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The Bill Tole Orchestra: On the Move / Big Band Memories / Dream

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As the liner notes to the On the Move affirm, trombonist Bill Tole “has dedicated himself to bringing the best of the ’40s into the ’90s [and beyond].” Tole leads a talented swing / dance band in the image of Glenn Miller, the Dorseys, Harry James, Ray Anthony and others on these three albums, the last of which includes vocals by the latest incarnation of the Tommy Dorsey orchestra’s popular singing group from the ’40s, the Pied Pipers. Tole, who organized the band more than twenty–five years ago, is a veteran studio musician in New York and Los Angeles whose resemblance to T.D. is so striking, both physically and in his playing, that he was chosen to assume the role of Dorsey in the movie New York, New York, whose theme the ensemble performs on Movin’ On. The album is, to paraphrase another popular song from the ’40s, “strictly instrumental,” with Tole soloing on the ballads and the orchestra at ease in any framework from swing to contemporary, as one would expect from its roster of outstanding West Coast–based studio musicians. The music, with a few notable exceptions, is quite familiar but the charts are topnotch and there are concise yet cogent solos by tenors Roger Neumann, Rusty Higgins and Jim Snodgrass; trumpeters Art Depew and Rick Baptist; alto Kim Richmond, baritone John Mitchell, pianist Don Beamsley and flautist John Setar. The lesser–known works include “Hullaballoo,” Billy May’s “Front Page Rag,” Tom Kubis’s “Tole Road” and the ballad “I’m So in Love with You,” written by Tole’s parents, Bill Sr. and Betty. A colorful scrapbook of modern big–band swing, weakened only by its 48–minute playing time. As its title suggests, the music of the ’40s is even more prominent on Big Band Memories, with the orchestra reprising a number of well–known favorites beginning with Sy Oliver’s “Opus One” and ending with one of Tommy Dorsey’s biggest hits, “Song of India.” The album was recorded in two sessions, with tracks 8–12 featuring an essentially different ensemble (only four holdovers) and vocals by Bob Grabeau (“All I Need”) and Chris Costello, the youngest daughter of the late comedian Lou Costello (“Fancy Free”). Both songs were written by Sol Selegna, a new name to us, as was “Just for You,” and if not composed in the ’40s they certainly convey the mood of that era, as do Grabeau and Costello. Repeated from Movin’ On is John Kander / Fred Ebb’s theme from New York, New York. Soloists on this go–round include Tole, Setar (on clarinet), tenors Snodgrass and Jim Raffell, trumpeter Buddy Childers, baritone Jack Gell, guitarist Carmen Mosier and pianist Bill Mays. Big Band Favorites applies to most of the music here, with the possible exceptions of Fats Waller’s “Honeysuckle Rose” and especially the hokey “Tie a Yellow Ribbon ’Round the Old Oak Tree,” neatly scored for the ensemble by Dave Wolpe. There’s one other Dorsey staple, Michael Edwards / Bud Green’s “Once in a While,” which of course showcases Tole’s creamy–smooth trombone. Another appetizing banquet for those who cherish the big–band era. Lest there be any doubt about the pecking order on Dream, the album’s subtitle is “The Pied Pipers with the Bill Tole Orchestra.” Why the supporting role? Perhaps because Nancy Knorr, the group’s present lead singer (the first was Jo Stafford), is Bill Tole’s sister. Hey, if you’re a singer and your brother leads a big band, why not? The Pied Pipers are a talented quartet (albeit no match for Tommy Dorsey’s originals) who acquit themselves well on a program of standards from the ’40s to songs of more recent vintage (Steve Allen’s “This Could Be the Start of Something,” Jule Styne / Bob Merrill’s “People”) and a vocal version of Bill Tole Sr. and Betty Tole’s “I’m So in Love with You.” The other members of the group are tenor Michael Jackson (no, not that Michael Jackson), baritone Roland Michaud and bass Scott Whitfield who doubles on trombone (and solos on “This Could Be the Start of Something” and “Day In, Day Out”). Another trombone–playing member of the Tole family, brother Gary, solos on “Night and Day” and “People” and duets with Bill on Whitfield’s handsome arrangement of “I’m So in Love with You.” Two numbers, “South Rampart Street Parade” and “Sweet Georgia Brown,” are performed by the band’s “splinter group,” the Clambake Seven, with the Pipers singing on the former. “Georgia Brown” and “Londonderry Air,” which features Bill Tole’s trombone, are the lone instrumentals. I was only fifteen years old when the ’40s gave way to the ’50s but the music of that historic decade remains as clear in my mind as if it were yesterday. It’s always good to be reminded that it really was as great as I remembered it.

Contact:Courtney Records, P.O. Box 333, N. Hollywood, CA 91603. Bill Tole Orchestra, 2529 E. Sandalwood Court, Anaheim, CA 92806–2244. Phone 714–491–2980; fax 714–491–2967; e–mail billtole1@aol.com. Web sites, www.billtole.com; www.thepiedpipers.com

Track Listing: On the Move

Personnel: On the Move

Record Label: Courtney Records

Style: Big Band


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