On October 31 (Halloween, appropriately enough), I was back on the radio, co-hosting a three-hour big-band program on KSFR-FM in Santa Fe with my friend (and woodwind virtuoso) Arlen Asher, with whom I'd shared the studio for a Christmas big band show in December 2009 (hard to believe that much time had passed). This time, the theme was big band arrangements, more specifically my fifteen favorite charts, recordings of which I'd brought with me from Albuquerque. The show went well, and Arlen said he'd like to have me return as soon as there's an opportunity (he usually co-hosts the Monday morning program with drummer John Trentacosta, who was out of town at the end of October). We played the fifteen charts in reverse order, opening with No. 15, Don Schamber's inspired arrangement of "Time After Time," performed by the Barrett Deems Big Band, and working our way up to No. 1, Bill Holman's definitive version of "Stompin' at the Savoy," in its original incarnation by the Kenton Orchestra. For those who may have missed our column on the topic a year or so ago, the others are (in order): 14. Angel Eyes (Ray Brownthe trumpeter, not the bassist); 13. Allisamba (Allan Ganley); 12. A Warm Breeze (Sammy Nestico); 11. A Little Minor Booze (Willie Maiden); 10. What's New (Bill Holman); 9. Tumbling Tumbleweeds (Mike Barone); 8. Here's That Rainy Day (Dee Barton); 7. Opus de Funk (Nat Pierce); 6. The Touch of Your Lips (Rick Wilkins); 5. Young and Foolish (Frank Mantooth); 4. Big Swing Face (Bill Potts); 3. When You're Smiling (Tom Kubis); 2. Love for Sale (Pete Meyers).
Every so often I surf the web, canvassing online CD stores for big band albums I may have overlooked. It was while doing so several months ago that I happened upon a CD, ReChordings, by trumpeter Ed Nuccilli and his Detroit-based ensemble, Plural Circle. The excerpts sounded good, and so, as is often the approach before buying, an e-mail was sent to Nuccilli asking if he would appreciate a review in my "other" column, Big Band Caravan. A few days later a response was received, not from Nuccilli but from his daughter Alicia who said her father had passed away suddenly in April 2011. She would be happy, she said, to send me a copy of ReChordings, adding that her father had produced three more CDs, which she thought were available from a nearby record store, Street Corner Music, in Oak Park. "My father," Alicia wrote, "never wanted to commercialize his music, to the dismay of all who knew him and his talent. . . . but I feel it deserves to be heard, and to get some recognition. . . . He 'hand' wrote all of his original songs (all 18 parts) and devoted his last ten years or so to his original [compositions]. The band is trying to stay together as well, so the music can live on." Nuccilli, as it turns out, had been playing trumpet since age twelve, and as a young man had toured with bands led by Shorty Sherrock and Bobby Sherwood before leaving the music business for a time, then returning in the 1960s to write arrangements for Motown recording artists. He organized his big band in the early 1970s.
First, my thanks to Alicia Nuccilli for sending a copy of ReChordings, which is the third of the four CDs recorded by Ed Nuccilli & Plural Circle. The most recent, All About Sounds, was released in 2011. Besides ReChordings, it was preceded by Performances (2009) and Ed Nuccilli & Plural Circle (2006). Second, Nuccilli is a first-class composer / arranger / trumpet player who led a very good band. As far as I can tell, all compositions and arrangements on the various CDs are his (as well as all of the trumpet solos). Three of the albums were made in-studio by Nuccilli's eighteen-piece ensemble, while Performances was recorded live at the Montreux / Detroit Jazz Festivals from 1983-99. After receiving ReChordings from Alicia Nuccilli, I went online to streetcornermusic.com, got the phone number (248-967-0777) and ordered the other albums, which arrived in short order. The price, as I recall, was around $10 per album plus shipping, and the music therein is well worth hearing. Even though the players aren't well-known (the only name I recognized was that of saxophonist Wendell Harrison), they are by no means amateurs, or even less than capable. In other words, they play together well, and Nuccilli gives them splendid music to work with. These are four albums I'm pleased to have in my library, even though the circumstances under which I learned about them are regrettable. If you're feeling adventurous and would like to unearth some interesting new big-band music, aim your compass toward Ed Nuccilli & Plural Circle.
The passing of Pete Rugolo was mentioned briefly last month, as his music was played at the LAJI's "Modern Sounds" event in Los Angeles and Rugolo, it was hoped, would be there to hear it. Sadly, he died October 16, four days before the concert by John Altman's big band, at age ninety-five. While widely known as a composer / arranger for television series (for which he earned two Emmy awards), Rugolo is best remembered in jazz circles as the chief arranger for Stan Kenton's post-World War II orchestra and an architect of the "Kenton sound." His first recorded arrangement for Kenton, "Opus a Dollar Three Eighty," was written in 1944.Three years later, Rugolo won the DownBeat magazine poll as best arranger, the first of five such honors over the next seven years. He also arranged extensively for June Christy and the The Four Freshmen. After leaving Kenton in the mid 1950s, Rugolo served for two years as music director for Capitol Records in New York, during which time he signed trumpeter Miles Davis, among others, to the label and produced the groundbreaking "Birth of the Cool" recording sessions by Davis and his group. In 1958, while working as an arranger and orchestrator for MGM and serving as West Coast music director for Mercury Records, Rugolo wrote his first television score, for "The Thin Man," starring Peter Lawford and Phyllis Kirk. He later wrote theme music for "Richard Diamond: Private Detective," the Boris Karloff anthology "Thriller," "The Fugitive," starring David Janssen, and "Run for Your Life," starring Ben Gazarra. His two Emmys came for the 1970 TV movie "The Challengers" and a 1972 episode of "The Lawyers." As is true of many enormously talented musicians, Rugolo is gone but his musical legacy lives on.
Speaking of talented composer / arrangers, Joe Coccia, another contributor to the Stan Kenton library whose compositions and arrangements were recorded by the Kenton orchestra on the Capitol and Creative World labels, died November 14 at his home in Cranston, RI. He was ninety-one years old. In later years, Coccia served as an educator and administrator in Cranston schools. In 2000, Cranston High School's new media center was named the Joseph A. Coccia Library Media Center in his honor. More recently, his arrangements of "Flamingo" and "Midnight Sun," performed by the DePaul University Jazz Ensemble, were included on the album Double Feature, Volume 1 (Tantara Productions 1126) and his compositions "North Wind" and "West Wind" are included on the recently released Volume 3.
A less familiar but no less important name, especially to jazz trumpeters, is that of Uan Rasey who died September 26, one month after his ninetieth birthday. Rasey didn't play trumpet in any jazz orchestras; instead, he taught others the technique they needed to do so. As for himself, he played first trumpet on many of the great MGM soundtracks from Hollywood's Golden Age: "Singing in the Rain," "An American in Paris," "Gigi," West Side Story," "My Fair Lady," "Cleopatra"the list goes on and on. Rasey began his Hollywood career playing at Columbia Pictures. He joined MGM in 1949 under a contract that allowed him to play and record at other studios and in other orchestras. Those orchestras were led by such well-known names as Leonard Bernstein, Eric Leinsdorf, John Williams, Dmitri Tiomkin, Miklos Rosza, Alfred Newman, Leopold Stokowski, Andre Previn, Billy May, Nelson Riddle, Zubin Mehta, Felix Slatkin, Johnny Green and Lennie Hayton, to name a few. As a teacher, he welcomed students from all over the world, including jazz musicians such as Arturo Sandoval and Jack Sheldon. Rasey was a musician's musician, one who will be missed by many who benefited from his proficiency and knowledge.
William (Bill) Lee, a composer, arranger, author and educator who pioneered comprehensive music education, including jazz, at the University of Miami, died October 23 at age eighty-two. Lee was dean of UM's School of Music from 1964-82, served as the school's provost and vice-president before retiring in 1989, and was a past president and executive director of the International Association for Jazz Education (IAJE).
As this was being written, word came of the passing of another musical giant, the renowned Hollywood composer / arranger and big-band leader Russell Garcia, at age ninety-five. We'll have more to say about that in our next column.
The Monterey Jazz Festival is accepting applications for its eighth annual Next Generation Jazz Festival to be held next March 30-April 1, 2012. Finalists are chosen through recorded auditions reviewed and ranked by faculty from the Berklee School of Music. The top big bands, combos and vocal ensembles win cash awards and are invited to perform at the fifty-fifth annual Monterey Jazz Festival, September 21-23, 2012. In addition to the high school, college, conglomerate, open combo and middle school divisions, auditions will be held for chairs in the festival's Next Generation Jazz Orchestra, which performs an annual summer tour and is featured on the Monterey Festival's Sunday afternoon Arena / Jimmy Lyons Stage. Application forms may be downloaded at the Monterey Jazz Festival's web site, www.montereyjazzfestival.org The application process is free of charge.
Lastly, Betty and I plan to be in Louisville, KY, in early January to attend the third annual conference of IAJE's successor, the Jazz Education Network (JEN). We'll have a full report in February.
And that's it for now. Until next time, keep swingin' . . . !
New and Noteworthy
1. John MacLeod Rex Hotel Orchestra, Our First Set (no label)
2. Sammy Nestico / SWR Big Band, Fun Time and More Live (Haenssler)
3. Rodger Fox's Wellington Jazz Orchestra, Journey Home (Tbone)
4. Cecilia Coleman Big Band, Oh Boy! (Interplay)
5. Gerald Wilson Orchestra, Legacy (Mack Avenue)
6. Sandvika Storband, A Novel Approach (Sandvika Storband)
7. Dietrich Koch Big Band, Berlin Cookbook (Mons)
8. Howard University Jazz Ensemble, Moonwalk (HUJE Jazz)
9. Dave Grusin, An Evening with Dave Grusin (Heads Up)
10. Tim Davies Big Band, Dialmentia (Origin)
11. Mt. Hood Jazz Band & Combos, Gan Bei (Sea Breeze Vista)
12. Joakim Milder, Takeaway (Apart Records)
13. Marine Corps All-Star Jazz Band,
14. Tromso Big Band, In Traffic (Turnleft)
15. University of the Arts School of Music, Big Band (Self Published)