"Lone Wolf" Finds Plenty to Chew On
In Passing . . .
Donald Byrd, a leading jazz trumpeter in the 1950s and '60s who raised eyebrows later on by blending jazz, soul, funk and rhythm and blues into a jazz / pop hybrid that did not sit well with those accustomed to more traditional forms of the music, died February 4. He was eighty years old. Byrd, who was born in Detroit and made his name as a bebopper after arriving in New York City in the mid-'50s, spent much of the next decade teaching before mounting a "comeback" in 1973 with the album Black Byrd, an amalgam that reached the Top 100 on Billboard's list of pop albums. Even with his success as a crossover artist, Byrd's jazz roots were duly recognized in 2000 when he was named a Jazz Master by the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA).
Paul Tanner, who played trombone with the Glenn Miller Orchestra from 1938-42 and later worked as a studio musician with ABC in Hollywood, died February 5 at age ninety-five. Tanner was credited with starting the Jazz Education program at UCLA in 1958, and taught two seminars using his own book, A Study of Jazz, which has become one of the most widely used texts in jazz history courses. Before his retirement in 1981, Tanner's classes were among the most popular at UCLA, averaging 1,600 students a week (with a waiting list).
Recent Big Band Releases
Mike Barone Big Band
The Mike Barone Big Band has visited the recording studio again, and that can mean only one thing: an abundance of big-band jazz whose level of intensity and resourcefulness is consistently on the mark. Whatever the blueprint, Barone can always be counted on to come up with something old ("Please Don't Talk About Me"), something new (any of his half-dozen original compositions), something borrowed (Joe Zawinul's "Birdland"), something blue ("I'm Confessin'"), and to refurbish each tune to please listeners of almost any age and musical persuasion. He has even written an anthem for the geriatric set, humorously (we hope) titled "Prunes."
Before considering the music, a few words about the leader. Mike Barone, born in Detroit, attended college on the West Coast and stayed there to write for and play trombone in bands led by Si Zentner, Louie Bellson, Gerald Wilson and others. He soon became a sought-after composer / arranger, writing not only for jazz groups of various sizes but for film and television as well. From 1968-92, Barone wrote more than 300 compositions and arrangements for Johnny Carson's Tonight Show Band. After stops in Colorado and Washington, he moved back to the Los Angeles area in 1997 and re-formed his big band, an earlier version of which had recorded the superb album, Live at Donte's 1968 ( reissued as a CD in 2000 on the VSOP label). Since 2005, Barone's band has released seven CDs on his own label, Rhubarb Recordings, of which Birdland is the most recent.
Among his many talents, Barone is noted for unearthing neglected songs from long ago (i. e., "Darktown Strutters Ball," "Yes, Sir, That's My Baby," "Has Anybody Seen My Gal," "Put Your Arms Around Me, Honey," "Avalon") and clothing them in a new wardrobe more suitable for a contemporary big band setting. He notches another bull's-eye on Birdland with "Please Don't Talk About Me (When I'm Gone)," an oldie from 1930 that sounds almost brand new thanks to Barone's clever arrangement (and solos to match by trumpeter Bob Summers and pianist Andy Langham). Speaking of old, there are few themes more venerable than the spiritual "Swing Low Sweet Chariot," which has never swung quite so hard as it does in this framework (with a few bars of "Loch Lomond" thrown in for good measure). As for Barone's originalseach of which is excellentthey include "Sour Sally" (a.k.a. "Sweet Georgia Brown"), "Mr. Humble" (written for "the world's greatest drummer," Buddy Rich), "Captain Crunch" (featuring alto Tom Luer), "Maiden USA" (tenor Jon Armstrong), "Prunes" (tenor Vince Trombetta) and "Renee," the last based on the chord changes to Cole Porter's "I Love You."