Thursday, November 3, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


As Leader

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

As Sideman

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

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

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

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

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