© -Steven Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.
"Bill Dobbins. ... Getting back to our discussion about your working methods, could you talk a little about the origins of the arrangements for Prez Conference, the group that played all the saxophone harmonizations of Lester Young solos?
Bill Holman. Well, it was [tenor saxophonist] Dave Pell's brainchild, you know. He was going to do what Supersax did. But, of course, he didn't realize that the tenor is much lower than the alto. So how are you going to put three other saxes underneath the tenor lead? I had to work around that, and there's some finagling, going to unison or thirds occasionally and then back to the four parts. But he dug up a lot of Prez solos and I found a few. And we did several albums, or at least two. I think Joe Williams was on the last one. Did he sing on the whole album?
B.D. No, some of the tunes had instrumental soloists. And there was another album that featured [Harry] "Sweets" Edison.
B. H. Yeah. Anyway, that was it. And we found some songs that Joe could sing that had Prez solos in them, and we did those along with the strictly instrumental tunes. I tend to think of it as a poor relation to Supersax.
B.D. Why is that?
B.H. I don't know. Because it wasn't first, I guess.
B.D. I think of it as just another side of the music. Because Parker's style was so rich, chromatic and chord based, while Prez played in a rhythmically simpler and more melodically basic style.
B. H. Well, it was ideal for me, because it's mostly pretty easy to harmonize. And I had been familiar with some of those things almost since childhood. And the ones I hadn't heard before I could relate to just as well. So it was fun for me ..."
Having written at length on these pages about Med Flory and his accomplishments with Supersax, the editorial staff at JazzProfiles was graciously reminded by a close friend that a recounting of Dave Pell’s achievements with Prez Conference might be in order.
Like Med, Dave is also a saxophonist and a bandleader, one who has led his own octet for many years, and he is also the founder of a singular group of saxophonists whom he named – Prez Conference.
The friendship between Dave Pell and Med Flory dates back to the West Coast Jazz scene of the 1950s and like Med, who had a parallel career in acting, Dave is a multi-talented guy having composed and arranged music for his own groups and also served as a record producer and a session photographer.
Whereas Supersax arranged a full saxophone section [2 altos, 3 tenors and 1 baritone sax] in unison and in harmony to replicate the solos of alto saxophonist Charlie Parker, Dave Pell’s Prez Conference used 3 tenors and one baritone sax to give a new sonority to the solos of the legendary tenor saxophonist, Lester Young [Billie Holiday nicknamed him “The President” and the hipsters renamed him “Prez”].
In creating the music for Prez Conference, Dave enlisted the help of composer-arranger Bill Holman, a tenor saxophonist who is also a contemporary of Med Flory and, of course, the leader for many years of his own big band which is based in Los Angeles, CA.
As the always informative Jazz writer Leonard Feather explained:
“There are certain individuals in jazz history who, no matter what their other credits, will always be best known through one particular association, even if it was relatively brief. Just as Ben Webster never escaped the billing "formerly with Duke Ellington" (though he worked with the band for a total of barely four years), so was Lester Young's association with Count Basie (1936-40, occasional reunions in 1943-4 and thereafter until Prez died in 1959) the one fact of his life that would always be remembered by fans and historians.”
And in a review of a Prez Conference performance at Carmello’s in Sherman Oaks, CA that appeared in The Los Angeles Times 1984, Feather gave more background about the group and its dynamics:
“The group known as Prez Conference, which performed Wednesday night at
Carmelo's, was organized in 1978 by the tenor saxophonist Dave Pell. Although only two of the original members remain—Pell and Bob Cooper—the concept has proved more durable than the personnel.
Pell wanted to do with solos transcribed from records by Lester (Prez) Young what Supersax had done with Charlie Parker solos: harmonize them for a saxophone section, effectively making valid composition out of timeless Improvisation. Bill Holman deserves credit for most of the success of this group. He's responsible for fanning out Young's solos into arrangements for three tenor saxes and a baritone.
The cool, mellow blend of the reed team makes for an attractive ensemble sound. Bob Hardaway was the third tenor and John Lowe subbed for Bob Efford on baritone. The repertoire has remained almost unchanged. Lester Young's vehicles were mostly blues or simple 32-bar tunes "I Never Knew,” “Just You, Just Me," and the classic "Lester Leaps In.”
Given Young's close association with Count Basie, it was appropriate to pick Nat Pierce, once the Count's alter ego, for the piano chair. Frank Capp's drums and the eloquent bass of Chuck Berghofer rounded out the rhythm section, with Harry "Sweet" Edison or Bill Berry's trumpet added for occasional brass contrast.”
Here’s a taste of the Prez Conference in action on Bill Holman’s arrangement of I Never Knew which features Dave Pell, lead tenor saxophone, Bob Hardaway and Bob Cooper, tenor saxophone, Bob Efford, baritone saxophone, Al Hendrickson, guitar, Nat Pierce, piano, Monty Budwig, bass and Frankie Capp, drums.