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Reviewers: Don Mather, Dick Stafford, Marc Bridle, John Eyles, Ian Lace, Colin Clarke




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The Great BIG BAND Collection

Ben Webster with Duke Ellington, Benny Goodman, Glenn Miller, Johnny Hodges, Ray Anthony

Sabam Crescendo Joan Records No7159

 

Apart from the Johnny Hodges Album, this is a Big band Collection.

Ben Webster with Duke Ellington

    1. Chelsea Bridge
    2. Rain Check
    3. Perdido
    4. What Am I Here For?
    5. Main Stem
    6. Sepia Panorama
    7. Cotton Tail
    8. All Too Soon
    9. Conga Brava
    10. Bojangles
    11. My Greatest Mistake
    12. Chloe
    13. Blue Serge
    14. Just A-Sittin’ and A-Rockin’

The full sound of Ben Webster’s Tenor Sax had a profound effect on the Duke Ellington Orchestra and after his departure, the Duke employed several different tenor sax players but they all had a nice full sound even if the styles varied. I must confess to being a great fan of Ben Webster, he seems to me to play the Tenor Sax as it was intended to be played. On all of the first three tracks including Rain Check his own composition Webster is featured. The Ellington sax section at this time also had a delightful big sound but with Johnny Hodges and Harry Carney around, that was only to be expected. This particular Ellington band was full of star soloists Rex Stewart and Cootie Williams are heard to good effect on Trumpet as are Tricky Sam Nanton and Juan Tizol on Trombone and the delightful Johnny Hodges alto sax, to say nothing of the Dukes fine piano playing. The band also plays with great precision, well-applied dynamics and perfect intonation. Webster’s playing on sepia panorama is exceptional; it is a nice concert piece.

Cotton Tail stayed in Webster’s repertoire, I heard him at Ronnie Scott’s and in Coventry and he played it on both occasions, the saxophone section also have a nice soli on this arrangement which builds to an exciting climax then fades at the end.

Seven of the fifteen tracks are credited to Webster as composer; I did not realise that he was so proficient in that department. His solo on All Too Soon is typical of the man, very laid back, superb tone and use of vibrato. Conga Brava has some nice clarinet work, Barney Bigard presumably, before Ben takes driven along by Sonny Greer and the rhythm section.

The theme statement on My Greatest Mistake starts off with Harry Carney, the father of the Baritone Sax in Big Bands and Webster takes it up.

Sittin’ and a Rockin’ is a great favourite of mine, the tune itself swings and it is ideal Webster material, which is not surprising a he wrote it!

This is an excellent Ellington album with great solos from all concerned, particularly Ben Webster, congratulations to Joan records for releasing it.

Benny Goodman

    1. Russian Lullaby
    2. Is That the Way to Treat a Sweetheart?
    3. I Had to Do It
    4. You’re Lovely, Madam
    5. Bumble Bee Stomp
    6. Ciribiribin
    7. This Can’t Be Love
    8. Sing for Your Supper
    9. Topsy
    10. Smoke House Rhythm
    11. I Must See Annie Tonight
    12. The Flat Foot Floogie
    13. I’ve got a Date with a Dream
    14. Could You Pass in Love
    15. Blue interlude
    16. When I Go A-Dreaming
    17. You’re A Sweet Little Headache
    18. I have Eyes
    19. Margie
    20. What have You Got That Gets Me?

The 1938 BG band recorded these tracks and it was only on hearing them that I realised how important Gene Krupa was in the development of the Benny Goodman band. The rhythm section on this record plods from start to finish, with Jess Stacey on piano and the well respected Dave Tough on the drums, you would have expected something much better. Perhaps the awful bass playing put them off! It is an all star band with Harry James and Ziggy Elman in the Trumpet section.

By all accounts playing with the Goodman band was never much fun; he was a rigid disciplinarian and a perfectionist. The trouble is that perfection can be subjective and rigid discipline and swing are not easy partners. No doubt Goodman’s later bands benefited from his association not only with Krupa, but with a man who you could rely on to ‘swing like mad’ Lionel Hampton.

BG’s own clarinet solos are of course perfection personified, with Goodman that is guaranteed. Martha Tilton is a very competent vocalist, but not one to set the house alight.

The band has not stood the passage of time well and sounds very dated, the reason may be that in 1938 Benny was running a dance band as opposed to the concert swing band of 1939.

Glenn Miller

    1. Tuxedo Junction
    2. I’ll Be Around
    3. Poinciana
    4. I hear You Screamin’
    5. Juke Box Saturday Night
    6. My Blue Heaven
    7. Saint Louis Blues March
    8. It Must Be Jelly
    9. There’ll Be a Hot Time In the Town of Berlin
    10. Flying Home
    11. Here We Go Again
    12. Jeep Jockey Jump
    13. Enlisted Men’s Mess
    14. Begin the Beguine
    15. In the Mood
    16. Over There
    17. Anvil Chorus
    18. Stardust
    19. Song of the Volga Boatmen
    20. Farewell Blues
    21. They are Yanks
    22. My Ideal
    23. Mission to Moscow
    24. Sun Valley Jump

This is not the regular Miller Outfit, but the 1943/4 version of the Army-Air Force Band. Major Glenn Miller was the Musical Director of this Military organisation. The addition of an 18-piece string section introduces variety to the sound and the arrangements have been slightly ‘tweaked’ for the larger band.

Like all Glenn Miller bands the ensemble work is perfection and Ray McKinley on drums, sparks the band along a lot more than ever happened on the previous BG CD. My review copy had flaws in tracks 1 & 2 but was otherwise OK.

Everything that you can say about Glenn Miller and his music has been said already lets just say that for the many Miller fans here is another treat!

 

Johnny Hodges

    1. Castle rock
    2. Sophisticated lady
    3. Globe Trotter
    4. A Gentle Breeze
    5. Sideways
    6. A pound of Blues
    7. Wham
    8. Who’s Excited
    9. Sweeping the Blues Away
    10. Day Dream
    11. Standing Room Only
    12. Below the Azores
    13. Sweet Lorraine
    14. Rabbit’s Blues
    15. Something to Paid Your Feet For
    16. Blue Fantasia
    17. My Reward
    18. Good Queen Bess
    19. Jeep’s Blues
    20. Solitude
    21. The Jeep is Jumpin’

The Johnny Hodges Orchestra turns out to be a seven-piece band with a front line of Hodges-Alto, Emmett Berry-Trumpet, Lawrence Brown-Trombone, and Al Sears-Tenor. This hardly constitutes a big band, but the listener should not be put off by that, it is an excellent disc.

Johnny Hodges is always associated with the Duke Ellington Orchestra on which he was such a profound influence. His influence on Big Band music in general was even wider, Marshall Royal with the Count Basie Band and Woody Herman adopted very similar styles. Hodges was in demand with record companies in his own right, but in most cases, as with this one, most of his sidemen were Ellingtonians. His style is unique and immediately recognisable, he was an excellent section leader and a most inventive soloist.

I had not heard Al Sears tune, A Gentle Breeze, before but it worthy of more prominence than it has received to date. Emmett Berry’s trumpet playing on most of the tracks is very good indeed and the recordings made in 1950/51/52 are of very good quality. The three and a half-minute limit on records produced for the old 78-RPM format certainly sharpened the mind of the soloist. If you were lucky you got two choruses, but in most case it was only one, so you had to give of your best straight away. I can think of many discs where this discipline would have been useful and I’m sure most people can. Unlimited time can mean unlimited, untidy music!

The rhythm section is superb throughout and the changes in personnel in that dept. make little or no difference to the overall sound.

Joan records BV are to be congratulated on this release even though it is not strictly Big Band music.

Ray Anthony

This band does have the classic Big Band personnel and although the only information on the sleeve notes is that they recordings were made between 1949 & !953, this is an important release.

    1. Who’s Sorry Now
    2. Solitude
    3. My Blue Heaven
    4. Here Am I ,Broken Hearted
    5. Sleepy time Gal
    6. Rollin’ Home
    7. Stormy Weather
    8. Randle’s Island
    9. Dinah
    10. All of Me
    11. Sleepy Lagoon
    12. Slider
    13. Singing in the Rain
    14. My reverie
    15. I Let a Song Go Out of My Heart
    16. Deep Purple
    17. Moonlight Saving Time
    18. Stella By Starlight

When Glenn Miller died the Ray Anthony Orchestra had a ready-made audience; trumpeter Anthony’s band had many of the Miller qualities. The arrangements on this disc, unfortunately we don’t know who wrote them, would be first-class material for training young musicians to play in big bands. They are not incredibly difficult, but they need to be played very precisely, with great attention to dynamics, section work ant tone. The trombone section is very reminiscent of the Ted Heath Band, which was also of a very high quality; the difference is that the Heath Band was also essentially a swing band. The Anthony Band, which would I am sure have been competent in that dept. as well, was more restrained. The section playing is superb however as is the overall balance of the band.

Whilst this is not my favourite big band style for sheer professionalism, it can’ be beaten.

 

Don Mather

 

 
 
 
 



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