Multi-reed specialist Dick Johnson, who recorded for EmArcy and Riverside during the 1950s, is one of the most respected clarinetists today. He has been leading the Artie Shaw Orchestra for the past 22 years, with the blessings of Shaw himself. In 1980 Shaw wrote, "...You wanted to know what I think of Dick Johnson's clarinet playing. Okay. As of this time, He's the best that I've ever heard. Bar nobody. And you can quote me on that, anywhere, anytime!"
Lou Columbo, a well-known New England trumpet player and big band leader who has been a friend and colleague of Dick Johnson for decades, co-leads Artie's Choice! And The Naturals.
In presenting this appreciation of the Artie Shaw legacy, it is not necessary to assume that this is a tribute rooted in the Big Band Era, limited to the music of the 1940s. Working with a contemporary group of musicians, Johnson and Columbia certainly provide a number of compositions that reflect that era, but they also include such titles as Jerome Richardson's "Groove Merchant," a taste of soul jazz; the Miles Davis-associated "Walkin' " and "All Blues"; and the Bill Evans jazz classic "Waltz For Debby."
The album also provides an exciting big band interpretation of Shaw's "Grabtown Grapple," written in 1945 for his then-wife, Ava Gardner, and performed by the Gramercy Five Small Combo.
In addition to both leaders, the talents of the other musicians are also on ample display, including guitarist Gray Sargent, pianists Dick McKenna and Paul Schmeling, bassist Marshall Wood, drummer Gary Johnson, organist Diamond Centofanti, and vocalists Donna Byrne and Lori Columbo Asher.
Among the many musical highlights in this 160-minute, two-disc album are the ballad medley of "Stardust," featuring trumpet work from Columbo, and Johnson's gently swinging version of "Indian Summer." Gray Sargent offers a lush take on "It's A Blue World/I'll Never Stop Loving You" and "My One And Only Love." Dick Johnson duets with Paul Schmeling on the original "Haze," Dave McKenna with Dick Johnson's alto flute on "Lazy Afternoon."
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Personnel: Dick Johnson: clarinet, alto sax, tenor sax, alto-flute; Lou Columbo: trumpet, pocket trumpet,
flugelhorn; Gray Sargent: guitar; Dave McKenna, Paul Schmeling, Joe Delaney: piano; Marshall
Wood: bass; Gary Johnson: drums; Diamond Centofanti: B3 organ; Donna Byrne, Judy
DeRossi, Lori Columbo Asher: vocals.