Buddy Rich: In a Zone of His Own
On December 24, 2012, Great Britain lost one of its most celebrated and versatile musicians, Sir Richard Rodney Bennett, who died in New York City, age seventy-six. Although better known as a film composer with classical leanings (three of his movie scores were nominated for Academy Awards), Bennett was a jazz devotee from early childhood who wrote and arranged in the jazz and pop fields as well. In the ballet Jazz Calendar (1964), danced by Rudolf Nureyev to choreography by Frederick Ashton, Bennett composed a score that was pure jazz. From the 1970s onward, he worked regularly as a jazz pianist, forming a duo with vocalist Marian Montgomery, continuing as a composer / arranger / pianist with Mary Cleere Haran and, more recently, Claire Martin. There is a big-band CD from 1960, by John Bassett's orchestra (Harkit 8054), in which Bennett is teamed as an orchestrator with another excellent jazz musician best known for other pursuits, the pianist Dudley Moore (who also performs on the album). In 1979, two years after he was appointed a Commander of the British Empire, Bennett moved to New York City, where the patrons for his Green Card included Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim. Once there, his involvement in jazz increased, and he could regularly be found at various nightspots, jamming on piano. In 1995, Bennett was appointed to the International Chair of Composition at his alma mater, the Royal Academy of Music, and was knighted three years later.
Recent Big Band Releases
Steve Williams & Jazz Nation
With Eddie Daniels
Saxophonist Steve Williams' Jazz Nation is centered in and around our nation's capital, which is where most of his sidemen (and one woman, trumpeter Liesl Whitaker) have day gigs with the area's leading armed services bands. No less than seven (including the leader) are present or former members of the Navy Commodores; two were recruited from the Army Blues and two more from the Army Jazz Ambassadors, while lead trumpet Brian MacDonald and drummer Joe McCarthy perform the same duties for the Air Force Airmen of Note and U.S. Naval Academy Band, respectively. The only non-service members (aside from guest artist Eddie Daniels) seem to be bass trombonist Mark Morgan and the rest of the rhythm section: guitarist Pete McCann, pianist Harry Appelman, bassist Mike Pope.
What does this have to do with the music? In terms of quality control, almost everything. These are among the finest musicians Williams could have enlisted, not only in DC but anywhere else. All that remained was to give them engaging charts to play, and this he has done in spades, thanks in part to Daniels who wrote three of them (and solos on two). Williams penned the others, starting with the walking blues "Certified," which embodies certified grade A solos by alto Joe Henson (Blues), trumpeter Justin Kisor (ex-Commodores) and Pope. Daniels, best known these days as a clarinetist, was first employed as a tenor saxophonist with the Thad Jones / Mel Lewis (now Vanguard) Orchestra, among others, and shows on the first of his compositions, the groovy samba "Inner Lines," that he hasn't lost the touch, dueling earnestly with tenor Luis Hernandez (Commodores) and Appelman. Daniels returns to the clarinet to fashion a free and easy solo (reinforcing another by lead trombonist / Ambassadors alum Jim McFalls) on his buoyant "Hook or Crook?" and lays out on the last of his themes, the gentle waltz "Thad's Lament," whose emotive soloists are Williams (who makes the most of his lone moment in the spotlight) and McCann.
Williams takes it from there, and his charts are no less agreeable, starting with the forceful "Entre Nous" (solos by Appelman and the Commodores' trumpeter Tim Stanley) and including "Where's Marty?," "Elyeska" and the loping "Cathel Brugha Blues," the last of which embodies an agile statement by baritone saxophonist and former Commodores player / arranger Scott Silbert (and another by tenor John DeSalme from the Blues). Stanley solos again with McCann on the waggish "Marty," while Hernandez brightens his personal playing field on the soulful "Elyeska" (Williams' singular pronunciation of "Alaska"). A Jazz Nation that anyone with even a modicum of musical awareness and taste would be happy to call home.
National Youth Jazz Orchestra