Saturday, April 13, 2024

Bob Florence Limited Edition by Gordon Jack

 © Copyright ® Steven Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved

Gordon Jack is a frequent contributor to the Jazz Journal and a very generous friend in allowing JazzProfiles to re-publish his perceptive and well-researched writings on various topics about Jazz and its makers.

Gordon is the author of Fifties Jazz Talk An Oral Retrospective and he also developed the Gerry Mulligan discography in Raymond Horricks’ book Gerry Mulligan’s Ark.

The following article was published in the April 7, 2024 edition of Jazz Journal. Gordon is based in the UK and uses English spelling.

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© -Gordon Jack/JazzJournal, copyright protected; all rights reserved; used with the author’s permission.

“Between 1979 and 2006 Bob Florence recorded thirteen big band albums with his Limited Edition and each release was an event. One of the band’s notable features was a six-man saxophone section which was packed with doublers. No less than eighteen woodwinds were available to the leader who took full advantage of the stimulating tone colours available to him. The band could pin you to the chair with the brilliance of its attack combined with subtle dynamics worthy of the Basie band at its very best. As drummer Nick Ceroli once said, ”It can blow your head off or whisper in your ear”. 

Florence wrote many compelling originals and each album which presented totally fresh material was replete with a selection of his innovative themes. He was nominated for fifteen Grammy Awards over the years finally breaking through in 2000 when his Serendipity 18 won for Best Performance by a Jazz Ensemble.


He was born in Los Angeles in 1932 and began piano lessons when he was three. He had perfect-pitch together with a prodigious talent for the instrument, performing his first piano recital at the age of seven. After leaving high-school he took an arranging course at the LA City College where he organised a band which rehearsed at the local Musician’s Union. Lanny Morgan, Bob Hardaway (who both became Limited Edition members) Herb Geller and Jack Sheldon were all students at the college at that time. He soon became “mesmerised” by the sounds of the Duke Ellington, Count Basie and Woody Herman bands. After working for Alvino Rey, Les Brown, Louie Bellson and Harry James in the late fifties his career really took off around 1961 when he arranged “Up A Lazy River” for Si Zentner. It became a big hit and won a Grammy Award. This led to commissions from Stan Kenton, Buddy Rich and Count Basie as well as entries into the commercial world with Andy Williams, Dean Martin, Red Skelton and Frank Sinatra on their TV shows. 

He was not completely lost to jazz at this time because his 1964 big band recording of “Straight No Chaser” prompted this comment from Thelonious Monk in a DownBeat Blindfold Test, “It sounded so good, it made me like the song better! It was top-notch”. He particularly liked Herbie Harper’s trombone solo who later became a founder-member of the Limited Edition. Florence went on to work with Jack Jones, Julie Andrews and Lena Horne and for most of the 70s he toured with Vikki Carr as her musical director.

1979 was the year he introduced his Limited Edition with its stellar line-up of big band veterans who had left the rigours of the road for the security of the Los Angeles studio scene. They had all paid their dues over the years touring with Stan Kenton, Woody Herman, Count Basie, Louis Bellson, Charlie Barnet, Les Brown and Benny Goodman. Interpreting his demanding scores was clearly not a problem and it helped that the band was full of heavy-hitter soloists in each section. Here are some selected highlights from the band’s extensive discography, although it was not marketed under The Limited Edition title until 1983.

Their debut recording took place at Concerts By The Sea which was Howard Rumsey’s club on the pier at Redondo Beach. They were recorded there over four nights in June 1979. The band is really put through their paces on the extended “Be Bop Charlie” that is almost through-composed in its construction. It is dedicated to Chuck Niles who is the only jazz DJ with a star on Hollywood’s Walk of Fame. Bob Hardaway (tenor) and Charlie Loper (trombone) both stretch out to good effect. Nick Ceroli who is better known for his commercial work with Herb Alpert proves here and on all his recordings with the band to be a fine big band drummer very much in the Buddy Rich tradition. “The Lonely Carousel” is a perfect vehicle for the lyrical flugelhorn of Warren Luening. Sounding very close to the great Guido Basso of Rob McConnell fame he is cushioned here by delicate writing for the woodwinds. Charlie Loper with a little hint of “Mad About The Boy” along the way thrives in the laid-back swing created by the band on “Wide Open Spaces”.

 Westlake, the band’s next release, was recorded nine months later. The album title finds the leader’s piano accompanied by subdued ensemble textures in a successful exercise in subtle dynamics. “One, Two, Three” is a suite of waltzes opening with an exciting up-tempo feature for Pete Christlieb revealing his Eddie ‘Lockjaw’ Davis roots. The tempo slows for an elegant flugelhorn statement from Steve Huffsteter before the ensemble segues into a delightful baritone-led saxophone soli. The suite concludes with a storming soprano outing from Ray Pizzi who takes things out with another stimulating section soli. These tempo changes are of course handled with aplomb by Ceroli whether on sticks or brushes. Christlieb displays another side of his musicality with an emotional reading on “Autumn”. He really should be far better known. Despite the twenty-six albums recorded under his own name, he still seems to fly under the radar.

The well-named Magic Time was recorded in 1983 and Florence has intriguingly scored the album title for six clarinets, one of which is Bob Efford’s bass clarinet. Definitely not a sound you hear every day but very effective. Dick MItchell has an impressive flute outing before a saxophone soli becomes a spring-board for Charlie Loper’s trombone. He has a reputation for being “a great lead player who can play great jazz” as he demonstrates here. The chart climaxes with a thrilling ‘shout’ chorus that became something of a Limited Edition speciality over the years.  “Double Barrel Blues” is introduced by two choruses of funky chords from the leader’s electric piano. It is one of his cutest themes and London-born Bob Efford shows just why he was so highly thought of by his colleagues. The rich sonorities of his baritone both here and on “Bleuphoria” create a Carney-like intensity. “Rhythm And Blues” is an absolute tour-de-force from Lanny Morgan on alto. Through a blizzard of key changes it storms along at 90 bpm which should be impossible but Morgan manages to be inventive throughout. Bill Perkins once summed him up for me as, “the greatest, most dynamic jazz-oriented lead alto I ever played with”.

Their 1986 album Trash Can City was dedicated to Nick Ceroli who had died the previous year aged only forty-five. He was on all the previous Limited Edition albums and is replaced here by Peter Donald who had played extensively with the Toshiko Akiyoshi/Lew Tabackin Big band. Bob called him, “a revelation”.  The CD opens with “Willowcrest” an original he first wrote for the Buddy Rich band in 1967 and it was to remain in the drummer’s book for years. There is an ethereal quality to “Jewels” which has Julie Andrews humming wordlessly much like Adelaide Hall did on “Creole Love Call” with Duke Ellington back in 1927. “The Bebop Treasure Chest” is a collection of subtle references to “Night In Tunisia”, “The Champ”, “Salt Peanuts”, “Bebop” and “Hot House”. Horace Silver’s “Doodlin’” though not part of the bebop vernacular is also referenced. “The Babbling Brook” is dedicated to Bob Brookmeyer who was one of Florence’s heroes. It is book-ended by the leader’s use of a Yamaha DX 7 which gets pretty close to Brookmeyer’s trombone sound electronically and it benefits from a fine chorus from the west-coast’s great Lestorian, Bob Cooper. 

In 1993 the band recorded its second live date titled Funupsmanship this time at the Moonlight Tango Café in Sherman Oaks, Los Angeles. It also introduces drummer Steve Houghton who was making his first album with Florence. The easy-paced “Slimehouse” is actually based on “Limehouse Blues” and introduces the ensemble without solos to an enthusiastic audience. “Funupsmanship” is a contrapuntal original worthy of Bill Holman (an acknowledged influence) with a fine trombone contribution from Alex Iles quoting “I’m Getting Sentimental Over You” and “Laura” along the way. “The Cat’s Waltzes” features a soulful Bob Efford and a particularly melodic Warren Luenning. Once again the ghost of Bill Holman hovers over the dynamic arrangement of “Come Rain Or Come Shine” which is a feature for the elegant Charlie Loper. On “Lester Leaps In”, Rick Culver (trombone) and Lanny Morgan find something totally fresh and original to play on Gershwin’s familiar harmony. Tenor-man Dick Mitchell positively bristles with authority and invention on Wayne Shorter’s up-tempo “Lester Left Town”. The album concludes with a twelve minute exploration of Miles Davis’ “All Blues” which is noticeable for the distinctive harmonies Bob Florence created for the brass section. Warren Luening who is very Miles-like in a harmon takes the solo honours. 

Their 2002 release, Whatever Bubbles Up, opens with “Dukeisms” which Bob wrote to celebrate the anniversary of Duke Ellington’s birth with suitable hints of “Cottontail”, “Happy Go Lucky Local” and “I Let A Song Go Out Of My Heart”. The pure sound of Carl Saunders is featured on “Nerve Endings” recalling one of the unsung heroes of the trumpet – Don Fagerquist. “Chelsea Bridge” is a delight with Charlie Loper carrying the melody over attractive woodwind scoring before his section-mate Bob McChesney takes off for an inventive jazz chorus. Steve Huffsteter in a Harmon mute plots a lyrical course through “Q & A” which he has all to himself.

Eternal Licks & Grooves in 2006 opens and closes with respectful homages to Count Basie and Stan Kenton. The exciting “Eternal Licks & Grooves” (the title says it all) has the trombones introducing variations on “One O’Clock Jump” over repeated pedal-tones from the piano and the baritone. Tom Peterson’s beefy tenor and Larry Lunetta’s expressive trumpet are featured over backgrounds that hint at “Jumpin’ At The Woodside” before the ensemble closes with one of the best known codas in jazz, patented by the Count himself. 

The strangely titled “Appearing In Cleveland” is explained in the sleeve-note. Stan Kenton was once asked in a radio interview where he thought jazz was going. He modestly replied “We’re appearing in Cleveland on the thirtieth!” Drummer Peter Erskine who was with Kenton in the early seventies opens what is almost a mini-suite with an explosive burst on the cymbals leading to “Artistry In Rhythm” from the leader. A paraphrase of “Eager Beaver” introduces Bob Efford before “Intermission Riff” heralds a tempo-change and a brief quote from “Willis” which Florence introduced on the 1996 Earth CD. Larry Koonse (guitar) whose father played with Harry James and George Shearing steps up to the solo mike before the band reprises the “Artistry” theme which closed so many Kenton concerts over the years.

In conclusion it really is remarkable how consistent the Limited Edition personnel remained over the years. In a 1992 LA Times interview Florence saluted three of his regular sidemen Steve Huffsteter, Bob Efford and Lanny Morgan – “These guys are a real joy to work with”. Huffstseter appeared on all thirteen albums, Efford was on ten and Morgan was on six. In Lanny’s case it probably would have been far more if he had not spent most of the 1990s touring first class with Natalie Cole’s backing group.

Bob Florence Limited Edition Discography

Live At Concerts By The Sea (1979) Discovery 74005CD.

Westlake (1981) Discovery DSCD 832CD.

Soaring (1982) Sea Breeze SB2082CD.

Magic Time (1983) Trend TRCD 536.

Trash Can City (1986) Trend TRCD545.

State Of The Art (1988) USA Music Group USACD589.

Treasure Chest (1990) USA Music Group USACD 680.

Funupsmanship (1993) Mama Foundation MMF1006CD.

With All The Bells & Whistles (1995) Mama Foundation MMF 1011CD.

Earth (1996) Mama Foundation MMF 1016CD.

Serendipity 18 (1988) Mama Foundation MMF 1025CD

Whatever Bubbles Up (2002) Summit DCD360CD.

Eternal Licks & Grooves (2006) Mama Foundation MMF 1030CD. 


Bob Florence died in May 2008. Five months later The Limited Edition recorded a tribute album to him with Alan Broadbent in the piano chair – Legendary MAA 1037.”


  1. Just to comment, I had the pleasure to be a member of the Bob Florence ensembles from the 1970’s on, playing lead alto much of those years. I produced the final LENGENDARY album
    Kim Richmond

  2. Did read with great pleasure the article above beeing a Bob Florence Fan since the both albums on Discovery. This was also the start to dig deeper in his music and collecting every Item I could find starting with his first "Bongos,Reeds and Brass up to his most recent CD's.
    W (Germany)


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