Trombonist Walt Boenig, who paid his dues on the road with the Glenn Miller, Harry James and Jimmy Dorsey bands, among others, has shaped his own Las Vegas-based ensemble in their swing-era image while bringing them up to date with sparkling new arrangements by Tommy Check, Walt Stuart, Bobby Harrison and Joe Lano.
A Lot of Us, four years in the making, is the band’s second album; the first was A Little of You. It’s a two-disc set with eleven tracks on Disc 1, seven on Disc 2 including two “Summertime,” drummer Check’s “Lady J” that are almost eleven minutes long. The level of musicianship is high throughout, and the band swings easily through a program of ten long-lived standards, half a dozen ear-catching originals by Check and one each by Stuart (“After Hours”) and the late Harrison Hickey (“Mambino”).
There are a number of engaging solos, especially by guitarist Lano (“Always,” “Summertime,” Check’s “A Twist of Lemon,” “Have Guitar, Will Travel” and “Lady J”). Tenors Jay Rasmussen and Tony Osiecki skirmish toe-to-toe on Harrison’s lively arrangement of Henry Mancini’s “Days of Wine and Roses,” and Osiecki is the main man on “Unforgettable.” Others given elbow room include altos Dennis Wilson and Fred Haller, trombonists Bobby Scann and Dick McGee, trumpeter Rocky Lombardo and pianist Vincent Falcone. Boenig doesn’t “solo” as such, but plays the melody on ballads (“Invitation,” “A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square,” “Unforgettable,” “Nevertheless”) while bass trombonist Sonny Hernandez does the same on Check’s high-stepping “Where’s Mr. McFarland.” There’s one vocal, and it’s a good one, by Jo Belle on the Ellington chesnut ”It Don’t Mean a Thing.”
Check’s funky version of George Gershwin’s “Summertime,” which opens Disc 2, blends screaming brass with greasy solos by Lano, Rasmussen and bassist Brace Phillips, and Lano displays his nimble chops on Check’s fast-moving “Have Guitar.” Other highlights include Stuart’s bluesy “After Hours” (solos by Falcone, Rasmussen, Lombardo, McGee, baritone Rod Adam), Check’s graceful “Lady J” (Lano, Lombardo, Scann) and Hickey’s sunny “Mambino,” ably driven by drummer Bobby Harrison and percussionist Howard Agster and featuring perky solos by Osiecki and pianist Ronnie Simone.
A Lot of Us encompasses nearly two hours of invigorating big-band Jazz / dance music, lovingly dedicated to the memory of composer / arranger Hickey and saxophonist Ron Helvie who played on the sessions recorded in April / May 1998. While the album’s resonant “ballroom” sound takes some getting used to, that’s a minor distraction and one that is quickly passed over in the face of so much entertaining music.
I was first exposed to jazz circa 1973, when I met a fellow who ran Kappy's Record Store over near 10th Ave., on 42nd St. in NYC. We really clicked and when I told him I played piano and went to Music & Art HS, and had just started at City College of NY as a music major, he asked if I liked jazz...I said yes but I didn't know much about it, but that I did have sheet music for many popular 1920's through 1940's tunes by noted composers (Porter; Gershwins; Irving Berlin; Rodgers & Hammerstein/Hart; Jerome Kern; Lerner & Loewe; etc.) that my mother had sung beautifully starting in the 1940's including tons of famous show tunes, and I played many of those songs already
I was first exposed to jazz circa 1973, when I met a fellow who ran Kappy's Record Store over near 10th Ave., on 42nd St. in NYC. We really clicked and when I told him I played piano and went to Music & Art HS, and had just started at City College of NY as a music major, he asked if I liked jazz...I said yes but I didn't know much about it, but that I did have sheet music for many popular 1920's through 1940's tunes by noted composers (Porter; Gershwins; Irving Berlin; Rodgers & Hammerstein/Hart; Jerome Kern; Lerner & Loewe; etc.) that my mother had sung beautifully starting in the 1940's including tons of famous show tunes, and I played many of those songs already. SOOOO... he started me off LP's by Oscar Peterson, Art Tatum, Bud Powell, Errol Garner, Bill Evans, Monty Alexander, Charlie Byrd, and Dave Brubeck... does it get any better than that? ...No, it doesn't. I was hooked!!
I met and had a master class with the late music giant John Lewis, leader of the Modern Jazz Quartet! This was at CCNY in 1977. I was blessed! It was an incredible class... how could it have been anything else?!?!
The first jazz record I bought was...I bought numerous records from my friend at the record store, as mentioned above. He introduced me to nothing but music giants/legends! I think The Dave Brubeck Quartet, Greatest Hits, was actually the first one.
My advice to new listeners... study first--understand the rudiments--solfeggio, keys, scales, and basic chords. Read a book or take a class that includes the study of chord progressions, especially in jazz. It should ideally be a piano class so you can play multiple notes together. Have a good EAR or else it's not really worth it in my view...to become a musician, a good EAR for music is about as fundamental as breathing! Learn to read chord charts--i.e., lead sheets - wherein you play various voicings of the chords--major, minor, dominant 7th (alterations of these, you can learn over time - the basic chords are most important for starters), plus the melody, on the piano or keyboard. If you have to read the exact notes, then it's not the same as actually internalizing it & getting it all into your head. If you can do this, I think you're ready not only for listening to jazz, but understanding many concepts of it! Of course...anyone can listen to jazz... but I think it's so good to also have a grasp of it.