probably said it best in his book (Jazz West Coast) “Don Fagerquist (was) a much underrated soloist. No doubt he was largely ignored because he laboured so often in the commercial vineyards of the Dave Pell Octet.”

Don who came from a musical family was born in Worcester, Massachusetts on the 6th. February 1927. He joined the Mal Hallett orchestra in 1943 which was based in Boston, working along the eastern side of the United States. The band included Buddy Wise, Sonny Rich, Dick Taylor and John Williams and in an enthusiastic Metronome review in 1944 George Simon said, “17 year old Don Fagerquist plays most of the lead…and then lets loose with some impressive jazz.” Like many of his generation his primary influences at this time were Harry James and Roy Eldridge.

In 1944 he began a long association with Gene Krupa that lasted off and on until 1950. He recruited Buddy Wise and Dick Taylor from Hallet’s band for Gene and they can all be heard soloing on one of Krupa’s biggest hits, Disc Jockey Jump by the nineteen year old Gerry Mulligan. It has a standard  AABA form with an A section resembling Four Brothers although as Gerry once ruefully pointed out it was recorded  nearly a year before Jimmy Giuffre’s classic. Don was the featured trumpet soloist and he can be heard on numerous other titles with the band like Leave Us Leap, Up An Atom, Lover and Opus One which are all good examples of his work at that time. The latter featured Anita O’Day and Don took leave of absence from the band in 1949 to work with her small group for about six months. Tiny Kahn was on drums but unfortunately they were never recorded.

That same year Artie Shaw was having tax problems so he decided to return to the music business with a new big band to help pay his debt to the IRS. Don was recruited along with some of the very best of the young modernists like Al Cohn, Zoot Sims, Herbie Steward, Jimmy Raney and Dodo Marmarosa. The leader also commissioned writers like George Russell, Johnny Mandel and Tadd Dameron to contribute new material which was performed with his old hits like Frenesi, Begin the Beguine, I Cover the Waterfront and Stardust.  Don was heard not only with the big band but also with a fresh edition of the Gramercy Five which successfully revisited numbers like Summit Ridge Drive, Grabtown Grapple and Cross Your Heart.

He left the Shaw band in 1950 to re-join Gene Krupa for a while and then early in 1951 he took Don Ferrara’s place with Woody Herman who was beginning a month’s residency at the Edgewater Beach Hotel in Chicago. In July that year Charlie Parker was recorded with the band at the Municipal Auditorium in Kansas City performing staples like Lemon Drop, Four Brothers, Caldonia, The Goof and I and More Moon. After the concert Don and Doug Mettome played with Parker at a local club. Fagerquist split the lead book with Conte Candoli and didn’t get too many solos but he can be heard on Celestial Blues, Moten Stomp and Singing in the Rain from a July 1952 recording session that was notable for a Woody Herman vocal on Early Autumn. A few months later after a Hollywood recording date he left Herman to join Les Brown who had a residency on the Bob Hope Show. He is prominently featured with the ‘Band of Renown’ on a double CD recorded at the Hollywood Palladium in 1953 on numbers like Rain, Happy Hooligan, Jersey Bounce and From This Moment On. This was when he and his family relocated to Los Angeles, eventually settling in Canoga Park in the San Fernando Valley.

His instrument of choice was a Calicchio trumpet which he played throughout his career and by the time he joined Les Brown his mature lyrical style was in full bloom. Rather like Clifford Brown (another well- schooled musician) he had a thorough knowledge of harmony and he was able to negotiate every chord change in a sequence with an effortless flow of melodic creativity - unlike Chet Baker for instance who could read music but was an ‘ear’ player when it came to improvisation.

Early in 1953 Dave Pell formed an octet with sidemen from Les  Brown’s band like Ray Sims, Ronny Lang and Fagerquist which proved to be very popular commercially leading some critics to accuse it of playing ‘Mortgage-paying jazz’. The public could not get enough of Pell’s octet and according to John Tynan writing in Downbeat it became, “The busiest small group in California”. The arrangements were by some of the finest Los Angeles-based writers like Shorty Rogers, Johnny Mandel, Andre Previn and Marty Paich and most of the charts had a guitar doubling the lead giving the group a bigger sound than might be expected from eight pieces.  Don’s lyrical trumpet on lead or soloing was an essential ingredient in the success of the group. He made eleven albums with Pell who in an interview with Marc Myers once said, “He had chops to do anything he thought of…he would steal the album again and again”.

The mid-fifties until December 1969 was a period of intense recording activity for him and after years of being on the road, the security of regular studio work must have seemed particularly attractive. In 1956 he joined the staff at Paramount Studios where he eventually performed on 85 film sound–tracks. He also became a first-call trumpet for recording sessions with artists as diverse as Shelly Manne, Red Norvo, Mel Torme, Buddy DeFranco, Art Pepper, Georgie Auld, Ray Charles, Nancy Wilson, Junior Mance and numerous others. He was on several of Ella Fitzgerald’s celebrated Song Book albums and he did Sinatra dates after Harry Edison stopped making them. He can also be heard on Barbra Streisand’s hit On A Clear Day. He performed on Hoagy Sings Carmichael soloing on Skylark, Winter Moon, Rockin’ Chair and Ballad in Blue prompting sleeve-note writer George Frazier to claim that Don was a new name to him, which was a surprising admission for a former DownBeat contributor.

One particularly memorable session was the 1954 Jazz Studio 2 album with Herb Geller, Milt Bernhart and Jimmy Giuffre. It includes classic versions of two of the most sophisticated ballads in the repertoire (Laura and Darn That Dream) on a recording that would merit five stars except for the presence of John Graas on French horn. He was a fine instrumentalist who had been a member of the Cleveland Symphony but the horn has more than eleven feet of tubing making it unsuitable for swiftly articulated bebop choruses. It also happens to be the most difficult of the brass family with an unforgiving mouthpiece – smaller than a trumpet’s. The only performer who seemed able to overcome the horn’s inherent problems was Julius Watkins.

A year later Don and Charlie Mariano recorded with singer Helen Carr who began her short career with Charles Mingus in 1949. It is a particularly intimate date with interesting material like Not Mine, I Don’t Want To Cry Anymore and Moments Like This - numbers you don’t hear every day. It also includes Cole Porter’s delightful Down In The Depths Of The 90thFloor which is available on YouTube.

That same year he recorded four titles under his own name with a Four Brothers saxophone section including Zoot Sims, Dave Pell, Bill Holman and Bob Gordon. Jordi Pujol has released it on his Jazz City series as Portrait of a Great Jazz Artist - a title that does not overstate Fagerquist’s immense talent. Also included on the CD are performances with Russell Garcia, Heinie Beau and Les Brown.

Even better was his only other date as a leader in 1957 where he was able to stretch out on a selection of superior standards arranged by Marty Paich. As always he decorates his melodic lines with chromatic runs embellished with delicate grace notes revealing a soloist of rare originality and taste. His warm sound has echoes of the great Bobby Hackett who of course was one of Miles’s favourites.

Throughout the sixties he continued to be very much in demand with artists like Louie Bellson, Billy May, Jo Stafford, Sammy Davis Jr., Henry Mancini, Elmer Bernstein, Sarah Vaughan and Neal Hefti. His last recording was in 1969 with Charlie Barnet’s big band playing a selection of current pop songs arranged by Billy May. There followed an unexplained gap in his activities until 1973 when along with Dave Pell, Jimmy Rowles, Ray Brown and Frank Capp he worked on a TV show hosted by Tom Kennedy for several months.

Don Fagerquist died in Los Angeles from a kidney complaint on January 24th. 1974

For more on this unsung giant go here to locate 26 of his solo transcriptions with Les Brown, Dave Pell, Marty Paich and Mel Torme.


As Leader

Portrait of a Great Jazz Artist (Jazz City Series FSR 2212)
Eight by Eight (V.S.O.P. Records 4CD)

As Sideman

Gene Krupa: Drummin’ Man (Columbia 501647 2)
Artie Shaw: The Complete Thesaurus Transcriptions 1949 (Hep CD 89/90)
Les Brown: Live at the Hollywood Palladium (Jasmine JASCD 407)
Helen Carr (Bethlehem CDSOL-6085)
Jazz Studio 1/2: Complete Sessions (Lonehill Jazz LHJ 10145)
Dave Pell Octet: Jazz for Dancing and Listening (Jazz City Series FSR 2242)

I have selected The Girl Next Door track from the Fresh Sound anthology Don Fagerquist: Portrait of a Jazz Artist [FSR 2212] for the following video tribute to Don.

Russ Garcia did the arrangement which has Don stating the melody as a ballad [0:00 – 1:07 minutes], then doubling the time [1:08 – 2:30 minutes] to allow Don to show off his Jazz chops before restating the theme as a ballad [2:31 minutes]. You might want to especially listen for the very clever ending in which Don plays a remarkably hip cadenza [3:16 minutes].

Jazz has had many great trumpet stylists over its almost 100 year history, but I don’t think that anyone has even played the horn prettier than Don Fagerquist.