Monday, March 12, 2012

Two from Tommy Vig

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

For those of us who were fans of the music of Stan Kenton, Tommy Vig stepped into our lives on Monday, April 4, 1966.

That was the night that Stan’s highly [overly?] ambitious Neophonic Orchestra premiered Tommy’s Four Pieces for Neophonic Orchestra.

At the time of the premier, few Kenton fans knew anything about Tommy Vig.

Frankly, I would venture to say that few Jazz fans anywhere knew anything about this 28-year old percussionist, composer-arranger who had come to the United States as a refuge from the 1956 Hungarian Revolution.

Ultimately, Tommy chose the vibraphone as his main instrument and gained a scholarship to the Juilliard School of Music where he studied composition.

From New York Tommy moved to Las Vegas and Hollywood, where his bold approach to arranging was well received. As a vibraphonist and a percussionist, he performed with Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis, Tony Curtis, Miles Davis-Gil Evans big band, Woody Allen, Diana Ross, and The Carpenters, just to name a few. He is the percussionist on all the albums of the legendary Rod Stewart. 

There is more information about Tommy on his comprehensive website which you can locate by going here.

In Los Angeles in August, 1967, Tommy recorded Four Pieces for Neophonic Orchestra with his own orchestra along with five other arrangements of his original compositions. Earlier, in April, 1967, Tommy had recorded six of his charts with a band based in Las Vegas.

The Las Vegas tracks were released as Encounters with Time [Discovery LP #DS 780] and the Los Angeles tracks were issued as Sound of the 70s [Milestone LP #MSP 9007].

In 1986, Discovery/Trend coupled both albums together as a CD release entitled Space Race DSCD-925.

In order to give you a sampling of Tommy’s extraordinarily exciting big band arranging and the unusual use of percussion instruments in his scoring, here are two videos featuring soundtracks from both the Los Angeles and Las Vegas 1967 sessions.

The first features a rapid burst version of Sunrise, Sunset from the score of the Broadway show Fidler on the Roof which was subsequently also made into a Hollywood film. Charlie McLean takes the alto solo.

The second video also features Charlie Lean, this time on Tommy’s arrangement of Satan Takes a Holiday, which Larry Clinton composed as the theme for his swing era, big band. Shelly Manne is on drums.

Beginning at 1:09 minutes of this track, be sure and checkout Tommy’s solo on the 18 note chimes which are made up of 1¼” brass tubes that are struck at the top of the tube with a rawhide mallet [both pictured above]. These are usually played one note at a time, but on his solo, Tommy uses two mallets and plays the chimes as though they were a vibraphone – not an easy thing to do. He’s even figured out a way to dampen or stop the sustaining tones on the chimes!