Sunday, October 30, 2011

Antonio Carlos Jobim – ‘Call me, Tom’

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

“The authentic Negro samba in Brazil is very primitive. They use maybe ten percussion instruments and four or five singers. They shout and the music is very hot and wonderful.

"But bossa nova is cool and contained. It tells the story, trying to be simple and serious and lyrical. Joao [Gilberto] and I felt that Brazilian music had been too much a storm on the sea, and we wanted to calm it down for the recording studio.

You could call bossa nova a clean, washed samba, without loss of the momentum. We don't want to lose important things. We have the problem of how to write and not lose the swing."
- Antonio Carlos Jobim

I have always enjoyed the beautiful music of Antonio Carlos Jobim, but I didn’t know much about him.

That all changed when I began subscribing in the early 1990’s to the JazzLetter written and published by the eminent Jazz writer, Gene Lees.

For his publication, Gene wrote a serial essay about his long-standing friendship and working relationship with Jobim, the latter involving Lees’ assumption of the very complicated and complex responsibility of translating the lyrics to Jobim’s songs from Brazilian/Portuguese into English.

The Jobim JazzLetter essay has since been published in book form in Gene Lees, Singers and the Song II [New York: Oxford University Press, 1998,] in a chapter entitled Um Abraço no Tom.

In subsequent issues of the JazzLetter, Gene would note the re-issuance of Jobim’s music on compact disc, all of which were joyous occasions for me since I had almost none of the original LP’s.

In the event that, like me, JazzProfiles readers have an interest in better familiarizing themselves with Jobim’s music, the editorial staff has collected some of these recordings and now presents them on the site along with their cover art and inserts notes.

ANTONIO CARLOS JOBIM: Verve Jazz Masters 13 [314 516 409-2]

© -Gene Lees, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

 “The first Jobim tune I ever heard was "Desafinado". Dizzy Gillespie performed it at the Sutherland Lounge in Chicago in the winter of 1961-62, when Lalo Schifrin was playing piano with the group. Later, at my apartment, Lalo played the tune again on my piano, showing me the chord changes. Though he is from Argentina, he had lived in Brazil and was well aware of a new music that had emerged in Rio de Janeiro.

Soon after that I heard an imported album by Joao Gilberto, whom many people consider the father of the bossa nova (it really means nothing more than new thing), and this only intensified my interest in this remarkable, swinging, subtle, lyrical music, particularly the tunes of one Antonio Carlos Jobim.

When early in 1962 an opportunity came to me to spend six months in Latin America, including Brazil, I seized it, partly because I had long felt that we in North America knew far too little about the millions of people we share the Western Hemisphere with. In that regard, things haven't changed much. But part of the reason I wanted to go was to find out about this new music, this bossa nova.

And so in May or thereabouts, which is our spring but their autumn, I was in Rio de Janeiro. A music publisher had given me the telephone number of Joao Gilberto. He spoke no English and turned over the telephone to his wife, Astrud, who spoke it at least a little. She gave me Jobim's phone number, I called, and he invited me that evening to his home a short distance from the sea at Ipanema, a long, curved sand beach which is one of the glories of that city.

When I entered the small house, Joao Gilberto was sitting on a sofa surrounded by a vocal quartet called the Carioca Boys. He was playing guitar and, with them singing harmony, rehearsing a song by Jobim called "So Dance Samba". By now I had made a study of Jobim's tunes, and I understood a lot of the Portuguese lyrics. He and I went to the kitchen and he poured Scotch for both of us. I remember standing by the refrigerator with him when he said, "I'm crazy, but he" - indicating Joao in the other room - "is more crazy."

Most of our conversation was in French, however. Jobim spoke little English then and I little Portuguese. His ancestry is French, hence the name.

I told him I believed many of his songs could be translated into English, and I thought I knew how to do it. He encouraged me to try, and before I left Brazil, I had written English lyrics for 'Corcovado" and "Desafinado', which became known respectively as "Quiet Nights of Quiet Stars" and "Off Key".

When Jobim came to New York for a Carnegie Hall concert, I introduced him to Gerry Mulligan, whose music - by the testimony of both Antonio and Joao - was an important influence in the development of bossa nova. Jobim told me:

'The authentic Negro samba in Brazil is very primitive. They use maybe ten percussion instruments and four or five singers. They shout and the music is very hot and wonderful.

"But bossa nova is cool and contained. It tells the story, trying to be simple and serious and lyrical. Joao and I felt that Brazilian music had been too much a storm on the sea, and we wanted to calm it down for the recording studio. You could call bossa nova a clean, washed samba, without loss of the momentum. We don't want to lose important things. We have the problem of how to write and not lose the swing."

They didn't lose it. And they influenced American jazz almost as deeply as American jazz had influenced them

 As the years went on, Jobim continued to develop. The samba is by no means the only rhythm indigenous to Brazil. Africa's influence runs very deep, particularly in the north, and the musical folklore is very rich. In later years Jobim reflected in his music this varied musical tradition; the bossa nova years were behind him. Increasingly his songs reflected his interest in the ecology of the planet and its disruption. "We are building a desert, my friend," he said to me once in Los Angeles.

Corcovado (Quiet Nights of Quiet Stars) This is one of the first Jobim songs I heard. I attempted to retain not only the meaning of the original but the fatalistic feeling common to Brazilian songs, which I believe derives from Portuguese fado and ultimately from the Arabic doctrine, kismet. Corcovado is the name of the mountain on which the enormous statue of Christ the Redeemer stands with outstretched arms, as if embracing the city of Rio de Janeiro. The word means hunchback, which is what the early settlers called the mountain.

So Danco Samba This is the song I heard Joao Gilberto singing on Jobim's sofa on the night I met the two of them. Joao sang so softly (but so perfectly!) that one could barely hear him a few feet away. He developed a style of almost vibrato-less singing that reminded me at once of the French singer Henri Salvador (who, Jo5o told me, had influenced him) and Chet Baker. The song is about a little guy who says he has had his fill of the twist, calypso, and cha-cha. "From now on," he says, "I only dance samba," which is what the title means. This record, with Stan Getz, was made soon after the Brazilian contingent arrived in New York.

Desafinado (Off Key) The song was sort of the anthem of bossa nova, for it humorously addresses the older school of singers and musicians of Brazil who objected to the bossa nova movement - much as older musicians and critics excoriated bebop in the United States. There's a joke built into the harmony of this song, a flatted fifth on the second chord - a harmonic usage that was part of bebop. The conservatives of Brazil said that bossa nova songs had crooked melodies. But the song became an international hit.

0 Grande Amor This is one of the less known of Jobim's early tunes. It was included in one of the Stan Getz sessions with Joao Gilberto. It retains its wistful beauty these three decades after the record was made.

Insensatez (How Insensitive) The opening chord sequence is that of Chopin's "E-minor Prelude', and some of us have occasionally teased Antonio about this. Gerry Mulligan went so far with the joke as to record the "E-Minor Prelude" as a samba.

Infitil Paisagern (Useless Landscape) Aside from the fact that I find this brooding song one of Jobim's best, I wanted to include it for his accompaniment of Elis Regina. Though he plays piano on many of his recordings, they do not give you an idea of how well he actually does play it. I have a tape of him and Gerry Mulligan made some time in the late Sixties. Jobim sounds rather like Bill Evans on the tape. The accompaniment on this record gives a hint of the scope of his playing.”

Gene Lees June 1993

ANTONIO CARLOS JOBIM – Urubu [Warner Brothers 2928-2]

© -Bob Blumenthal, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

"Bossa is a hunch?" Antonio Carlos Jobim offered, searching for the proper English equivalent to the Portuguese, when I met the great composer in New York in 1987. For a moment, he seemed at an impasse; but, as it turned out, he had the image of a hunchback in mind (Corcovado, the mountain that inspired one of Jobim’s masterpieces, means the hunchback). "The 'bossa' in bossa nova does not simply mean 'boss' in the English slang sense," he continued. "It is also a protuberance, a swelling in the head, an increase of brain matter. In Brazil, we say that a guy has bossa for something, as in 'John has bossa for music' - a flair, a gift, what you might call soul. Bossa nova was the new flair, our new wave."

By the time we spoke, on the 25th anniversary of the Carnegie Hall concert that first brought Jobim, Joao Gilberto and other leading Brazilian musicians to the United States, the wave was no longer new. Jobim, however, still had the gift, and he remained at the crest of what had become the venerable bossa nova movement, which he had initially set in motion.

Antonio Carlos Brasileiro de Almeida Jobim was born on January 25, 1927 in the Tijuca section of Rio de Janeiro, though his family later moved to the neighboring lpanema district that he would make so famous. He inherited verbal skills from his father, a diplomat who wrote poetry and died when Jobim was eight. It was his stepfather who saw to it that the 12-year-old youngster applied himself to music. Jobim began on the piano, received instruction (including lessons in composition and harmony) from the German teacher Hans Joachim Koellreutter, and also become proficient on the guitar and harmonica. He originally planned to study architecture, but quit after one year and began working as a nightclub pianist. His ability to write out popular melodies by ear earned him work as a copyist for radio and recording studios. where he also served as pianist on numerous recordings.

While Jobim was writing music during this period, his compositions remained something of a personal secret until he had ascended to the position of arranger and producer for Odeon, one of Brazil's largest record companies. The individual who Jobim. credited with launching his career as a composer was Vinicius De Moraes, an Oxford-educated poet who, like Jobim's father, had also enjoyed an extensive diplomatic career. It was De Moraes's idea to create a Brazilian version of the Orpheus legend, which began life as an acclaimed stage production in 1956 before Marcel Camus filmed De Moraes's script - Black Orpheus - to international acclaim and an Oscar three years later.

By that time, Jobim, (who was already known to friends by his nickname Tom) had made another pivotal acquaintance - the singer Joao Gilberto. An artist with a quietly smoldering delivery, whose near-whispered phrases expressed torrents of emotion, Gilberto was the ideal artist to interpret the subtler, less extroverted brand of samba that Jobim had been writing. The pair first collaborated in 1958, and over the next three years produced three albums of bossa nova featuring 13 Jobim originals, as well as other works by Jobim's contemporary, Carlos Lyra, and songs by the older and influential composers Ary Barroso and Dorival Caymmi. These became substantial if controversial hits in Brazil, and enjoyed further success in the United States after Stan Getz and Charlie Byrd recorded the popular Jazz Samba album in 1962.

The combined status of being both an innovator and successful export created problems for Jobim in his native country; and the scars were still visible when we met in 1987. "My contemporaries and I learned a lot from the Brazilian composers who came before us, " he insisted. "People like Pixinguinha, Ary Barroso and Dorival Caymmi left a rastro, a track of beauty for us to follow. When bossa nova first appeared in Brazil, though, it had so many adversaries, so many puristas full of animosity. Yet the U.S. loved us. We received so many no's in Brazil, and so many yes's [in the States]. With hindsight, I can see that the more the U.S. said yes, the more Brazil said no."

In Jobim's mind, the purists were particularly incensed by a common misunderstanding. "Our affinity for jazz was part of the problem, and it has come to dominate many people's thinking about our music. Instead of going into history as a branch of samba, which it is, bossa nova is viewed by the world as a branch of jazz. "Of course," he added, "anything that swings today is called jazz, the term has become so encompassing. And the only countries that really swing in their music are the U.S., Cuba and Brazil."

Jobim's jazz connections were only emphasized after he recorded The Wonderful World Of Antonio Carlos Jobim and A Certain Mr. Jobim for Warner Bros. in the mid'60s, then created the trilogy Wave, Tide and Stone Flower with Creed Taylor, the producer of Stan Getz's bossa nova hits. These latter albums, released on A&M and Taylor's own CTI label, minimized vocals and featured such musicians as Ron Carter, Joe Farrell, Urbie Green and Hubert Laws. Recorded in the studio of Rudy
Van Gelder, the preeminent jazz engineer, they form a distinct interlude of Jobim's discography.

The album simply titled Jobim, which the composer and his preferred arranger Claus Ogerman recorded for MCA in 1972, and the present Urubu from three years later, are also of a piece. They contain some of Jobim's most complex and uncompromising music, are sung primarily in Portuguese (Jobim does include a second, English language version of the famous "Waters Of March") and have replaced the often frothy instrumentals of his earlier collections with brooding orchestral works of symphonic weight. Perhaps they reflect a desire to confront his homeland, particularly after the experience Jobim and his fellow musicians encountered with the military dictatorship that arose in Brazil in the years after bossa nova's initial popularity

"The government put all of us in jail in 1970 - me, Gilberto Gil, Vinicius De Moraes, Caetano Veloso, Carlos Lyra - the whole gang was detained," he emphasized during our interview. "They were scrutinizing all of our lyrics. 'Who is Maria?' they would demand, as if popular music was a code. Sergio Mendes sent us a telegram in slang when his son was born, and the government took that as proof that we were sending secret messages. I am not a protest writer, although "Favela' [a song about Rio's slums, heard on The Wonderful World] was considered a little subversive."

One can also detect Jobim's growing concern with ecology on the material chosen for Urubu - the album's very title is the name of the turkey vulture that graced the original cover. Sea and sky had long played a central role in Jobim's songs, arid now a passion to preserve this natural world became more directly expressed. Both nature and Brazil are instantly evoked by the berimbau introduction to "Boto," the song of the beached porpoise that, in its musicality, quickly soars to the heights where vultures fly. The texture of this performance is breathtaking-in the shadowing of Jobim's vocal by Miucha, and in the precise spotting of double reeds, flute, Fender Rhodes piano and whistles by Ogerman. Note the quite different evocation of the sky, as the singer looks through an airplane window, on "Angela." Ogerman's strings and Joao Palma's jazz-inflected drums create a more optimistic atmosphere.

A gentler, almost childlike mood pervades " Correnteza," as a harp dispenses the raindrops that coalesce in the current of Jobim's lyric. His narrative here, beginning with indifference and ending in hope, is typical of the emotional range encompassed by so much of his music. The masterpiece of the four vocal tracks, however, is "Ligia," where Jobim supplied both words and music. The melodic line is one of his best, a basic phrase developed through unexpected modulation and tension-building repetition; and the lyrics, with their parade of negatives, their local references and their alternation of humor and foreboding, reveal the complex emotions at the center of Jobim's psyche. Ogerman's arrangement, of course, illuminates.

The instrumental tracks are far from the carefree interludes that appear in Jobim's other Warner Bros. albums. They reveal the composer's more serious side, and are treated with the appropriate respect in Ogerman's orchestrations. ‘Saudade Do Brasil', traces a descending pattern with its melody, which Ogerman gives to the strings after cellos and English horn set the introduction. There is a moment of jubilation from the flute before the theme is repeated (by voices, with brass support the third time around); then the melodic axis is spun, and the performance moves through development to a recapitulation in smaller orchestral units. "Valse" is by Jobim's son Paulo, an architect and a painter as well as a musician. It features an oboe theme that seems to echo the preceding track, as well as a dramatic crescendo for violin and piano. Waltz tempo also figures in "Arquitetura De Morar," a piece constructed in segments featuring discrete combinations of woodwinds and strings. Ogerman's ability to suggest an accordion in his blend of instruments (just before the echoing pattern and the second theme in the strings) is especially noteworthy. "0 Homem' is brief but turbulent, featuring passionate low string melodies and a final heroic summation.

When Jobim died on December 8, 1994, American radio treated the event flippantly by randomly asking people if they could sing the words to "The Girl From Ipanema" - evidence of the misperception of Jobim as merely a writer of catchy, disposable melodies. Whoever produced that radio segment, clearly, had never heard Urubu.

 -Bob Blumenthal, 1995


© -Stan Cronyn, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

“It had begun like the World Soft Championships. The songs, mostly by Antonio Carlos Jobim. Tender melodies. Tender like a two-day, lobster-red Rio sunburn, so tender they'd scream agony if handled rough. Slap one his fragile songs on the back with a couple of trumpets? Like washing crystal in a cement mixer.

Seemed like the whole idea was to out-hush each other. Decibels treated like daggers. The arranger tiptoeing about, eliminating some percussion here, ticks there, ridding every song of clicks, bings, bips, all things sharp.  Doing it with fervor matched only by Her Majesty's Silkworms.

And Sinatra makes a joke about all this. "I haven't sung so soft since I had the laryngitis.'

Singing so soft, if he sang any softer he'd have to be lying on his back.

Hours earlier, Sinatra & Co. moved into Studio One. Nobody much around except a couple of Rent-a-Cops. Sinatra there half an hour early, as never before. He begins running down the melody of the new songs. Softly whistling, smoothing away wrinkles.

The booth begins to fill up with gold cuff-links, Revlon red take nails, Countess Mara ties.

Outside, through double-glass windows, musicians with black fiddle cases wander warily in, chatting about the weather in Boston, the governor in Berkeley, anything but pizzicato.

Along the studio walls, the wanderings of miscellaneous Brazilian yachting caps and silver mustaches.

And then, casually, at eight, exactly eight, Sinatra looks over at the conductor and "Well let's try one, huh?"

At first, it does not groove right. This is not ring-a-ding-ding. Sinatra mother-hens the session closely: "Let's have an 'A,' huh?" as he snaps the orchestra.

The "A" passes quickly around the infield: piano to strings to reeds.

They run through the song once. Then ... pause. Long. Long. Like standing there while the Judge opens up the verdict envelope. The arranger-conductor, not made of asbestos, sensitive in his position, there between Jobim and Sinatra, looking over at Sinatra, worrying "Tempo?"

"No, it's a good tempo. It's the only way you can do it. You have to hang with it." Sinatra's assurance: there is only one tempo for this song; any other tempo would be wrong. Have been, are, and forever shall be wrong.

One more exploration of the song, to catch more wrinkles. Sinatra himself, at a rough spot in the bridge, stops cold. Long. Long. Sinatra looks around. Long. Long. He points to himself as the culprit. "That was an old Chesterfield that just came up on me. Around 1947, it felt like."

You feel for anybody who will blow it on the next take. It begins. The long, long. About a minute and a half in, then the trombonist braaacks a note. Braaack. That obvious. He can't look over at some other trombonist; he's the on/y trombonist. So he sits there, a blutch-colored felt hat sagged across the bell of his horn, hung there to keep it Soft. Poor Trombone Player knows: his music said B and it came out F and Jesus was it wrong.

Sinatra looks over. "Don't sweat it," he says.

The trombonist tries a joke back: "If I blow any softer, it'll hafta come out the back of my neck."

Next to Jobim perches Jobim's personal drummer, a Brazilian who can look simultaneously alert and stoned. Flew in to Hollywood specially for this, but not from Rio. From Chicago, figure that out. "Soft, son, hold it down." A bronze-colored sofa pillow slumps back against his bass drum.

This drummer, named Dom-Um Romao, looking like he should be selling weird rugs in Arab doorways. Looking like a tricky one, Martha. Between takes, the way he keeps the tips of his fingers warm under his armpits. His arms crossed that way, the fuzzy goatee, looking like a road company Buddhist.

In contrast, the Conductor, a German. Claus Ogerman, speaking always Germanic phrasing. "Yes the introduction, I will slow down each time the fourth beat." There in his blue cardigan sweater, fully buttoned. So starched even his sweaters have creases.

The buzzing continues, with grey-temple producer Sonny Burke conferring on last-minute scoring changes, standing by with vats of oil lest troubled waters rise. To the side, Jobim's goateed producer, Ray Gilbert, soothing softly in Portuguese.

On the next number, Jobim will sing duet with Sinatra. "Tone" as Sinatra calls him, bends in close to his microphone. His hair undressed, finger combed. His jaw moving with precision, moving to each new vowel, his lips moving like yours do when you write a check for over $1000.

This slight and tousled boy-man, speaking softly while about him rushes a world too fast. Antonio, troubled not by the clamor in the world. Troubled more by the whisperings from his heart.

The song's last note. Keep quiet until the cymbal stops ringing. Dead quiet. Only Sinatra, a born peeker, can't wait. He liked that take. He bends over, peeking into the control booth, unwilling to wait for the endless cymbal overhang to end. Peeking in at the engineers, as if daring them to reveal any Electronic Irreverence’s.

They reveal none.

"That," says Sinatra, "should be the record."

During playback, Sinatra leans on the conductor's vacant podium. The only parts of him you see just popped white cuffs and worry lines in his brow. He's Worry personified, like he's in the last reel of "The Greatest Birth Ever Given."

Around him circle the rest. The circle, too, listens to the playback.

Grown men do not cry. They instead put on faces gauged to be intent. They too listen hard, as if half way through someone whispers buried treasure clues.

It's over. Sinatra walks away. "Next tune," he says.

Around him, the circle. Half -stammering, half-silent, because they can't think up a phrase of praise that's truly the topper.

Except for Jobim.

He walks up to Sinatra. A peculiar walk, like he's got gum on one sole. He puts his arm around Sinatra. He hugs Sinatra. Both men smile. Jobim turns out to look at the circle around them. His face alight, proud of his singer. His face triumphant. As if to say, and all along, you thought he was Italian.”



© -Norman Gimbel, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

 “Home for Antonio Carlos Jobim is Rio - the Rio of blue waters and bluer skies, of black coffee and green growing things, of Sugarloaf Mountain and lpanema, of his wife and children. To Jobim, Rio is a place of peace and pleasurable leisure, a place without pressures. Understandably, it is not easy for him to leave it, and when he does so, it is always with a purpose. He once told me that he leaves home only to see that his songs are properly recorded. "The first recording of a song," he said, "is the seed from which the song will grow. I come here to plant seeds."

The seeds in this package are ten sensitive jazz inventions by the composer-pianist-guitarist who made the world aware of the lilting, languorous rhythms of Brazil with such songs as The Girl from lpanema, One Note Samba, and Desafinado. These songs are representative of the Bossa Nova, a music which has influenced countless musicians, composers and listeners; this man has written songs which could conceivably replace coffee as Brazil's leading export. The Girl from lpanema, One Note Samba, and Desafinado -  a hard act to follow, but Jobim has done it. Under the sympathetic, empathetic direction of Claus Ogerman, his frequent arranger-and-conductor, he now delivers a collection of new jazz sounds and songs that will be heard to long time. The numbers are all in the best Jobim, faultlessly performed by a top-flight cast, with results uniformly excellent and exciting.

Jobim has planted the seeds and flown back down to Rio. What remains for us is the reaping of the harvest.”

© -George Frazier IV, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

“Jobim's music is basically an offshoot of traditional Brazilian forms and its introduction to this country has produced popular hits as well as some imposingly successful jazz albums. On this LP, Jobim plays piano or guitar on all numbers except Antigua, on which he plays harpsichord for the first time on records. His one vocal- Lamento -is in Portuguese and is characterized by a unique and plaintive lyrical quality. Incidentally, Jobim wrote Lamento with Vinicius de Morass, who is considered, with Jobim, the co-founder of Bossa Nova.

The inspiration for these songs comes from everyday life (The Red Blouse, Dialogo, for example) and, with one exception, the songs are all Brazil-oriented. The exception is Mojave, a number spawned when Jobim had his first view of our Mojave Desert.

Claus Ogerman is a personal and professional friend of Jobim's. Among the musicians Ogerman leads are Domum Romao and Claudio Slon, two of Brazil's best young drummers, Ron Carter, Miles Davis's bassist; and Bobby Rosengarden whose percussion displays on the Tonight Show have brought him considerable renown. The two trombonists are Jimmy Cleveland and Urbie Green; Green's solos are heard on almost every track. The orchestration is diverse and imaginative. Dialogo, for example, is a duet between Green's trombone and Romeo Perique's bass flute. And one must single out again the percussionists for their aptitude and experience. Claudio Sion, the driving force in this album, has worked with Walter Wanderley, who recorded Summer Samba; Domum Rombo was with Astrud Gilberto; Bobby Rosengarden, though North American, has made the percussion aspect of Brazilian music a personal hobby and has become one of this country's leading authorities on it.

I find Jobim's treatment of his material inventive and almost incredibly versatile. Robert Benchley once said of Larry Hart's lyrics that there were unmistakable signs that Hart had given the matter some thought. Jobim has given what you hear here an awful lot of thought.”

TERRA BRASILIS [Warner Bros. 2-3409] Antonio Carlos Jobim

© -Bob Blumenthal, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

“There is an air of completeness to Terra Brasilis, a sense of summation that makes it perhaps the single most effective album survey of Antonio Carlos Jobim's music. The cover painting on the original release provided an aerial view of Brazil; and the program, which includes many of Jobim's great compositions, offers an overview as well. This recap hardly signaled the end of his career-he would perform for 15 more years, often in an ensemble rich in family connections-and was hardly the last Jobim retrospective in which he would participate. Later surveys of his music, however, tended to occur in all-star concert settings where Jobim's primary responsibility was to serve as gracious host. Here he returns to the inspiring company of his preferred arranger, Claus Ogerman, and takes full responsibility for the repertoire.

Given the magnitude of his output, no ordinary album could be comprehensive. Listeners must refer to his earlier Warner Bros. recordings for such essential pieces as "Agua De Beber," "Useless Landscape," "A Felicidade," "Photograph," "Zingaro," "Boto," "Ligia" and others. Even then, we would still be missing "Chega De Saudade," "How Insensitive," "Meditations," "Once I Loved" and "Waters Of March." What we do get speaks volumes to Jobim's achievement, as both a composer and (more and more as time progressed) a lyricist.

The mix of Portuguese and English on this album is only fitting, for Jobim was a significant musical force in both his home country and the United States. In Brazil, he enjoyed collaborations with several talented lyricists, including Vinicius De Moraes (the most profound of his partners) and Newton Mendonca. (the most clever, to judge from such efforts as "Desafinado" and "One Note Samba"). Yet Jobim also wrote his own Portuguese lyrics, including "Dreamer" and "Triste" early on and such later efforts as "Ligia" and "Falando De Amor." The verbal content of these songs, like their melodic complements, is sophisticated and frequently profound, setting Jobim's music apart from the more ephemeral efforts that tend to define popular music.

Much of the beauty in the originals was threatened with loss in translation, particularly in the early days when American publishers slapped what Jobim described as "banana-and-coffee lyrics" onto his music. Gene Lees, the most successful of Jobim's English-language collaborators, has described in a three-part tribute published in the March, April and May issues of his Jazzletter, the challenges of translating such Jobim masterpieces as "Desafinado" and "Corcovado." Lees readily admits that differences in idiom and rhyme scheme present significant challenges. "I took your picture with my trusty Rolleiflex/But all that I developed is a complex" is superior work on his part; but the idea behind the original (which says "All that developed was your ingratitude") is even better.

Over time, Jobim would translate many of his own works, gaining in the process a keener appreciation of English than most native speakers. "I enjoy writing in English," he told me during a 1987 interview, "because it has already incorporated so many other sources. It is a very well-stolen language." Yet he did not rely on such borrowings, saying of his intricate "Waters Of March" that "I avoided all English words derived from Latin when I translated that. It is eminently an Anglo-Saxon lyric, lots of one syllable words."

Given the monolingual bent of American culture, which even today has barely been dented, Jobim's art could not have taken hold in the United States without English. Astrud Gilberto popularized many of his songs with English versions, not to mention Frank Sinatra, who recorded seven of the titles on this collection. So we owe thanks to Lees, who captured much of the original poetry in "Desafinado," "Quiet Nights Of Quiet Stars" ("Corcovado"), "Dreamer," "This Happy Madness" and "Someone To Light Up My Life" (heard here in an instrumental version). On his own, Jobim might indulge in the jocular ribaldry of "Two Kites" or the deeper eloquence of "Triste," both of which are equally effective in their way.

Jobim the composer presented fewer problems, although he could stymie even the greatest singers. Sinatra recorded but did not release "Desafinado," intimidated perhaps by the sophistication of its harmonic scheme; and Sinatra should have taken a pass on "Wave" - Jobim does, presenting it here as an instrumental - since the melody traverses an expanse that only Sarah Vaughan and precious few others could successfully navigate. As a rule, though, Jobim worked with simple materials, employing subtle modulations to create profound effects. I once heard Clare Fischer, in a lecture to conservatory students on how to make tired musical effects interesting, cite Jobim's "Meditations" as a primary example. ("He dressed up the familiar interval of a sixth," Fischer explained, "with a major seventh below and a third in between.") Musicians could identify numerous other examples, yet such extensive analysis might detract from the deep feeling that Jobim evokes so consistently, and that is impossible to teach. Just listen to the instrumental "Marina," where the introduction, poised for happiness, is followed by a piano theme of glowing melancholy. Jobim can break our hearts with three notes, as he does in "Marina," then mend them with the high intelligence of his forms and the faultlessness of his craft.

He was lucky to have found such a responsive partner in Claus Ogerman, whose work with Jobim was never overblown or less than eloquent. So many of Ogerman's ideas here enhance the material. His use of a female chorus on "Canta Mais" creates yet another environment for the music, deepening the harmonies and extending the prayer-like atmosphere. The flute lines on "Olha Maria" are conversational, responding to the piano's theme with new and more complex thoughts. His arrangement on "Dindi" is both steadier and more expansive than the one Nelson Riddle provided for The Wonderful World Of Antonio Carlos Jobim 14 years earlier, just as the composer's vocal reveals a more confident command of English. Brief orchestra] asides extend the off-key joke that is "Desafinado" and chuckle at the extended come-on of "Two Kites." Most important, all of these touches blend into unified interpretations, as if the ensemble was the wave on which this buoyant music rides.

The program also gives Jobim the opportunity to display his performing skills. His preference for underplaying as a pianist led many to dismiss his instrumental work, which could be quite compelling. The solo piano track here, "Estrada Do Sol," shows us both his vulnerability and his strength, and works some subtle jazz harmonies into the turnaround, while his half-chorus of piano on "Triste" finds him swinging in a typically subtle manner. His scat lines are more expansive on "One Note Samba" and "The Girl From lpanema" two of the better performances of these familiar tunes. Both are sung in Portuguese, and both hold the lyrics in reserve. The unison flute/scat line on "One Note Samba" was introduced when Jobim recorded the tune with Herbie Mann and became a fixture in later performances (it is also heard on Sinatra's 1969 version); while "Ipanema," with its bracing orchestration and key change, is a particularly generous take of a war-horse that Jobim often tweaked in later performances by interpolating "Take The 'A' Train."

Jobim's reading of lyrics is moving even if we don't understand the language. Try "Modinha," or the overlooked gem "Voce Vai Ver" (where he is joined by his daughter Ana). He could be less than serious, as his lyrics to "Two Kites" demonstrate. (Note also, in this regard, the way he and Ogerman have recast this instrumental version of "Someone To Light Up My Life" as a hustle.) At the same time, flirtatious humor never stopped Jobim from bearing down and communicating directly. He pulls it off here with "This Happy Madness," which he used to punctuate the album. His vocal, accompanied only by his piano, would be hard to follow; and the affirmative message, the celebration of love (even if mad), casts a positive ray of light at the end of a program that also contains its share of saudade.

The compact disc was made for a collection like Terra Brasilis, which in its original release had to be programmed over four sides of vinyl. Now we can immerse ourselves in this exceptional Jobim collection from beginning to end, without interruption. I urge you to do just that, and suggest that you not do it alone.”

Bob Blumenthal, 1995

The Wonderful World of Antonio Carlos Jobim [Warner Bros. 9362-46315-2]

© -Stan Cronyn, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

“Antonio Carlos Jobim. A Slight, unvarnished young man, look deceptively young for so much fame, so much talent. The author of many works, all uniquely his, including “One Note Samba” and “The Girl from Ipanema.”

And with this album he introduces a dozen more uniquities.

He sits at his microphone, his hair undressed, finger-combed. His right leg crossed over his left to support his guitar. His lyrics, translated into English by Academy Award writer Ray Gilbert, are new, unfamiliar sounds for him to interpret. His voice, audible in the studio only to the microphone. He pronounces carefully, moving his jaw precisely for each vowel.

“Nelson, could it be a little bit slower? I have a lot of words to say.”

Beside him, the arranger conducts his orchestra. Riddle, looking dour, an exacting artist, imperceptibly relaxes the beat. With a patience born of years of elite and taxing assignments, Riddle controls the sprawling rows of musicians before him. The room has quiet about it, the quiet that settles only when a great and respected fellow musician concentrates on his art.

“Nelson, that is beautiful, that is beautiful. Could I speak something to the clarinets?”

Jobim meets the reed section. He quietly lines out a rhythmic pattern, nudging one sixteenth-note to greater prominence. The clarinets bend across their music stands closer to Jobim, as if he were whispering the combination of his vault.

He moves back to the microphones, to his cigarette. He inhales, and his cheeks pull in hollow. His face a question mark as he unhurriedly re-reads his score. He examines each measure as if it were the final stroke on the Mona Lisa. Unhurried, while the less musical world sits by at $15 a minute and waits, while Jobim studies his score. Jobim, like a meticulous customs guard who isn’t about to be hurried in his item-by-item checking.

He is ready again.

He begins to play his guitar.

His brown hair tumbles over, weed his forehead.  He slows the beat, delighting in his suspenseful rhythms. The same kicks as mortals get from a double-quick Sousa march.

He sings. His eyes peer out over his music stand, seeing the beaches of Brazil, the soft girls, the pale winds. His eyes, as if unaccustomed to the bright studio day, blink frequently.

The first chorus is complete. Jobim smiles slightly at the corners of his mouth as he presses the fingering of his newborn into the frets.”

Stan Cornyn

With the help of the champion graphics team at CerraJazz LTD, we put together the following video tribute to “Tom.”

In an effort to avoid the hassle of copyright issues – to say that the music of Antonio Carlos Jobim is heavily “copyright protected” would be an gross understatement – the editorial staff at JazzProfiles thought it might be appropriate to feature music played in a style close to Tom’s heart – the bossa nova.

So it turned to pianist Benny Green performing fellow pianist’s Clare Fisher’s bossa nova Pensativa as the audio track for the video on which he is joined by Christian McBride on bass and Victor Lewis on drums.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Big Band Renaissance

© -Steven Cerra. Copyright protected; all rights reserved.

Sadly, the Smithsonian isn’t into Jazz recordings anymore.

The institution with it’s mission of preserving and perpetuating things related to Americana has discontinued its involvement with issuing recorded compendiums of the music.

I have no idea why it made the decision to abandon producing Jazz anthologies such as The Smithsonian Collection of Classic Jazz or Big Band Jazz: From the Beginnings to the Fifties,  but I suspect that it may have something to do with the fact that many Americans today have little interest in Jazz.

Fortunately, for me, and quite by happenstance, an Australian internet acquaintance was having trouble negotiating the Smithsonian website during the early days of ecommerce and put out a call sometime during the mid-1990’s for help to the members of a stateside Jazz chat group to which we both belonged.

I volunteered to try my luck on his behalf and luckily succeeded in ordering two copies of Big Band Renaissance: The Evolution of the Jazz Orchestra, the 1940s and Beyond.

After sending one boxed-set safely on its way “down under,” I sampled my copy and was as pleased with the written annotation accompanying the 4 CD set as I was with the music it contained.

The booklet’s introductory essay and the annotations for each of the retrospective’s 75 tracks were written by Bill Kirchner, who, as you may be aware, is a composer-arranger, multi-reed player, educator and editor of The Oxford Companion to Jazz. Bill also hosts Jazz from the Archives, a periodic radio series on WBGO. You can visit with Bill at his website.

Talk about a stroke of luck, if it hadn’t been for this Aussie friend-in-need, I might have missed out on this excellent retrospective of American big band Jazz from the Second World War until the close of the 20th century.

Incidentally, used copies of Big Band Renaissance: The Evolution of the Jazz Orchestra, the 1940s and Beyond are still available from CD resellers.

According to Bill’s acknowledgements, Bruce Talbot “… conceived the project and enabled it to become a reality.”

Both Bruce and Bill kindly granted the editorial staff at JazzProfiles permission to share the following excerepts from the series booklet.

In addition to the three videos at the conclusion of Bill’s essay which feature audio tracks drawn specifically from the Smithsonian collection, we have populated Bill’s essay with others films about big bands previously developed by the ace graphics team at CerraJazz LTD.

© -Bill Kirchner; used with the permission of the author. Copyright protected; all rights reserved.

“This collection is intended as a follow-up to Big Band Jazz: From the Beginnings to the Fifties  (Smithsonian Collection of Recordings RD/RC 030), compiled and annotated by Gunther Schuller and the late Martin Williams in 1983. The objective of that set was to trace the growth and development of the idiom from its beginnings to an arbitrary (by necessity) cut-off point at mid-cen­tury. By that time, the swing era had passed, and big bands were no longer the cynosure of either jazz or popular music. As author Ted Gioia observed, "In the early 1950s, jazz was undergoing a major upheaval; it was ceasing to be the popular music of the land and was evolving into a serious music for dedicated aficionados."

Until the end of the swing era, virtually all of the hundreds of working big bands—from the most jazz-oriented to the most commercial "Mickey Mouse" varieties—functioned primarily as dance and show bands. Engagements at ballrooms and dance pavilions, movie theaters, and hotels were mainstays of their bookings. True, the most ambitious of them entertained other aspira­tions: Benny Goodman led his band (along with guests from the Duke Elling­ton and Count Basie bands) in a famous 1938 Carnegie Hall concert, and in 1943 Ellington began a string of annual Carnegie Hall appearances, lasting through the decade, for which he wrote a series of extended works, the first and most famous of which was Black, Brown and Beige. Other big-band leaders, most notably Artie Shaw and Stan Kenton, chafed under the limita­tions imposed upon them by the entertainment industry and sought ways to expand the vocabulary and resources of popular music; several bands, for example, chose to add string sections, some more successfully than others. But for reasons we will explore presently, the number of big bands declined precipitously after 1946, and those of a jazz stripe that continued to function did so under new rules.

Our survey of these bands is divided into road bands, part-time bands, stu­dio bands, and the avant-garde. The road bands were full-time ensembles that in most cases spent the bulk of each year on tour. Of the major swing-era jazz bands, those that survived into the ensuing decades were the Ellington, Basie, Kenton, Woody Herman, Harry James, and Lionel Hampton bands. Other more commercial entities such as the Glenn Miller, Tommy Dorsey, and Jimmy Dorsey orchestras continued as "ghost bands" after their leaders had died.

As the business risks of leading a road band became immeasurably greater, there emerged a number of major jazz orchestras that can best be described as part-time bands. Such groups assemble on a limited basis and, however praiseworthy their music might be, are not intended to provide full-time employment for their members. These ensembles are frequently described as "rehearsal bands," but that term does not do the most active of them justice. Many part-time bands have recorded (some of them extensively), appeared in clubs and concerts, and have even toured internationally; for this reason, Thad Jones and Mel Lewis, among others, resented the rehearsal-band label. While big bands declined as full-time touring aggregations and as the focus of popular music, they remained a backbone of recording until well into the 1960s. In a number of key cities—New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Toronto, London, and others—studio musicians recorded daily in ensembles put together for specific recording projects. Most of this work was non-jazz in nature—music for television and radio commercials, singers' recordings, film and television scores—but, not infrequently, record companies were willing to fund orchestral jazz on an ad hoc basis in the 50s and 60s. A great deal of the best post-1945 big band jazz was conceived for the recording studio, or for concerts presented primarily as opportunities for recording. As author Max Harrison has commented, "Despite their undoubted—if somewhat over­rated—contribution to jazz, the swing bands, once established, stood in the way of further orchestral developments. These could only resume when the bands came off the road and orchestral jazz was created by ad hoc groups assembled mainly, if not exclusively, for recording purposes. Such conditions allowed far more varied instrumentation than hitherto, a wider choice of repertoire—which no longer had to be orientated to a dancing public—and the application of more diverse techniques of writing."

The last section is devoted to orchestral developments in the jazz avant-garde, which for our purposes can be defined as post-Ornette Coleman "new music." Like its postwar antecedents bebop, "cool" jazz, and hard bop, avant-garde jazz is primarily small-group music, but there have been efforts at using the language (or, more accurately, languages) of the avant-garde in orches­tral settings. A few of the most successful are heard in this collection.

It goes without saying that some of the bands heard here do not fit neatly into a single category. The Les Brown band, for instance, was a road band until the 50s and thereafter was heard primarily on records and as a studio band on television, though it continued to make annual USO trips with Bob Hope as well as occasional appearances on its own. The Elgart brothers had bands that often played for dances, but the recordings were done with a mix­ture of studio musicians and road personnel—none of whom were identified on the album jackets, by the way. And Dizzy Gillespie's mid-50s orchestra, included herein as a part-time band, did two State Department tours and some other engagements but was laid off and reassembled while Gillespie participated in one of Norman Granz's Jazz at the Philharmonic tours as a featured soloist. But this Gillespie band lasted longer than, say, Artie Shaw's 1949 road band, which had a lifespan of only a few months.

In any case, the categories are used as a convenience. Most important is that all of the ensembles heard in this collection have exceptional musical merit, and all of the selections picked represent their best, though not nec­essarily their most typical, jazz efforts; the Billy May selection is a case in point.

Big Band Renaissance begins with Jay McShann's Swingmatism because that recording, with its featured soloist Charlie Parker, portends the beginning of post-swing era orchestral jazz as much as any one recording can. (Ironically, other McShann pieces featuring Parker that could have made that point even more emphatically went unrecorded.) All of the other selections date from 1945 and later and represent the blossoming of orchestral jazz as a listener's—as opposed to a dancer's—music. In a few cases, recordings are used that are not big-band formats as such, but that illustrate specific aspects of big-band craftsmanship—the Benny Carter and Curtis Fuller-Manny Albam selections, for example.

I have sought to avoid re-treading ground already covered in Schuller and Williams's Big Band Jazz set, so no selections by such bands as the 1940s Dizzy Gillespie band, Woody Herman's First and Second Herds, and the Claude Thornhill band are featured. Exceptions to this rule include the Boyd Raeburn band, this time represented by a George Handy composition. Handy's work—not included in the earlier set—was, I believe, central to the Raeburn band's impact.

In all, these 75 recordings represent a half-century of artistry in a musical genre that author Gene Lees has aptly called "the first important new orches­tral formation since the symphony orchestra took shape in the time of C. P. E. Bach." Of course, any collection such as this can serve only as a sampling, and space limitations rear their ugly heads. There are many worthy bands and composer-arrangers who could not be included because of such limitations, and for that reason the listener is urged to continue pursuing the subject.

Whatever an individual's tastes may be, we hope that the diverse delights of post-swing era big band jazz will be a revelation and will lead to further investigation of its riches.


What is commonly known as the swing era (or, synonymously if not altogether accurately, the big-band era) lasted for little over a decade. Its unofficial inaugural was the Benny Goodman band's tri­umph at the Palomar Ballroom in Los Angeles on 21 August 1935, and the equally unofficial end came in December 1946 when eight popular leaders— Les Brown, Benny Carter, Tommy Dorsey, Goodman, Woody Herman, Ina Ray Hutton, Harry James, and Jack Teagarden—disbanded their orchestras almost overnight. While this turn of events did not mean the end of big bands, it did signal that the conditions that had facilitated their predominance were changing. We'll explore these conditions in a moment, but first it should be stated that big bands evolved over a period of at least two decades prior to the Goodman band's ascendance. Commentators such as Gunther Schuller, James T. Maher, and James Lincoln Collier have explored these beginnings in detail, but the following will serve as a brief summary.

In the second decade of this century the prototypes of the big band origi­nated in early dance orchestras such as those of Art Hickman and George Morrison, as well as the 369th Infantry Hell Fighters Band, a 50-piece African-American ensemble led by James Reese Europe during World War I. In the 1920s and early 30s the developments were continued by both black orches­tras (e.g., Fletcher Henderson's, Duke Ellington's, McKinney's Cotton Pick­ers) and white ones (Paul Whiteman's, the California Ramblers, Jean Goldkette's). There was much cross-pollination between the black and white orchestras, and their collective innovations were crystallized by a few key arrangers, including Ferde Grofe, Bill Challis, Ellington, Don Redman, John Nesbitt, Benny Carter, Gene Gifford, and Fletcher and Horace Henderson. Redman (1900-1964), who in the 20s was the chief writer for Fletcher Hen­derson and McKinney, incorporated Louis Armstrong's rhythmic innovations, the basis of "swing," into big-band scoring. Furthermore, he used the call-and-response (antiphonal) pattern common in black music and, along with Henderson, popularized it as a mainstay of big-band arranging—pitting trum­pet, trombone, and reed sections against each other and then combining them. This became the modus operandi for most swing-era bands; Ellington, who conceived his orchestra as a collection of individual voices to be mixed at will, provided the most distinctive alternative.

By the mid-30s, these bands and numerous others—the Casa Loma, Earl Hines, Jimmie Lunceford, Bennie Moten, and Chick Webb orchestras as well as "sweet" bands ranging from Guy Lombardo's to Hal Kemp's—had advanced the concept of the big band to the point where a breakthrough to mass popularity could occur. Goodman's triumph at the Palomar ignited that breakthrough, which was largely made possible through radio: earlier that year, young West Coast fans had listened with particular attention to Goodman's live national broadcasts on the Let's Dance program, and had also bought his recordings. Unbeknownst to Goodman, these fans were waiting for him at the Palomar, as were many members of the Los Angeles music community.

From the start, then, radio was the greatest source of exposure for the big bands, and this remained so throughout the swing era. Four major radio net­works broadcasted the big bands every night, including "remotes" done from hotels, ballrooms, and dance pavilions throughout America. In fact, until the 1940s, record companies prohibited the playing of commercial recordings on the radio; only specially licensed "transcriptions" were permitted airplay. This prohibition was increasingly ignored, and a number of artists and record com­panies sued to prevent airplay of their recordings. The suits ultimately were unsuccessful, and the result was the rise of commercial radio as we know it today—disc jockeys, "hit parades" and, later, "top forty," and the decline of live music on the air.

Another business-related development also had long-term cultural effects. In 1941 the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP) demanded an increase in money paid by radio broadcasters to ASCAP composers, among whom were most of the major Broadway song­writers. The broadcasters refused and a ten-month battle ensued, during which ASCAP-licensed music could not be played on the radio. This led to the rise of Broadcast Music Inc. (BMI), a rival licensing organization founded by the broadcasters. The dispute was resolved—in the broadcasters' favor—and as author Albert McCarthy has pointed out, "By this time BMI had destroyed the Tin Pan Alley monopoly, and writers and publishers of country and blues material found an outlet for their work that had previously been denied to them." This development aided the national rise of formerly regional genres such as country, folk, and rhythm-and-blues. And a decade or so later, it led to rock-and-roll.

But the most serious industry blow to big bands was the American Feder­ation of Musicians (AF of M) recording ban, begun on 1 August 1942 and not fully resolved until November 1944. Federation president James C. Petrillo, fearful that the playing of recordings on radio and jukeboxes constituted a threat to live music, wanted the recording companies to prohibit the use of records in these media. Petrillo eventually revised his strategy, demanding instead a tax on recording dates which, once agreed upon, ultimately led to the establishment of the Music Performance Trust Fund, to this day an impor­tant funder of live music concerts of all sorts that are presented to the public free of charge.

Before this settlement, however, the union enforced a ban on the record­ing of instrumental music. This ban did not include singers, who were not Federation members; they continued to record, albeit only with choral back­ing, and by the end of World War II solo singers had outdistanced the bands as the dominating force in popular music. Also benefiting were small record labels, which settled with the union earlier than did the three majors, Colum­bia, Decca, and RCA Victor. The non-majors, with their lower budgets, tended to record small-group music of various kinds, in the process breaking the dominance of both the Big Three and big bands.

World War II of course created a slew of problems. Large numbers of musi­cians were drafted into the armed services, seriously depleting the ranks of bands, and gas rationing made travel more difficult for both bands and the public, as did midnight curfews. On top of all this was a 20-percent tax on "entertainment" (bands that played for dancing or that included singers), which discouraged dancing; the tax, in fact, lasted well beyond the war years.

For that matter, the effects of most of these problems, along with new ones, continued to mount even after the end of the war. A postwar recession and the return of veterans eager to settle down led to a reduction in spend­ing for live music, and the introduction of television made most people that much more eager to stay at home. A second AF of M recording ban, lasting through most of 1948, simply worsened an already deteriorating situation. For the bandleaders, the costs of keeping a band on the road—salaries, trans­portation, lodging—kept growing. So did their nightly performance fees, which to some extent eventually priced them out of the market.

As for the music, it was growing, too, or at least the best, most jazz-ori­ented of it was. The innovations of bebop, in the main a small-group music, were leaving listeners dazzled, bewildered, or repelled, but in any case, jazz was drifting further and further away from dancers and dance tempos. For the most musically ambitious big-band leaders—Stan Kenton being a case in point—this was a welcome development even though most road bands still maintained a "dance book," since dances remained an important part of their bookings. Kenton was fortunate in that he was able to develop a large audience for a good deal of the music he wanted to play. Few post-swing era jazz orchestras, whatever their musical merits, have been able to make that claim.

Road bands, part-time bands, studio ensembles, and avant-garde configu­rations have all contributed to the wealth of big band jazz produced during the past half-century, but there are other milieus that should be mentioned as well. One is the rhythm-and-blues tributary, which produced some notewor­thy orchestras, including those led by Les Hite, Lucky Millinder, composer-arranger Buddy Johnson, Johnny Otis, and more recently, singer Ray Charles.

Another is the largely European institution of state-supported big bands, many of which exist primarily for broadcasting. The British Broadcasting Cor­poration (BBC) sponsored one as early as the mid-1930s; one of the orches­tra's arrangers was Benny Carter. In the post-World War II era, the most notable among such orchestras have been the WDR band in Cologne, the Danish Radio Orchestra, the UMO Jazz Orchestra in Finland, and the Swedish Radio Big Band. Interestingly, many of these bands have imported Americans as resident conductors (Thad Jones, Bob Brookmeyer, Jiggs Whigham, Bill Dobbins, and Rich Shemaria), and many other American musicians have moved to Europe to play with them.

In the United States, tax-supported jazz orchestras are rare, and most of the few that do exist are maintained by the armed services. The Air Force Air­men of Note, the Navy Commodores, and the Army Jazz Ambassadors are all based in Washington, D.C., and others are based in the hinterlands. Also, in a handful of American cities, municipally named jazz ensembles have been founded.
Since the 1970s a new big-band development reflecting a growing interest in jazz history has gained momentum. Jazz repertory had its beginnings with the worthy but short-lived New York Jazz Repertory Company and Chuck Israels's National Jazz Ensemble, and other such ensembles have followed: the now-defunct American Jazz Orchestra, the Lincoln Center Jazz Orches­tra, the Carnegie Hall Jazz Band, the Smithsonian Jazz Masterworks Orches­tra, and bands led by Loren Schoenberg and Walt Levinsky. All of these bands have, in varying ways, concentrated on works of the past.

But the most important refuge for big bands has been the jazz education movement. Begun in earnest after World War II and based in large part on the foundation of big bands (or, as they were euphemistically known for years, "stage bands"), jazz education has flourished. In the United States alone there are thousands (estimates range between 15,000 and 20,000) of secondary schools with big bands, and hundreds of colleges. The best of the college bands, including those at the University of North Texas (formerly North Texas State), the Berklee College of Music, the Eastman School of Music, Indiana University, the University of Illinois, and elsewhere, play on a profes­sional or near-professional level, and many of the finest jazz musicians of the past three decades have emerged from these programs.

The irony of this situation is that, all of this activity notwithstanding, pro­fessional opportunities for jazz orchestras are not expanding but may in fact be diminishing even further. Most of the few remaining road bands have become history in the past decade, or now work sporadically as ghost bands. Travel costs continue to mount, performance opportunities have declined in number and often do not pay a living wage when they do exist, and most com­mercial record companies display little interest in big bands. In recent years it has become the norm for aspiring leaders of big bands to produce (and pay for) recordings of their groups and then to "shop the master tapes" in hopes of having them released commercially by a label. The days when big-band leaders made lots of money are obviously long gone.

In the future it may be that big bands will survive in the way that sym­phony orchestras currently exist: through public and private subsidy or under educational auspices. There are pros and cons to such arrangements, but it remains to be seen whether jazz orchestras and their music continue to evolve or become period ensembles playing music of the past. Regardless of what happens, the music—big band jazz—deserves to endure, and no doubt it will.


Despite the abundance of big-band recordings and fans thereof, there is frequently a lack of understanding about how these bands are organized. Some words about this will, I hope, add to the enjoyment of the music.

As most listeners know, a standard big band instrumentation comprises a trumpet section (usually four players), a trombone section (usually two or three tenor trombones and a bass trombone), a saxophone section (usually two altos, two tenors, and a baritone), and a rhythm section (piano, bass, and drums, frequently guitar, and occasionally additional percussion). The trum­pet, trombone, and saxophone sections each have a leader, known to musi­cians as "lead players."

Lead players in big bands set the phrasing (how the written notes and phrases are articulated) and dynamics (degrees of loudness or softness); the ability to do this, and command a section in general, is a special skill, and a number of musicians have had distinguished careers as lead players. This is especially true of lead trumpet players, who have to dominate the entire band—not a job for the weak of nerve. In the trumpet personnel listings for the selections, certain names appear again and again: Cat Anderson, John Audino, Buddy Childers, Bernie Glow, Conrad Gozzo, Jimmy Maxwell, Al Porcino, Ernie Royal, Nick Travis, and Snooky Young. These are among the finest lead trumpeters in the history of big band jazz.

Many discographies and other listings of big-band personnel tend to mud­dle the order, especially of trumpet and trombone sections. The listings are often alphabetical or haphazard, giving no inkling of the actual makeup of the sections. When possible, I have attempted to list the section players in the order of the chairs they played, a matter complicated somewhat by the fact that trumpet and tenor trombone players tend to pass parts around the sec­tions. Because of the nature of brass instruments, lead trumpet and trombone playing is physically demanding, and it is common for lead players to exchange certain parts with other musicians in their section in order to give themselves a rest.

Until recently, lead players, especially trumpeters, tended to be non-improvisers or only occasional ones, although this situation has changed somewhat. Improvising trumpet players normally play the third or fourth book in a section, trombone players lead or second.

In the saxophone section (sometimes called the reed section), things are somewhat different. The lead alto player is more likely to keep all of the first parts and to be an improviser; lead alto players, like lead brass players, sit in the center of the section in order to be best heard. All of the saxophonists may well be improvisers, though the tenors tend to be the most featured.

Most swing-era saxophonists were also expected to "double" on clarinet, and baritone players on bass clarinet. With the advent of the Boyd Raeburn and Sauter-Finegan bands, doubling took on a whole new complexity, and the results were very influential, especially for studio recording. It is now com­mon for big-band saxophonists to double on flutes (which, unlike other wood­winds, do not have reeds) and clarinets, and sometimes on soprano and bass saxophones, piccolo, bass clarinet, alto and bass flutes, oboe, English horn, and bassoon. (Gil Evans took things a step further by eliminating the saxo­phone section from most of his bands and using mixed woodwinds instead.)

The rhythm section is the foundation of any big band, or for that matter, any jazz ensemble. All of the players have time-keeping functions, and all except the drummer (and non-mallet percussionists, if any) have harmonic functions as well. It is particularly important for the bassist and drummer to hook up rhythmically as a team; it is often said that the most important musi­cians in a big band are the drummer, the bassist, and the lead trumpeter. If all of these players do their jobs well, the rest of the band will follow.”

Here are three examples from the 75 annotations that Bill prepared to accompany the tracks in the Big Band Renaissance anthology along with a video tribute to the bands of Charlie Barnet, Buddy Rich and Clare Fischer, respectively, to give you an example of the music on hand in the collection and Bill’s excellent insights and observations about it.


Arr., Paul Villepigue. Rec. 1/16/49, New York. First issue Capitol T624; mx 3385-1D1.

John Howell, Tony DiNardi, Lainmar Wright Jr., Doc Severinsen, Dave Burns (t); Dick Kenney, Obie Masingill (tb); Kenny Martlock (btb); Barnet (ss); Vinnie Dean, Art Raboy (as); Kurt Bloom, Dave Matthews (ts); Danny Bank (bars); Claude Williamson (p); Eddie Safranski (b); Cliff Leeman (d); Diego Ibarra (bgo): Carlos Vidal (cga).

Soloists: Ibarra & Vidal; Barnet; Wright(?).

“Charlie Barnet [1913-91] re-formed his band around the same time as [Benny] Goodman did [late 1948], and it lasted about the same amount of time, but Barnet embraced the new music [Bebop], whereas Goodman merely tolerated it.  Barnet acquired arrangements from a variety of forward-looking writers, including Gil Fuller, Manny Albam, Paul Villepigue, Tiny Kahn, Obie Masingill, and Dave Matthews, and he put together a band whose enthusiasm matched his. It included a five-man trumpet section with powerhouse players; others who passed through the section included Maynard Ferguson, Ray Wetzel, and Rolf Ericsson. (During this period, Stan Kenton was inactive, and Capitol Records apparently was hoping that the new Barnet band could fill the void. Barnet's orchestra, incidentally, was one of the first after Kenton's to use a bass trombone.)

One of the band's most interesting recordings was Eugipelliv, the title obviously the backward spelling of its composer's surname. At its core a blues in G-minor, the piece is an amalgam of rich Ellington-like saxophone scoring (led by the leader's soprano), Latin rhythmic elements, and Villepigue's con­siderable originality. Barnet also recorded Villepigue's lovely ballad Lonely Street, but what could have become a major writing career was tragically cut short in 1953 when Villepigue took his own life at the age of 33.

Barnet himself continued to lead bands for "pickup" engagements and occasional recordings as late as the 1970s.”


Arr., Don Piestrup. Rec. 7/10/68, Las Vegas. First issue World Pacific Jazz ST-20133.K

Al Porcino, Kenneth Faulk, David Gulp, Bill Prince (t); Jim Trimble, Rick Stepton (tb); Peter Graves (btb); Art Pepper, Charles Owens (as); Don Menza, Pat LaBarbera (ts); John Laws (bars); Joe Azarello (p); Walt Namuth (g); Gary Walters (b); Rich (d).

Soloists: Prince; Menza.

“Buddy Rich (1917-87) was a phenomenon: an enfant terrible who became, after stints with Artie Shaw and Tommy Dorsey, one of the most in-demand drummers of the swing era. He formed his own big band in 1946 and led one intermittently into the early 50s, but from then until 1966 Rich alternated between leading his own small group and working as a sideman, most frequently with Harry James.
In April 1966 Rich left a lucrative position with James and formed a new big band. This time, through a mixture of showmanship, a shrewd choice of material (including arrangements of current pop fare that attracted a young audience), and frequent television exposure, Rich achieved the success as a big-band leader that had eluded him in the 40s. For the rest of his life he maintained, with only short hiatuses, a road band that remained a popular concert attraction.

The band's music ranged from the substantial to the superficial, but to all of it the leader brought his own unsparing intensity. (Though he was a renowned terror to his musicians, Rich employed an abundance of excep­tional, and mostly young, players.) Some of the most advanced writing was done by Don Piestrup (b. 1937), a free-lance composer-arranger whose jazz activity was documented principally by the Rich band; Piestrup eventually settled into a career writing jingles and commercial music. Goodbye Yester­day is one of Piestrup's best efforts, and it's a good example of his style: a fusion of Bill Holman-like linearity with some of the newer harmonic ideas that were in the air in the 60s.

The band's performance has the searing quality typical of Rich. Though he was a widely acknowledged nonpareil technician—the highlight of any Rich concert was an extended drum solo—he was a superb ensemble player as well, and that quality is heard throughout this track, recorded live at Caesar's Palace. Aside from Rich, the band's most heavily featured soloist was always a hard-driving tenor saxophonist, and Don Menza (b. 1936) here fills that role to perfection. Don't miss, though, the subtle rhythm section work of guitarist Walt Namuth.”


Arr., Clare Fischer. Rec. fall 1968, Los Angeles. First issue Atlantic SD 1520; mx 15398.M "

Buddy Childers, Larry McGuire, Conte Candoli, Steve Huffsteter, Stewart Fischer (t); Gil Falco, Charley Loper, David Sanchez (tb); Morris Repass (btb); Gary Foster (as, pic); Kirn Richmond (as, fl); Lou Ciotti (ts, cl); Warne Marsh (ts); Bill Perkins (bars); John Lowe (bsx); Clare Fischer (p, el-p); Chuck Dornanico (b); Larry Bunker (d); unidentified cga.

Soloists: C. Fischer; Bunker; C. Fischer; Marsh; Candoli; Bunker.

“Since his move to Los Angeles from the Midwest in 1957, Clare Fischer (b. 1928) has been one of the most versatile musicians in residence on the West Coast—a singular stylist as pianist, organist, composer, and arranger. He first gained attention as musical director of the Hi-Lo's vocal group, then as arranger for recordings by Dizzy Gillespie, Cal Tjader, and oth­ers, and most of all as leader on a memorable series of record dates for Pacific Jazz in the early 60s.

Fischer's wide-ranging musical interests have always included a deep knowledge of Latin music; Miles Behind is a case in point. Written in 7/4 time, it has a tuneful melody and distinctive harmonies typical of Fischer, plus expert orchestration using instruments ranging from piccolo and bass saxo­phone to Fender Rhodes electric piano and congas. (Notice the use of six sax­ophones.) An especially clever touch comes after the trumpet solo: Fischer gives the baritone and bass saxophones a complex line, then places them in counterpoint while the other saxophones repeat that same line in a higher register.

Fischer's band, which played in the Los Angeles area in the late 60s, included some of that city's most prominent jazz musicians. Of the soloists, the standout was probably Warne Marsh (1927-87), a tenor saxophonist best known for his work with pianist Lennie Tristano in the 40s and 50s. Here Marsh plays one of the most unusual solos of his recording career, in a Latin setting rare for him.”