Swing, Swing, Swing: Gary Tole, Phil Norman, Gene Ludwig & Bill Warfield, Cy Touff & Sandy Mosse
The word swing means two things when discussing big band jazz. It refers to the swing era of the 1930s and 1940s, when big band swing music was the popular music of the day. It also refers to that unique rhythmic result of well played jazz, a quality defying meaningful definition but something avid listeners recognise immediately.
This article addresses big band releases distinguished by swing-as-rhythm. Not all big bands swing. An example of one that does is the Count Basie Orchestra (any of them). Basie loved to take a simple, riff oriented arrangement and allow his stellar soloists (like saxophonist Lester Young and trumpeter Harry "Sweets" Edison) blow.
An example of a fine big band that did not swing was the Stan Kenton Orchestra. Kenton (with arranger Bob Graettinger) made an art form out of dense, West Coast arrangements, often at the expense of the musical momentum (read swing). It is fortunate we have both flavors, because as a universal art form, jazz has a lot of musical appetites to sate.
Gary Tole and Legends of Swing
One Kettle for the Count
Gary Tole is a trombonist originally from Pittsburgh, Philadelphia. In the late 1970s he made for the West Coast and calls Claremont, California the home base for his big band, Legends of Swing. Tole and his band enjoy a national reputation for their performances of the music of the swing era as well as Tole's own arrangements for newer fare. One Kettle for the Count provides healthy examples of each of these sources.
In keeping with the disc title, Tole and company pay homage to Basie with trombonist Scott Whitfield's composition, replete with a spare Basie-esque introduction by pianist Bob Remstein and swinging horns in the Basie tradition. The band does the same with swing standards "Flying Home," "C-Jam Blues" and "Moten Swing." These are played with a traditional, if not a bit too perfect flair.
Splendidly tasteful and entertaining is the band's "Sing, Sing, Sing" take on the Average White Band's "Pick Up The Pieces." The parallel is perfect right down to Bob Marino's drumming, Don Shelton's clarinet, and Glenn Morrissette's tenor saxophone. Rarely does the adaptation of newer songs to the art of the big band turn out so well. The same is true for Whitfield's arrangement of the Lennon/McCartney classic "With A Little Help From My Friends," sung with verve by Mike Costly.
Vocalist Cassie Miller adds to the spin Tole puts on the Turtles' "Happy Together." The newer music is completed with "American Bandstand Boogie." And Mr. Tole's trombone? A well turned "Someone To Watch Over Me" provides the band leader plenty of room for his large open-bell tone. One Kettle for the Count will appeal to swing purists who like swing so hard they flirt with whiplash.
Visit Gary Tole and Legends of Swing on the Web.
Phil Norman Tentet
"Totally" Live at the Catalina Jazz Club
There is a subtext to "Totally" Live at the Catalina Jazz Club by the Phil Norman Tentet. That subtext is the conspicuous absence of long time associate Bob Florence in who's memory the recording is dedicated.
Florence, a West Coast composer, band leader, arranger and pianist passed away May 15, 2008, shortly after this live performance was captured. Florence, the regular pianist for the Tentet, was too ill to perform but his presence was palpable at the proceedings as evidence by Helen Borger's introduction and the inclusion of several Bob Florence compositions and arrangements.
And arrangements are what this recording is about. Phil Norman's Tentet achieves the near impossible by having inventive and compelling West Coast arrangements that allow the pieces to swing with epistaxic abandon. That said, Florence's arrangements of Miles Davis' "All Blues," and his own "Frothy" and "A Joyful Noise," puts a very fine point of the loss of such talent.
If the listener is partial to Marty Paich and Dave Pell, then he or she will be partial to "Totally" Live at the Catalina Jazz Club. Think of this recording as an updated Art Pepper + Eleven (Contemporary, 1959).
Visit Phil Norman Tentet on the Web.
Gene Ludwig Trio with the Bill Warfield Big Band
Duff's Blues-Live from the Zoellner Arts Center
18th & Vine
If One Kettle for the Count is too-straight swing and "Totally" Live at the Catalina Jazz Club distills that swing for a medium sized ensemble, then Duff's Blues is a collision with casualties between the chittlin' circuit and the Savoy Ballroom. Jazz veteran Gene Ludwig adds his organ trio to the Bill Warfield Big Band for an eclectic blues-funkfest. The listener should cue up "Dance of the Coal Cars" and listen to Ludwig/Warfield's take on "Pick Up The Pieces" (albeit reharmonized).