Saturday, June 20, 2015

"The Sound of Big Band Jazz in Hi Fi" - "Studio-Formed Big Bands"

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

In the fifteen or so years that Richard Bock owned and operated the Pacific Jazz and World Pacific record companies, he like many other independent record labels, combined tracks from previous LP’s and issued them as inexpensive samplers.

Usually the tracks on such samplers would be related to selected themes like “The Blues” or “Jazz West Coast” or “Broadway Shows.”

Most of them contained very instructive liner notes about the artists and the style of Jazz featured in the sampler’s theme that were either written by Dick or by his close associates among which were Woody Woodward, Ed Michel and Will MacFarland.

I thought it might be fun to highlight one of these Pacific Jazz Samplers on the blog and I’ve selected my favorite for this purpose - The Sound of Big Band Jazz in Hi-Fi! [JWC-514] with Woody Woodward’s annotation. As an added bonus, this sampler LP featured an original cover painting by Robert [then known as "Bob"] Irwin.

“Not so many years ago the efforts of the jazz arranger were eyed rather narrowly by all but a few who recognized the advantage of constructing a larger platform upon which the jazzmen could perform. In the pre-Ellington pre-Henderson days when "jazz was pure," he was regarded as a heretic bent on destruction. But the efforts of these pioneers and the men that followed have earned the arranger a place in jazz nearly as important as the improvising soloist. Jazz has grown immeasurably richer for their contributions. Their guideposts for small band jazz have been accepted into the literature of the medium. Hardly a jazz group today works wholly without arrangements. And, needless to say, were it not for the arranger, big band jazz could not have come into existence. For many this is where the arranger's greatest contributions lie.

Even though the arranger was a functioning fact in jazz as early as the Twenties, he gained artistic acceptance late - just in time to witness the post-war decline of the big bands. And with it went his most direct means of livelihood. After years of struggling to find his niche, and just within sight of his goal, the economic rug was pulled. Under the circumstances there was little opportunity for the jazz arranger to practice his profession. However, because these arrangers could not or would not cease their work, big band arranging continued unabated - with or without remuneration. And if need be, without regularly organized bands to play their material. "Kicks" bands were formed — rehearsal groups that existed for the sole purpose of playing the arrangements that continued to pour forth. Additionally, these bands provided an outlet for the displaced bandsmen who wanted to keep their hand in. Much more so than today, Big Bands were a way of life - as much an attitude as Ragtime. The excitement of men moving as if controlled by a single mind was (and is) an experience that's difficult to forget. Few who have known it well and felt it deeply have found equal gratification elsewhere. For the arrangers that provided the charts for these men to navigate by, there was a special kind of satisfaction born of the knowledge that they had created something less fleeting than the jazz solos that died with the echoes of the rehearsal hall. The arranger, like the poet and the painter, had something tangible upon which to cling — a possession. These possessions would find a more practical use in the years to come.

During the early Fifties, largely because of increased recording activities and the attendant publicity, big bands began to come back - slowly as first. By 1953, at least a few were making healthy headway. Most of them fell heir to the libraries that had been built up in darker days. Names like Mulligan, Hefti, Mandel, Cohn, Rogers, Wilkins, Holman, and the late Tiny Kahn, began to appear more and more frequently on album jackets. But alas, the Big Band Era never really returned to its full former glory. It is encouraging to note that the interest in big bands is once again on the upswing, but it is doubtful if they will ever return in the quantity that once assured steady and lucrative work for musician and arranger.

Except for a handful of good big jazz bands (most notably Count Basie, Harry James, and intermittently, Herman, Kenton, and Ellington), even now working their way from one city to the next, the last outpost for the big band arranger is the recording studio. Here the arranger and jazz musician can have their cake and eat it - if the results are successful. But there's the rub. Unity and exuberance are not easily come by within the antiseptic confines of the recording studio. Kicks alone are not enough here. Large sums of money are at stake. The hour is at hand. There are three hours in which to produce four performances - performances that must be lived with for however long the records remain in existence. It takes a special breed. Because the musicians are required to master the arrangements in a very short time, and often without rehearsals, they must be of a very high calibre. They must be jazz musicians of the first quarter (if the product is to be jazz), yet they must be flexible enough to subvert their individuality in favor of creating an ensemble. When the time for solos arrive, they must cast off this conformity and create. Above all, they must be able to project their collective spirit with a single minded feeling for time. The intimate knowledge of each man's strength and weakness, and the time it takes for a band to develop an identity and that unique cohesiveness must all be circumvented. Of equal import-understand these problems and write with their solutions clearly in mind.

The Sound Of Big Band Jazz In Hi-Fi is a showcase for some of these men and a few of the arrangers who have not given up their first love. The importance of the soloist has not been overlooked. One or several outstanding jazz soloists are heard at length on each performance: Chet Baker on "Jimmy's Theme" and "Tenderly" ("Fairmont" on the Stereo version); Cy Touff and Richie Kamuca on "What A I Here For" ("Keester Parade" on Stereo version); Art Pepper on "Georgia" and "Bunny"; Cannonball Adderley on "Lester Leaps In"; Frank Rosolino on "Dearly Beloved"; Gerry Mulligan; Zoot Sims, Al Cohn, Lee Konitz, and Allen Eager on "Disc Jockey Jump"; and Bill Perkins on "Let Me See."

All of the bands heard here are "studio formed" — none are regularly organized. The accent is largely on the dance band approach — although several of the performances ("Jimmy's Theme" and "Lester Leaps In") will require more than the average amount agility. The maintenance of the dance beat was adhered to not so much to encourage people to dance (jazz musicians are notoriously unconcerned about the dancer) but because this approach has invariably produced the best results in a large jazz band. The greatest jazz bands have, almost without exception, been first rate dance bands as well.

So, by all means, dance if you are so inclined. But, listen too. The intentions of the men who wrote these and played the material was for the music to be heard. For them it's the best aspects of the Big Band "way of life" minus the depressing drudgery of one-nighters, hamburger dinners, and third-rate hotels. It's the sound of men eating cake.”

The following video features Jimmy’s Theme as composed by Leith Stevens, arranged by Johnny Mandel and performed by the Chet Baker/Bud Shank “Studio-Formed Big Band.”

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