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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

Fletcher Henderson, Woody Herman, Les Brown, Jimmy Dorsey, Fats Navarro

Sabam Crescendo Joan Records No 7153

 

Fletcher Henderson

    1. Big Chief De Sota
    2. Riffin’
    3. Shoe Shine Boy
    4. Knock, Knock Who’s There
    5. Until Today
    6. Wild party
    7. You Can Depend On Me
    8. Blue Lou
    9. Rug Cutter’s Swing
    10. I’ll Always Be In Love with You
    11. Hotter Than ‘Ell
    12. Christopher Columbus
    13. I’m A Fool for Loving You
    14. Grand Terrace Rhythm
    15. Jim Town Blues
    16. Moonrise in the Lowlands
    17. Sing, Sing, Sing

Fletcher Henderson was a key figure in the development of big band jazz and the launch of swing. As a pianist composer and arranger he was the ideal person to lead a band, although he spent his working life as a musician, he held degrees in Chemistry and Mathematics from Atlanta University.

His band had a long residency at New York’s famous Roseland Ballroom; this residency enabled him to employ musicians of the calibre of Louis Armstrong, Buster Bailey and Coleman Hawkins. This combined with his superb skills as an arranger made it possible for him to use these stars to help to develop a successful swing band. He was, by all accounts, much in demand writing arrangements for other bandleaders, the most notable of which was Benny Goodman for whom he also played piano for a while.

The tracks on this CD come from the period 1934 to 36 and whilst they obviously sound somewhat dated, the swing style is starting to emerge and the two-beat style of earlier bands is less prevalent. Buster Bailey,

Roy Eldridge, Chu Berry, Henry Allen, Ben Webster and Russell Precope are all featured here and each went on to become top men in the jazz world.

 

 

 

Some of the material is a bit ‘corny’, but Fletcher Henderson had to make a living like everyone else and this in no way diminishes the credit he must take for being the starting point for swing with his arrangements. What he lacked however was the dominating personality to make it happen in his band. Benny Goodman had that in plenty and if you contrast the Goodman versions of Fletcher’s arrangements with those of the Henderson band the difference is obvious.

Woody Herman

This disc features the Herman Band between 1945 &! 947.

    1. Everywhere
    2. Four brother
    3. Goosey Gander
    4. Blowin’ Up a storm
    5. Keeper of the Flame
    6. Early Autumn
    7. Lemon Drop
    8. Woodchopper’s ball
    9. Northwest Passage
    10. I’ve Got News for You
    11. Bijou
    12. The Goof & I
    13. Happiness Is a Thing Called Joe
    14. Early Autumn
    15. Sidewalks of Cuba
    16. Keen & Peachy

These Herman bands had an enormous influence on the whole Big Band scene, an influence that is felt even to day. The number of people who later became top names in jazz who passed through Herman’s bands is phenomenal. Pete Condoli, Shorty Rogers, Bill Harris, John LaPorta, Flip Phillips, Joe Mondragon, Don Lamond, Chubby Jackson, Neal Hefti, Red Rodney Ernie Royal, Stan Getz, Al Cohn, Zoot Sims, Serge Chaloff, Terry Gibbs and Herbie Stewart are just those from this album, the complete list would be five times longer!

Most of the tracks are classic Woody Herman; it’s quite a while since I heard a lot of them, but I was brought up with this music and I still love it. The Herman Band always swings and although Woody was not a Goodman or Shaw, he was a good enough jazz clarinet player to show up any soloist in his band who did not perform. His philosophy was that, if you hire all the best musicians and arrangers, then you will have a good chance of having a good band. It was simple and enormously effective and Woody stayed with it for his whole life.

 

 

 

This was an enormously important part of Big Band history and is required listening for anyone into the music. Band 14 is labelled as another version of Early Autumn, although it ends with the melody line, it is probably part of Ralph Burns Summer Sequence. It is a very good track in any case.

The last track Keen and Peachy includes solos from Getz, Chaloff, Sims and Royal, all of whom are on great form, playing on a Ralph Burns/Shorty Rogers arrangement.

Les Brown

These tracks were all made during 1951 and all have Dave Pell, who had a completely unique feathery sound on tenor saxophone that makes him instantly identifiable.

    1. You’re Blasé
    2. Green Eyes
    3. My Baby just Cares for Me
    4. You’re Driving Me Crazy
    5. You’re a Sweetheart
    6. You’re the Cream in My Coffee
    7. You’re My Everything
    8. That Old Black Magic
    9. Deep Purple
    10. Love Letters in the Sand
    11. Azure
    12. Ramona
    13. Over the Rainbow
    14. The Moon Was Yellow
    15. Blue Moon
    16. Red Wing

Successful big band leaders seem to fit into two categories, very strong willed and determined men who know exactly what they wanted from the band and are prepared to get ‘without taking prisoners’. In this category were Benny Goodman, Buddy Rich and Ted Heath. The other category is really nice men who cajole their musicians to give of their best. In this category are Woody Herman, Les Brown and Maynard Ferguson, all attempts at a middle path seem to be doomed to failure!

Les Brown’s bands were precise, with very good dynamics and excellent intonation in all sections. The band also had some excellent jazz soloists, although the solo passages are always short. In a lot of ways it was like an American version of the Ted Heath band. The cover note does not tell us who the arrangers were, but all the arrangements are very polished and bring out the best of both section work and soloists. The rhythm section swings along nicely without ever being overpowering and the guitar of

 

Tony Rizzi is only heard where the arrangement demands it; he plays his solos very well, but does not dominate. Jack Sperling is a very tasteful drummer and he combines well with the remainder of the rhythm section.

The balance is a bit strange where the brass is concerned, I am sure the trumpet section would have sounded even better than what we can hear on the record, Wes Hensel is a fine lead trumpet player. As I mentioned in the introduction the tenor sax playing of Dave Pell is a delight throughout, whether he is playing the tenor lead parts or soloing, he produces a distinctive and pleasant sound.

Jimmy Dorsey

Jimmy was of course the brother of trombone playing Tommy, at times they ran a band together but mostly due to their totally different personalities, they went their own way. It is curious that both were trumpet players in their early days as professional musicians and there are quite a few recordings of them in that role.

    1. Flight of the Jitterbug
    2. Imagination
    3. Julia
    4. Fools Rush In
    5. I’m Steppin’ Out with a Memory Tonight
    6. Let There Be love
    7. Blue Lou
    8. Contrasts
    9. Hep-Tee-Hootie
    10. Blueberry Hill
    11. Moonlight On the River
    12. All This and Heaven Too
    13. The Nearness of You
    14. While the Music Plays on
    15. Dolomite
    16. Only a Rose.

Vocals on this album are by Helen O’Connell and Bob Eberly. The sleeve gives no indication of the date when these recordings were made, but my guess would be 1935-36, unfortunately the passage of time has not been kind to them. The musicianship is fine, but it sounds very dated and these tracks have suffered more in this way then any other in the collection.

This CD will only appeal to out and out fans of 1930’s dance music.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fats Navarro

This is another album that has got into the wrong collection; there is not a big band in sight! As before, this should not detract from the listeners enjoyment of some excellent early be-bop recorded between 1947 and 1949.

    1. Bebop Romp
    2. Fats Blows
    3. Boperation
    4. Symphonette
    5. The Skunk
    6. Sid’s Delight
    7. Casbah
    8. The Chase
    9. The Squirrel;
    10. Our Delight
    11. Dameronia
    12. The Tadd Walk
    13. Bouncing with Bud
    14. Dance of the Infidels
    15. Nostalgia
    16. Barry’s Bop

Theodore ‘Fats’ Navarro (1923-1950) was during his short life the equal of any trumpet player on the scene at the time, including Dizzy. He had an amazing ability when improvising to think in terms of very long lines and link them to even longer pages. In his time he really had no equal in this skill and it wasn’t until Clifford Brown came along it was heard again. Unfortunately Navarro had a heroin addiction, which lowered his resistance to Tuberculosis, which killed him aged 26.

These short tracks, recorded for the 78-RPM media of the day, show us just what he was capable of and it certainly was plenty. On tracks 1&2 he is in the company of Charlie Rouse an excellent tenor player, who in later life worked regularly with Monk. Track 3 has him playing with Howard McGee another exciting trumpet player. I liked track 8 with a front line of Ernie Hanry-Alto and Charlie Rouse-Tenor, even though the studio balance is less than perfect, there is a real feeling that something good is happening and we are included. The same line up plays on tracks 9,10and11 with the same result.

On track 13 & 14 we hear Fats with a very young Sony Rollins on tenor. Fats and Sony were made for each other, young musicians, well ahead of their time, what a great pity that Fats did not live long enough to become as ‘world famous’ as Rollins has done. He had all the ability necessary to do it.

These tracks are essential listening for all jazz fans; particularly anyone interested in the roots of bebop.

 

 

Don Mather

 

 
 
 
 



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