Sunday, July 6, 2008

The Improbability of the Clarke Boland Big Band - Part 1

For a variety of reasons, I missed the Clarke Boland Big Band [CBBB] during most of its existence on the 1960s Jazz scene . Although I recall that many of my friends raved about the band, and I remember seeing their initial Atlantic LP – Jazz is Universal – on display in record stores, I never actually heard the band’s music until over 20 years after it had ceased to exist in 1972.

Thanks to the glorious era of re-issuance that followed the development of the compact disc, I now know what all the fuss was about. What a band! One of the all-time great bands in the history of Jazz.

Yet, judging by the opening paragraph from the chapter on the band in Mike Hennessey’s, Klook: The Story of Kenny Clarke [London: Quartet Books, 1990, pp. 160-177], it would appear that there were many reasons why this band should have been absented from that history in the first place.

And given Mr. Hennessey’s description of how the band came together and what it took to maintain it during the 12 or so years of existence, the fantasy world implication of the Disney art that adorns its More Jazz Japanese release may be more fitting than comical.

Of course, as a former drummer, how can you not love a big band that has two? But that’s another part of the improbable story as told by Mr. Hennessey, whose work is
[C] Copyright protected. All rights reserved.

“Almost everything about the Clarke‑Boland Big Band was improbable. It was invented, nurtured, nourished, fussed over, financed, promoted and absolutely adored by a German-­born Italian socialist whose qualifications for band management were that he was a trained architect and owner of a flourishing coffee bar in Cologne's Hohestrasse. Its leaders were two musicians who competed with each other in the art of staying in the background and maintaining a low profile. It roster of members over the years embraced more than a dozen nationalities, half a dozen religions and a daunting assortment of egos, most of them on the large side. To bring the band together for rehearsal, record dates and concerts involved formidable complexity of travel arrangements and much intricate juggling with the musicians' individual work schedules. Despite all of this, plus the inevitable, multiple frustrations, financial Everests, outbreaks of pique, petulance and pig-headedness, and that well‑known capacity of airlines to deliver a bass player to Cologne and his bass to Caracas, the band not only survived for eleven years but developed into a unit of surpassing excellence, becoming an important ‑ and genuinely significant ‑ part of jazz history. It was by far the finest jazz orchestra ever assembled outside the United States.

And Pier‑Luigi 'Gigi' Campi, the man who made it happen, is quite emphatic that the band simply could not have existed without Kenny Clarke. 'We needed his magic touch he told me.'

As a teenager in Italy during the Second World War, Campi used to listen under the blankets in a Jesuit college to jazz broadcasts from the American Forces Network. He listened to Louis Armstrong, Jimmie Lunceford, Roy Eldridge and Duke Ellington and among his circle of friends, jazz records were more highly prized than black‑market coffee.

But it was when Campi heard a Charlie Parker record in 1948 that he started to become a real jazz devotee. In 1949 he attended an international meeting of young socialists from all over Europe and, as he alighted from the train in Zurich, he saw a poster announcing a concert that evening by Django Reinhardt. A record by the Quintette du Hot Club de France was among those he had heard clandestinely in college and he couldn't resist the opportunity to see and hear Django in person. So he decided to skip the scheduled briefing for the
political meeting that evening and attend the concert instead. Gigi recalls:

There was another group mentioned on the poster but the names meant nothing to me. Django played the first half and I was really excited by the music. But in the second half, this group of black musicians played ‑ and the music sounded strange, but wonderful. I remember coming out of that concert feeling absolutely exhilarated. I was telling myself, 'Django was fine ‑ but those black musicians, they were really fantastic.' Three years later, James Moody and his group were touring Germany. My wife and I were passing through Munich on the way to a ski resort and we discovered that Moody's group was playing in town that evening. We went to the concert and as soon as the band took the stage, I said to my wife, 'I've seen that drummer before.'

The drummer, of course, was Kenny Clarke, who'd been a member of the band that had played the second half of the Django concert in 1949. And Gigi discovered that the men with Kenny at that time had been Miles Davis, Charlie Parker, Tommy Potter and Tadd Dameron, fresh from the historic first Jazz Festival.
‘I went backstage after the concert/ Gigi says, 'and had my first close‑up of what you later called "the thousand‑candle‑power-grin". Kenny impressed me enormously, not only as a drummer but as a person.'

The success of his coffee bar enabled Gigi Campi to indulge his love of jazz by
organizing concert tours and producing jazz records. He set up a tour for the Chet Baker Quartet and recorded Lars Gullin, Lee Konitz and Hans Koller for his Mod label. His enthusiasm, however, outstripped his entre­preneurial flair as a jazz promoter. He lost $10,000 on a 1956 Lee Konitz tour.

But I learned something from being on the road with Lee. My friends and I were big fans of cool jazz at that time, but Lee would always be singing Lester Young solos on the train. I think that tuned me in again to the swing‑band era. He also said that the next time he came on tour, I should make a point of hiring Kenny Clarke to play drums. But, after this tour had flopped, I decided to cut my losses and quit the jazz business. However, I remembered Kenny Clarke, of course, and I resolved that if I decided to get involved with jazz production and promotion again, the first thing I would make sure of was that I had a good rhythm section.

At the time that Campi was beating a retreat from jazz promotion, Francois 'Francy' Boland, a twenty‑ six‑year‑ old pianist, composer and arranger from Namur, Belgium, was in the United States writing arrangements for Benny Goodman and Count Basie, having been recommended by Mary Lou Williams. Boland, a largely self‑taught musician, had studied music for a few years at the local conservatory and had taken piano and harmony courses at the Liege Royal Conservatory. A great admirer of the swing bands, particularly those of Les Brown, Basie and Artie Shaw, he wrote his first big‑band arrangements in 1942 when he was thirteen years old.

Francy had also written arrangements for the German orchestras of Kurt Edelhagen and Werner Muller and it was through Edelhagen that Gigi Campi first became aware of his arranging skills. Kurt Edelhagen was the leader of one of Germany's most successful big jazz bands, a multi‑nation outfit which he assembled in 1957 and which, though a touch bombastic and lacking in subtlety, was one of the most impressive large jazz ensembles of its time in Europe and boasted some fine soloists ‑ including, at various times, Dusk Gojkovic, Jiggs Whigham, Carl Drevo, Peter Trunk, Jimmy Deuchar, Shake Keane, Ronnie Stephenson, Wilton Gaynair, Ferdinand Povel, Benny Bailey, Peter Herbolzheimer, Derek Humble and Ken Wray.
Edelhagen had a contract with the West Deutsche Rundfunk in Cologne, whose studios were opposite the office of Gigi Campi, and musicians from the band were always in the coffee shop. Campi used to go across the street to listen to the band rehearse, and on one of these occasions he heard a most arresting version of the Rodgers and Hart standard 'Johnny One Note'. He asked who'd done the arrangement and Chris Kellens, a Belgian who played trombone in the Edelhagen band said, 'That's one by the maestro, Francy Boland.' Campi toId Edelhagen that if he really wanted to develop the style and character of his band, he should give more arranging commis­sions to Boland.

Said Campi,

Francy was sending all the arrangements he was writing for Basie to Edelhagen as well, including 'Major's Groove', which later became 'Griff's Groove', a feature for Johnny Griffin. I had met Francy in 1955 when he was working with Chet Baker after the death of Chet's pianist, Dick Twardzik, and I remember enjoying his piano playing. Now, having listened to some of his arrangements, an idea was forming in my mind.

Later Francy, who had returned from the States after some disagreement over payment for the Basie arrangements, came to Cologne to look up some of his friends in the Edelhagen band, and Gigi told him that he was planning to put together a big band to play Boland's arrangements. They then spent an hour or so discussing the personnel for the band. At this time Gigi had returned to working as a jazz promoter, at least to the extent of featuring live jazz in his coffee house, so he had some musicians in mind. Campi made a point, in particular, of putting on jazz at the time of the annual fasching, the German mardi gras carnival, as a kind of antidote to what he called the 'traditional junk carnival music'. At carnival time in February 1960, Campi booked tenor saxophonist Don Byas and assem­bled in support Francy Boland, Kenny Clarke and a group of musicians from the Edelhagen band: Chris Kellens (trom­bone), Eddie Busnello (alto), Fats Sadi (vibes) and Jean War­land (bass). Recordings by this group were later issued by the German Electrola Company as Don Wails with Kenny.

The first real Clarke‑Boland recording, however, was made in Cologne a year later, in May 1961. It featured Kenny and Francy with Raymond Droz on alto horn, Chris Kellens on baritone horn, Britain's Derek Humble on alto, Austria's Carl Drevo on tenor and Jimmy Woode on bass. That was the firs manifestation of what was to become the regular rhythm section of the Clarke‑Boland band. Campi sent the tape to Alfred Lion of Blue Note who hailed it as 'fantastic' and released it under the title The Golden Eight.

Both the Electrola and the Blue Note albums had been recorded by a brilliant engineer, Wolfgang Hirschmann, who was to become the engineer of the CBBB over the next decade. Campi, Boland and Clarke all had the highest regard for Hirschmann. Kenny once said that the three sound engineers he really respected were Hirschmann, Rudy van Gelder and a German technician at the old Paris Barclay studios called Gerhard Lehner, because they all used just one mike above the drums to capture his sound. 'Sometimes they would use extra mikes for the hi‑hat and snare drum, but I preferred just one,' Kenny said ‑ which is another illustration of his belief in the efficacy of simplicity.

It was seven months later, in December 1961, that the Clarke‑Boland Big Band came into being in the Electrola Studios in Cologne ‑ and its recording debut was fortuitous. The session had originally been a date for Billie Poole, who was playing at the Storyville Club in Cologne at the time with Klook, Jimmy Gourley and Lou Bennett. Campi was arranging to record Billie for Riverside and had decided, with Kenny and Francy, to assemble 'a little big band' for the date. Francy wrote the arrangements and the line‑up was Benny Bailey, Roger Guerin, Jimmy Deuchar and Ahmed Muvaffak Falay (trumpets); Nat Peck, Ake Persson (trombones); Carl Drevo, Zoot Sims (tenors), Derek Humble (alto), Sahib Shihab (bari­tone), Francy Boland (piano), Jimmy Woode (bass) and Kenny Clarke (drums).

France's Roger Guerin had worked often with Klook since 1956. Shihab had come to Europe in 1959 with the Quincy Jones band and had stayed over, settling in Stockholm. Zoot was on tour, and Persson, another former Quincy Jones sideman, was now based in Berlin and freelancing. Falay ha come to Europe from Turkey, and although some people thought he had acquired his middle name after mortally offending a none‑too‑literate fellow musician, it seems that it really was genuine. Benny Bailey, yet another former Quincy Jones alumnus, was living in Berlin and working in the Sender Freies Berlin radio orchestra, and Nat Peck, a Paris‑based American, had chalked up a great deal of big‑band experience with Glenn Miller, Don Redman, Duke Ellington and ‑ need­less to add ‑ Quincy Jones.
All was set for the record date, when, one week before the musicians were due to assemble in Cologne, Billie Poole had to return to the States because of a bereavement in the family. Rather than cancel the date, Campi had Francy Boland write seven new arrangements at breakneck speed and the session became the first date for the Clarke‑Boland Big Band. It was released by Atlantic, and aptly titled Jazz is Universal.

Campi told me,

The opening track on that album, 'Box 703, Washington DC', was like an explosion. I remember Ake Persson coming into the control room to hear the playback and saying, 'Gigi, put this band on the road for six weeks and we'll scare the shit out of everybody!' The spirit among the musicians was tremendous ‑ everyone knew that we had a sensational band together. The feeling was electric. I remember Ake came into the office after we'd finished recording late one night and I told him I had some extra money to give him. He shook his head and said, 'No, we don't have to speak about money.'
I said, 'You mean you're not happy with the fee? You want more?
'No. I mean that I should be paying you for the privilege of playing in a motherfucking band like this after all these years.'
And that was the kind of spirit that developed ‑ the music and the feeling became more important than the money ‑ a really remarkable thing when you consider how hard musicians sometimes have to fight to get paid, or to get paid adequately.

What was especially important about Jazz is Universal was that it proved beyond a doubt that jazz was no longer the exclusive preserve of American musicians. 'The thoroughly integrated sound that emerged from this band,' wrote 'Voice of America' producer and presenter Willis Conover in the liner note for the album, 'is convincing evidence that international boundaries have no meaning at all to the practicing jazz musician.'

Seven of the thirteen musicians in the band were European and their ability to hold their own with their American colleagues did no damage at all to the cause of winning a just measure of appreciation and recognition for some of the excellent European jazz musicians who were emerging. An indication of how the band's enthusiasm for the music was as abundant as its musicianship is the fact that the album was recorded in just four hours!

It was always Campi's goal, with the CBBB, to create a band which had an immediately recognizable identity ‑ which was why he wanted Francy Boland to write all the band's arrange­ments. Boland's very special concept of arranging helped to achieve this aim, and the brilliant solo and section work of a band whose members loved to play together and who de­veloped such a great personal and musical rapport, did the rest.

The key elements, according to Campi, were first of all the rhythm section: 'I knew when I heard Kenny, Francy and Jimmy play together for the first time that I simply had to build a big band around them.' A second crucial element was the magnificent lead trumpet and solo work of Benny Bailey ‑ a musician for whom both Dizzy Gillespie and Thad Jones expressed admiration tinged with awe. The third was the immaculate lead alto saxophone and brilliant, serpentine solo work of Derek Humble. And a fourth was the massive loyalty and surging enthusiasm of the big Swede, Ake Persson, who was an indefatigable champion of the band. Ake was also a formidable trombonist. Nat Peck once said, 'Every time I sit down with him it's like I'm hearing him for the first time Thrilling! I've never worked with anyone who has stimulated me so much.'

Encouraged by the success of the Universal album, Gigi Campi decided to assemble an even bigger band for the next record date on 25, 26 and 27 January 1963. Two albums resulted from this session made with a twenty‑one‑piece orchestra ‑ six trumpets, five trombones, five saxophones and an augmented rhythm section with Joe Harris on percussion ‑ Now Hear Our ­Meanin' released on CBS, and Handle with Care, released on the Atlantic label. Britain's Ronnie Scott came into the band for the first time, as did Idrees Sulieman and Austrian trombonist Erich Kleinschuster. And, in the absence of Zoot Sims, Campi flew in Billy Mitchell from the United States as principal tenor‑saxophone soloist. Also in the line‑up ‑ through a misunderstanding more worthy of fiction than fact ‑ was trombonist Keg Johnson, direct from New York.
The band needed a bass trombonist ‑ and nobody seemed to be able to come up with a suitable candidate. Then Ake Persson came to see Nat Peck, clutching an album. 'I've got him,’ he said. 'Listen to this.' And he played a track from the Gil Evans album, Out of the Cool. Nat was impressed. Persson pointed out the name on the sleeve and they called Campi in Cologne. 'You must get Keg for this date,' they said. Campi, always responsive to enthusiasm, agreed to bring Johnson in from New York.

During the session Keg did a pretty good job, but somehow, Peck and Persson thought, he wasn't quite matching his playing on the Evans album. After the first day's recording was over, Persson and Peck had drinks with Johnson. They told him how they'd heard him on the Gil Evans album. 'Some of the best bass‑trombone playing I ever heard in my life,' said Nat Peck. 'Absolutely fantastic,' confirmed Persson.

'Well, thanks,' said Keg. 'But actually, that wasn't me. I didn't play bass trombone on that album. As a matter of fact, I'm not really a bass‑trombone player at all. I had to borrow the instrument for this date.'

The bass‑trombone player was actually Tony Studd. But Ake and Nat took a year to break the news to Campi.

Talking to me about the album in November 1966 when I was preparing an article on the band for Down Beat, Kenny Clarke said it was one of the most satisfying dates of his career. He said:

The record is proof positive that there are as good musicians in Europe as there are in the States. I have never felt that the standard in Europe was much lower than in America. In Germany, it is just as high, even higher.
I've worked around the studios in the States and I really think that music here in Europe is on a higher plane.

When I asked Klook how the Clarke‑Boland compared with big band of Dizzy Gillespie he smiled the inimitable Klook smile and said, 'There is no comparison. That was the greatest band I ever played with in my life. I have never played in a band that was so inspirational and dynamic. It will never happen again in my lifetime. But we can come pretty close.'

It was not until May 1966 that the Clarke‑Boland Band played its first live concert ‑ in Mainz, West Germany ‑ which was broadcast in the regular jazz programme of jazz producer and critic Joachim Ernst Berendt for the Sudwestfunk, Baden­-Baden. Reviewing the concert, the critic of the Mainzer Zeitung wrote:

The Clarke‑Boland Band showed that musically and technically they are masters of their craft. The compositions and arrangements were excellent and the solos displayed a combination of vitality, a beautiful smoothness and command of musical range ... What strikes one after close listening is the classic harmony of the brilliant soli and tutti passages, played with elegance and confidence and distinguishing the band from all other big jazz ensembles.

Boland's arranging style did indeed make excellent use of the soli [a section of the band playing in harmony] and tutti [literally, “all together; the entire band or a section in unison] devices, and they became something of a CBBB hallmark. He used them in 'Get Out of Town' on the Handle with Care album, and they were dramatically in evi­dence on the Clarke‑Boland Band's third album, recorded in Cologne on 18 June 1967 for the Saba (later MPS) label of Hans Georg Brunner‑Schwer. For this album, which featured Eddie 'Lockjaw' Davis as guest soloist, Boland wrote an arrangement based on 'Chinatown' and called 'Sax no End'. It was a masterpiece of saxophone scoring ‑ and it needed a saxophone team of the calibre of Derek Humble, Carl Drevo, Johnny Griffin, Ronnie Scott and Sahib Shihab to do it justice. After Eddie Davis solos over four choruses with just the rhythm section and Fats Sadi's bongos, the saxophone section, master­fully piloted by Humble, plays three complex and intricate soli choruses with fine precision, co‑ordination and compatibility. Two roaring tutti choruses follow. Saxophonist Kenny Graham, reviewing the Sax no End album in Crescendo in Mav 1968, said:

One particular bit did my old ears a power of good ‑ a saxophone chorus brilliantly led by Derek Humble. I just love hearing saxophones having a chance to play a well‑written chorus instead of riffs, figures and the boosting‑up‑the‑brass chores that they usually find themselves doing Maybe that's what Francy Boland is really all about. Nobody does saxophone choruses these days ‑ they're not on. F.B., oblivious of trends etc., bungs' em in. This and similar notions of his come off a treat because he believes in them.

Sax no End was a major landmark in the band's progress towards its ultimate corporate identity and it was followed by a number of other arrangements featuring saxophone soli, such as 'All the Things You Are', 'When Your Lover Has Gone', 'You Stepped out of a Dream', and many more. Ronnie Scott remembers those soli passages only too well. He says of 'Sax no End', characteristically self‑critical,

They were very difficult to play ‑ in fact, I never really got ‘Sax no End’ down. But they were beautifully written and sounded marvellous. Derek was the navigator in chief ‑ and, of course, Shihab was a great anchor man. After about the first four times, he never had to look at the part.

Certainly the arrangement made a big impression and was always a favourite at live performances. Oscar Peterson was so taken with the chart that he actually recorded a trio version for his MPS album Travellin' On. But perhaps the most remarkable thing about the Sax no End album was that all seven titles were recorded in seven hours.

'It was almost always a first‑take affair when the band recorded’ Gigi Campi says. 'We hardly ever played anything more than three times ‑ and then we usually found that the first take was the best.'

In between the big‑band dates Clarke and Boland made a number of sessions with smaller groups featuring different members of the band ‑ Johnny Griffin, Fats Sadi, Sahib Shihab ‑ and an octet album with singer Mark Murphy. The band also began to make more live appearances, playing festivals and concerts in Germany, Switzerland, Austria, Italy, Holland, Belgium, France, Hungary, Finland, Denmark, Sweden, Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia and Britain.

Campi worked tirelessly to project and promote the band and, recognizing early on the importance of getting airplay for the CBBB's music, he concluded an agreement in 1967 to sell a monthly half‑hour programme by the band to radio stations in Helsinki, Stockholm, Copenhagen, Hilversum, Brussels, Vienna, Zurich, Baden-Baden, Munich, Stuttgart, Frankfurt, Saarbrucken, Hamburg, Berlin and Cologne.”

To be continued….


  1. Marvelous article, thanks a lot!

  2. Great reading! They really did some fantastic music, and after playing some of their arrangements it is very interesting to hear the background story in this kind of detail.

  3. Gigi Campi was such an impressive person, architect, journalist, restaurant owner and not the least music producer. When I first met him around 2000 I was immediately drawn to his energy and I remember the late nights at the "Campi" restaurant, when all guests where gone and he told all this marvellous stories of a golden era, bringing to life giants long dead and memories past. These were some of the most wonderful hours in my life.

  4. I just found your article on the web. I first heard "Handle With Care" (Speedy Reeds) in about 1976 and was blown away. Had to have that album and paid some $15-20 for it in a used record store in Boston. Also found their album on Columbia a few years later. A superb, swinging, ensmble; with swinging, soulful, soloing. Can't say enough good things about this group. I've checked out the major discographies, and their albums are up there on my want list.


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