Doug Mettome: A Brief Life in Bop
One clearly undisputed solo by Mettome occurred in a broadcast from the Hollywood Palladium in March 1951. The vehicle was a flag-waver the Woody recorded several times, "More Moon," on which Mettome takes four choruses. It is a punchy solo in which Mettome quotes "Turkey in the Straw," takes advantage of the jumps within the descending progression, and again ends up emphatically ending on a series of accented eighths in the upper register (Concert D). The excitement comes not only from Doug's playing, but also from Sonny Igoe's drumming and shouted encouragementIgoe in many ways was the perfect big-band drummer for Doug's up-tempo playing. There may be some other solos that Mettome recorded with Woody, including an upper register entry on "Leo the Lion," that certainly sounds like Doug, but has been credited to John Bello. In any event, by 1952, Mettome apparently left Herman.
Dick Hafer was so emphatic on the level of Mettome's playing, that he is worth quoting at length: He said to William D. Clancy, "About two weeks after I joined the band, Woody made a deal with Doug, 'cause he loved him. He said, "If you stay sober for me. Doug, I'll give you a $200-a-week-raise!" That would have put him in the $400-a-week-bracket, which in 1951 was very good money. Doug stayed sober. He didn't touch a thing. I'll never forget, he started playing so great that it was unbelievable. He had so many good things going that when he stayed sober, it was just scary. He played all of the high-note parts....and all of the lead, and most of the jazz solos.
"Fagerquist was playing too. Fagerquist was a really great player, but there were times when he just couldn't contend with Doug. Woody would turn them loose and they would play like eights and fours. It was frightening. They called Doug "the white Dizzy"for a while. He was so great. He wasn't a pure bebop player. He had a knack of playing almost like a bebop version of Dixieland. He played some little phrases that weren't just bop. According to Hafer, Doug's playing and endurance deteriorated after he fell off the wagon, and Woody let him go.
In September 1954, Pete Rugolo had put together a band for an engagement at Birdland in New York. It must have been an odd one: it coincided with the arrival of Hurricane Edna, which inundated the New York City with record rains and keep attendance down, if Leon Merian, who played lead trumpet on the band, is to be believed. In October, Rugolo took the band into the recording studio and it was at this session that Mettome played what may arguably be the best recorded solo of his career, "Gone with the Wind." It is not clear whether Rugolo had written out the solo in advance, because it was a feature for Mettome, who somehow manages to sound deeply reflective even at medium-up tempo. The solo is interestingly constructed: Mettome's entrance and first chorus is muted, but not tightly. After the ensemble restates the theme, Mettome once again plays, but this time, with what can only be described as a gloriously open horn with a truly beautiful sound.