Meet Ladd McIntosh

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Composer/bandleader Ladd McIntosh emerged in the 1960's with a shattering big band sound. Freely integrating exotic rhythms, non-traditional colors, pop and classical music references, and expanded rhythm sections, his bands explode with energy and swing yet they sound natural. McIntosh has never landed a favorable recording contract, but he has enjoyed his share of musical successes over the years including a groundbreaking record (Impulse A-9145) in 1967 with his Ohio State big band. As a legendary educator he has challenged his students with personal music that has stimulated them to excel, and he has won several awards at college jazz festivals. He is also a premier string writer. McIntosh's LA big band has recently released two CDs: Temptation , arrangements of classic popular songs and Ride the Night Beast , original music.

Ohio State University Big Band

I was at Ohio State for eleven years on and off. I started my own jazz band there in '63. I ran it for five years as a student. It wasn't a course—I just had to write music. There had been a group before us not sanctioned by the school of music. There was some bad feelings about that. We were sponsored by Phi Mu Alpha, a music honorary society, and we had a faculty advisor. The first band was like a "Maynard" [Ferguson] band—twelve pieces, four saxophones. I wrote music all week long, and the band met every Sunday evening. There were times I'd drop out of school, but I kept the band. Then I started a second band, a feeder band to prepare players for the "Maynard" band. I wrote all the music for that, too. One of the saxophone players the first year was Richard Stoltzman, the great classical clarinetist. One thing that makes Dick attractive to classical audiences is that he improvises. In the fall of 1966 I went to a 20-piece band with a new (and different) library. We took first place and I won a best original composition award at the American College Music Festival in May, 1967. From the core of that band I created the more commercial "Ladd McIntosh and the Live New Breed" (13 pieces plus vocalist) in the fall of that year. The Live New Breed was the hit of Columbus, Ohio. It looked like we were really going to take off. It was right around the time of Blood, Sweat, and Tears. We played standards, jazz, and pop tunes. There was an agent in New York interested in us. At the time he was managing George Carlin, the comedian, and I guess he's still around. He set it up for us to play on the Johnny Carson Show which was still in New York, one week at Lennie's-on-the-Turnpike in Boston, another week at the Café ?u Go Go in New York, the Electric Factory in Philadelphia, and some other places—a five-week tour. We needed money to pay for the tour and new equipment, and we found a wealthy Columbus investor. He tried to turn the deal around so he could take control. The thing just fell through, and I was really disillusioned.

Las Vegas

I left Columbus in the fall of '68 and went to Las Vegas. I had a friend in the Harry James band who said he'd introduce me to everybody. I had to wait out my [union] card. There were thirteen hundred musicians in the union and nine hundred were working full time on the Strip. Every hotel had more than one band. I got in the show band at the Dunes, a 21-piece band. I played in it a couple of months, and I could not stand it. I was one of the tenor players, and there was a problem with the lead alto player. It wasn't worth staying even though it was the best money I'd ever made. Part of the frustration was that I wasn't writing. I had a family—my wife was pregnant with our third child. We literally left town under cover of darkness. I went back to Columbus and re-enrolled in graduate school. I had visited LA during my Las Vegas period and talked briefly with Stan Kenton who I knew. After I got my degree in 1970 Stan offered me a job in the saxophone section, but I didn't take it. It wasn't very appealing to be away from my family [on the road]. Stan loved my writing, but I don't think I would have gotten to write that much for him. Once I became a writer that was far more important than playing.

University of Utah

At that time (fall of 1970) Bill Fowler offered me a job on the strength of having heard me with the Ohio State band. Bill is a brilliant man. Every day I'd see him he'd have something new to talk about. He'd started a program for jazz majors at the University of Utah with seven students. The next year when I showed up there were 33, and the following year there were 101. That was the year you heard us at the Kennedy Center with the amplified string quartet, three or four guitars, two keyboards, and a couple of extra percussionists added to the band. The jazz majors came from all over the country. They saw the value of playing everything (not just jazz), and they really improved the classical wind ensemble and the orchestra. Within three years one third of the music majors were in the jazz program, and we only had a small part of the budget. I think the other faculty were afraid we were going to take over. Bill ruffled a lot of feathers, and there was a big political fight in the department. The department head called me in and said in so many words if I would side with him against Bill I could stay. Of course I could not be a party to that. They took the program away from Bill and fired me (claimed they had only hired me on a temporary basis). It was a big deal. Hundreds of people signed petitions to keep me, and it was in the newspapers and on local TV. Bill walked into the office of the president of Westminister College [also in Salt Lake City] and said, "How'd you like to get relevant in jazz education in a hurry?" They hired me as Director of Jazz Studies. I ran the jazz program with Bill in an advisory capacity (on sabbatical from the U.) for one semester. 42 jazz majors transferred from Utah to Westminister. At the jazz festival that year my Westminister band won.

New CD's: Temptation and Ride the Night Beast ( Review )

People can order them through cdbaby.com or amazon.com—they're not in stores yet. My recording sessions are with eighteen musicians playing as you hear it without overdubs. The CD's are very gratifying. For a long time I've wanted to do an all-standards CD because they're such great tunes. I also had a number of originals I wanted to record. Esther [McIntosh, wife and business manager] got it off the ground. She said this is your legacy—these things need to be recorded. It's not that common to do two at once, and I still don't know whether it's a good idea. They're getting played on various radio stations across the country—some favor one or the other, some are playing both. BBC in England is playing Temptation. When my dear friend Grant Wolf died a couple of years ago we had a memorial concert for him, and I wrote "The Last Suite Mesa" to pay tribute. All this stuff came together, and I said, "Why don't we record enough for two CD's." We went into the studio for three days and did two sessions each day—I almost killed the guys (their chops), but they said they'd love to come back and do more. They don't get to play music like that very often-most of what they do is tedious. Esther was there to take care of the business end of things, call all the guys, bake great cookies, call the breaks, and write the checks.

Latin rhythms

I've always liked that stuff. Kenton's Cuban Fire album. I just let the rhythm section do what they want to do. Latin music gives the CD's more variety. I think of it as three areas: ballads, swing tunes, Latin. With swing you can go extreme—really fast, medium tempo, or slow it way down and have a really slow, grinding groove.

Suite Mesa

It's sort of a play on words because I had good times in Mesa, Arizona. Grant Wolf was a jazz educator at Mesa Community College, a two-year school. He'd commissioned the two previous "Suite Mesa's." He was so good students would sign up for a couple of years and end up staying a couple more. He had a series of summer jazz camps (one- or two-weeks long) from about 1972-85, and he hired me for every single one. Clare Fischer, Dick Grove, the great Joe Pass, Gary Foster, and many other pros did some also. He brought his college band up to the festivals in Salt Lake City in the early 1970's. "Taco Tee Shirt," the first movement of "The Last Suite Mesa," has to do with Grant's encounter with a woman with an outrageous message on her T Shirt. There's symbolism, too at the end where it stops and there's this slow trumpet thing played by Fred Forney with lush chords underneath. Fred was a close buddy of Grant, and he took over the program from Grant. It signifies the passing of the torch. "Suite Mesa I" is actually on an album Energy that's still available on Americatone. "Suite Mesa II" is one of the better pieces of music I've done: the melody in the first movement; the melody, the alto solo, and some of those voicings in the second movement; the third movement which is really humorous; the way I bring everything in at the end—I echo what was at the beginning, but I play with it more with the clarinets and orchestration.

Orchestral color

I use a lot of different instrument combinations to create different colors in my writing. Geoff Stradling, my pianist and a former student, was saying he remembers an arranging class where I gave a handout (he still has it) of 800 different ways to come up with color combinations within a big band-combining various mutes, unison trumpet with this, combining flugelhorn with that. The trombones are a choir all by themselves, wonderfully versatile. Kenton had five of them, and there was a reason for that. I love to put the trombones in unison with the baritone and the tenors. The bass trombone and the baritone saxophone—I give them different tasks. The band doesn't sound the same all the time because of the colors. It's going to be even more noticeable on the next CD.

Trombones

Johnny Richards wrote really great for trombones. So did Bill Holman and others who wrote for Kenton. The guys in my trombone section are all wonderful players. Phil Teele's got to be the best bass trombonist in the world. Eric Jorgensen is the most unusual trombone soloist I've ever encountered. He's fearless, and he's in your face. He used to play in circus bands, and sometimes he plays circus music in his solos. Bruce Fowler's solo concept is unlike anybody else I know—he's much more fluid and subdued.

Ladd McIntosh Big Band

I started it in the summer of 1980 as a rehearsal band. We met once a week at Northridge [California State University at Northridge] where I was part-time faculty. I wanted to hear my stuff played by pros. In those days it was easier to find places to play for a big band, and I was driven to get it out there. I was trying to catch somebody's attention and make something happen. Seabreeze did put out two albums. All through the 80's we played a lot, got great write-ups. For about three years we played once a month at a great club in Santa Monica called At My Place. One day when I showed up there was already a line down the street to get in to hear my band. I'd like to do some major jazz festivals. I always wanted to play the Monterey Jazz Festival with my band, but I think they may have looked at me as an educator, not as a professional. It's difficult to find a place to house eighteen musicians. There's a club we could play where you have to put up $500. If they get at least $800 at the door you get your money back plus more, but I'm not willing to do that.

Zanzibar

I had a group in the late 70's called Zanzibar with six woodwinds, two French horns, no brass, strings, a keyboard player who also played synthesizer, Tom Fowler on electric bass, and two percussion. I tried to get as many string players as possible. We gave a couple of concerts with at least 20 strings. My inspiration was Weather Report. It was some of the most exotic stuff I've ever written. I pushed that group for two or three years. I did about 15 charts, and about two or three had the words "space pig" in the title.

Early musical background

Mom and Dad were both influences, actually. My mother played classical piano. She taught me to read music before I went to kindergarten. She just turned 88, and she still wants to learn to improvise. I tell her some things, but she doesn't remember. She was always positive about my ambitons, told me to follow my heart. My father was a part-time jazz musician, played saxophone and clarinet and sang. He was into Coleman Hawkins, had an Otto Link mouthpiece, had a big sound like Hawkins. He transcribed Hawkins' "Body and Soul" solo when it came out in 1939. I'm sure Dad's the reason I play saxophone. He was very well known in the Akron, Ohio area, and I got to hear him in clubs. When I was five at a club called Welch's they got me up on the stage, and I sang "I'm Looking over a Four Leaf Clover." Everything stopped-the cooks came out of the kitchen, and the waitresses stopped waiting. I loved that. In a way Dad kind of terrified me. When I was fourteen I was in a solo contest, and he came to hear me. I had a school alto, a piece of crap. I was playing "Valse Impromptu" by Clyde Doerr. A key came off the horn and hit the floor. My dad was furious. He said, "Next year you're going to play 'Come to Jesus' in C!" He went out and grudgingly bought me a brand new alto, a Pan American, not a very good make. It eventually turned green from the acid in my system. The better I got at it the more he didn't want me to be a musician. There was a dance band in my high school, but all we did was play twice a year for the school plays. When I was 16 my Dad brought home some Kenton records, and I really started getting into them. I got a partial scholarship to Ohio State where Burdette Green, a wise man, was my saxophone teacher. When I was 20 he got me my first gig, a seven-piece band with four horns. I was the youngest guy in the band by ten years, and I played baritone. I worked my way through college mostly on baritone. Burdette is still teaching at 76. We saw him last summer. I played him the Temptation CD, and he was so proud.

Playing vs. bandleading

My master's degree is in woodwinds performance. I still play at the Mancini Institute just to let them know the old man knows what he's talking about. If something comes along I do it. I played a wedding reception a while ago for some good money with four pieces, some Frank Sinatra songs. I used to play soprano on certain tunes with my big band, but as time went on we didn't play those tunes any more. I would rather focus on the music, the performance and let these guys shine. That's one of the things they appreciate about me—I give them the opportunity to stretch out. When I was still teaching at Northridge I would do a few clinics and concerts at various places. I almost always played at those.

Classic American songwriters

I love their abilities to write great melodies: George Gershwin, Jerome Kern, Irving Berlin, Cole Porter, Rodgers and Hart, Duke Ellington. Gershwin's orchestrations were pretty lame, but Porgy and Bess —Oh man!

Bela Bartok

I always told my students music is three things: imagination, logic, and clarity. Bartok could take a flute and put it in the middle of an orchestra, and you could still hear that flute. His Concerto for Orchestra , the 1923 Dance Suite , The Miraculous Mandarin. He wrote a piece for antiphonal string orchestras (two separate string sections), percussion, and celesta in about 1936. It pre-dates stereophonic sound. I arranged two of the four movements for Zanzibar with jazz solos in the middle. That was really fun to conduct with a lot of odd meter stuff. I kept the antiphonal idea—my woodwinds and French horns became my other string section.

Claus Ogerman

I love his string writing. The stuff he did for Diana Krall on that Look of Love album. Gate of Dreams —he wrote it for a New York dance company in the 1970's with Michael Brecker, David Sanborn, and George Benson. Symbiosis with Bill Evans. The record he did with Frank Sinatra and Antonio Carlos Jobim-it's just a string section, a flute or two, and a trombone with a felt mute. I found a wonderful Gene Lees Jazzletter online that devoted the entire issue to Ogerman.

Oliver Nelson

For my 20th birthday my great aunt gave me five bucks. I bought Oliver Nelson's Blues and the Abstract Truth. It was over my head at first, but eventually I transcribed "Stolen Moments" the great jazz standard he wrote for that album and used it in my classes. I knew Oliver. I first met him at the very first jazz festival I took my Ohio State Band to in 1964. He approached me and asked to see one of the pieces I had written. I got out the score, and he critiqued it for me. He loved some of it and was critical of other parts of it. Two years later he borrowed some of my ideas for the opening of one of his "Sound Pieces." He was also a judge when we won in Miami in 1967. Bill Fowler brought him out to Utah on several occasions. I got drunk with Oliver once. I was barfing in his toilet, and he kept asking, "Are you okay, man?" And I performed with him at least twice at the Monterey Jazz Festival when I was director of the All-Star High School Jazz Band. He even called me up from time to time. The last time he did that he told me that his hand was rejecting the pencil. He was working too hard writing music for The Six Million Dollar Man TV show. His condition didn't sound good. I moved to LA in September 1975, and he died suddenly the next month. I always wondered if Oliver would have been able to open some doors for me. He certainly seemed to appreciate my talent. I have always treasured the times I got to spend with that very creative man.

Other inspirational composers

Gerald Wilson rhythmically. He gets down and dirty. Those albums he did in the 1960's for Pacific Jazz. We just saw him at IAJE, and he remembered my Ohio State band from the Notre Dame Jazz Festival. Gil Evans for the colors, the tension, the clusters. Those albums he did with Miles Davis. Johnny Mandel-the album Pearls with David Sanborn, about 1993. Sanborn gets a wonderful sound with that orchestra behind him. Mozart for his cleanliness, melodies, and integrity. Every note is right.

Inspirational soloists

Cannonball Adderley for his earthiness and swing. Phil Woods—you can hear the Parker in him, but I'm not much of a Parker fan the way I am with Cannonball and Phil. Gene Ammons-I transcribed his "My Romance" solo [ Boss Tenor , 1960] and learned it. Eddie "Lockjaw" Davis for his fire, energy, and command. The Basie Band would be playing. It was so wonderful itself, but Lockjaw would notch it up a couple of degrees when he soloed. Miles Davis took me a while to get next to. Kind of Blue opened a new door after bebop, and I tell my students at the Mancini Institute to buy it. Bitches Brew didn't have the immediacy for me.

The Henry Mancini Institute (HMI)

It's for four weeks in the summer. They take over the music building at UCLA. Jack Elliot started it, and when he died Patrick Williams became the artistic director. Last year they auditioned 500 students from all over the world. They pick an orchestra of 77, and they pick seven composers. There's a big band within the orchestra. All they have to do is get themselves to Los Angeles. Everything is scholarshipped. They work really hard for four weeks, and they do a lot of performances. I teach beginning and intermediate improv. These students at HMI are all at a very high level. Because they're orchestrally trained for the most part they don't know much about jazz. It's amazing how fast they can progress. I give them ideas about scales and what notes to emphasize and tell them it's okay to make mistakes. My class this year was seven of the eight legit winds, five French horns, a tuba, and a harp. Because I have Sibelius now the instrumentation doesn't matter. I can write lead sheets for whatever I want to do. (They're mostly modal tunes.) Last year I had almost all string players.

Inspiring musicians to play at their best/conducting

I don't know how I do that. That was the case when I was a college professor—I could always make the students play above themselves. I know that the music I write is fun to play. I write stuff that's challenging, but it's eminently playable. I learned to play trumpet and trombone in high school, and that's given me an insight into what those guys have to do. I don't try to make every part interesting—that can be a real trap. It is very important that the lead parts (1st trumpet, 1st saxophone, 1st trombone) are interesting and playable....also the bottom parts (baritone saxophone and bass trombone), but inner parts are what they are. As long as they do a good job of following the lead parts and/or have the right notes of the chord to play, everybody should be happy. Rhythm players like me because I give them a lot of liberty. Occasionally I write out bass lines, but usually it's just chord symbols, and I tell them to play a style. They have freedom within that. The bassist knows how to come up with a bass line a lot better than I do. I wasn't a very good conducting student at Ohio State, and I still make mistakes, particularly on odd meter pieces. My conducting style is just being into the music—that seems to inspire them.

Film orchestration

Thirteen years ago, Bruce Fowler (former Frank Zappa sideman, and head orchestrator for Oscar and Golden Globe winner Hans Zimmer) approached me to orchestrate some of the music Zimmer had scored for A League of Their Own (1992). Since then, Bruce has employed me on over 85 films including many box-office hits such as Shrek , Shrek 2 , Pirates of the Caribbean , Gladiator , Something's Gotta Give , The Last Samurai , Pearl Harbor , The Rock , The Lion King , Speed , Face-Off , The Italian Job , Hannibal , Armageddon , and Spanglish. Orchestrating for films is very satisfying work. I get to work on a lot of important films for some very talented composers. I enjoy the challenge of the work; the fact that each film presents different scoring problems to be solved; as well as knowing that I am making a small contribution to something which impacts so very many people. Working for Bruce is very comfortable and seeing my name in the end-credits is also rewarding

Upcoming big band recordings

We just recorded a new CD the end of December, and it will be released later this year. It was with all the same guys. It's both originals and standards. There's a medley of Ellington tunes I arranged in the 1970's I'd like to record. Cat Anderson said it was the best medley of Ellington tunes he'd ever heard. About 12 years ago we had a 20-year reunion at Westminister College with two nights of concerts. People came from New York and Seattle, and a lot of us came up from LA. I resurrected my big band, and we played "The Fallen Warrior," another piece from that period but without the strings. I'd like to record that.

Upcoming recordings with strings

I'd like to do some things for strings using a full string section instead of just a small one, but that gets into a lot more money. There is a piece called "September 5, 1972 Pain, Death, and Sadness" written after the Olympic athletes were assassinated, a very dramatic orchestral piece. Another one is "A Truly Inspired Piece of Whimsey" for big band, French horns, and string section with improvised stuff in it. In 1977 I wrote it and performed it with the Columbus Jazz Arts Group and a chamber orchestra. Ray Eubanks, the director, brought me back to conduct it in 1990. It was especially wonderful the second time because it was with a real string section used to playing together. There are some 16th note lines that really get around. Afterwards some of the string players came up to me and told me they really enjoyed their parts. I've been thinking about trying to get it played at the Mancini thing, but it's too long, and it would have to be shortened. "The Avenging Angel and Icabod Crane" is one of the pieces you heard at the Kennedy Center. When I look back at that it's over the top—just too much. One of the projects I'd like to do is to take some really great standards and arrange them for a lush string background with some different instruments soloing. I originally envisioned just trumpet, but now I'm thinking more about trombone and tenor sax as well—nothing too fancy, but with a good rhythm section. I've also written some original tunes in the classic style of Gershwin and Porter. I'd like to get someone to write lyrics then record them with a singer.

Visit Ladd McIntosh on the web.


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