Bob Florence and Scott Whitfield: A Bigger Sound

C. Michael Bailey By

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Pianist Bob Florence and trombonist Scott Whitfield have a history. Besides both recording for Summit Records, the two artists regularly play on each other's recordings. Hear what real cooperation sounds like.

The Bob Florence Limited Edition
Eternal Licks And Grooves
Summit Records

Bob Florence can build a big band cathedral on a single root note struck rhythmically. Such is the introduction to the title track of Eternal Licks And Grooves. "Eternal Licks is a collection of big band riffs orchestrated in such a way as not to be mere imitation, but transmogrification. While the majority of the composition is Count Basie (the pianist summons the Count more than once), Florence nods his head at Bennie Moten, Duke Ellington and Jay McShann also. The muted-trumpet soliloquy is particularly outstanding. "Eternal Licks serves as an apt introductory to a recording that rewards with each listen.

The last Limited Edition release was the well-received Whatever Bubbles Up (Summit Records, 2003). Not missing a step in the intervening four years, Florence makes big band arranging sound effortless. He takes the unlikely Debussy classic "Claire Du Lune and transforms it into a lilting jazz ballad akin to "Gone With The Wind. Florence never remains still on what instruments are most prominently featured in a given piece. In "Eternal Licks it's the reeds. In "Claire Du Lune it is his impressionistic piano coupled with low reeds, including bass clarinet, sounding like a cross between Glenn Miller, Ellington, and Buddy Rich. Out of this mix trumpeter Carl Saunder's splendid solo adds roundness to the melody.

"Guiding Star is a tentative ballad that opens with Florence and alto clarinetist Don Shelton. Whitfield's trombone solo is introspective, furry with a full round tone. Bronislav Kaper's "Invitation begins as a very understated affair, a duet between Florence and tenor saxophonist Jeff Driskill that heats up into a full throttle pot boiler that is 100% Florence arranging. "I'm Old Fashioned features Whitfield's beautiful trombone tone and a trademark Florence technique of starting off slowly before turning the gas on high. Florence employs a unique counterpoint between high and low reeds that drives the middle section to a standard 4/4 solo break for a sprightly alto solo.

Florence is an ever present figure in the State-side big band world. With fifty years of experience, he has been influenced by and has assimilated styles as different as Basie and Stan Kenton while developing his own unique voice, one that is unmistakable and immediately appealing.

Scott Whitfield Quintet With Special Guest Bob Florence
Live At Charlie O's
Summit Records

Scott Whitfield has an uncanny way of making a quintet sound like a big band. On Live At Charlie O's, he might owe this in part to the special guest star presence of Florence and the sophisticated big band knowledge flowing in his veins. But that does not account for the nuclear BB swing on the album opener, "Postage Due, where pianist John Rangel more than holds his own in the presence of Florence. Then again, Whitfield is no stranger to big bands, having collaborated with Florence in the past. Whatever the reason, Whitfield's superb quintet has a full, swinging sound, viral in its toe-tapping contagion. "Blue Daniel is a waltz that features Florence but not at the expense of tenor saxophonist Roger Neumann's informed solo. Florence divines Bill Evans and Errol Garner in a two-fisted solo full of lush chording and roots.

Speaking of roots, Whitfield sounds as if he is channeling the spirit of Tommy Dorsey in both tone and repertoire. "Message From The Captain is an opulent ballad featuring the trombonist in a mostly well-behaved solo that does not tend toward the modern until late on. Trumpeter/vocalist Chet Baker's signature vehicle "Let's Get Lost has Whitfield waxing vocally and providing an impressive string of scat, full of bop in opposition to Neumann's long tenor lines. Whitfield's solo never strays far from the famous melody, his improvisations lean and attentive. Whitfield also croons the standard "You Got To My Head, in lazy and intoxicating style, with Neumann's tenor delicately accenting the bridge.

As a pair, Bob Florence and Scott Whitfield share a big band-minded empathy with one another. These two recordings prove that the Summit stable is rich in deep talent.

Tracks and Personnel

Eternal Licks And Grooves

Tracks: Eternal Licks And Grooves; Claire Du Lune; Mirror Images; Guiding Star; Invitation; I'm Old Fashioned; Appearing In Cleveland.

Personnel: Bob Florence: piano, arranger; Larry Koonse: guitar; Trey Henry: bass; Peter Erskine: drums; Carl Sanders: trumpet; Scott Whitfield: trombone; Don Shelton: alto and soprano saxophones, clarinet; Kim Richmond: alto and soprano saxophones, clarinet; Jeff Driskill: tenor saxophone, clarinet; Tom Peterson: tenor saxophone, clarinet; Billy Kerr: tenor saxophone, clarinet; Bob Efford: baritone saxophone, bass clarinet; Bob Carr: baritone saxophone, e-flat contralto clarinet; Pete Desiena, Lee Thornberg, Ray Lunetta, Steve Huffsteter, Ron Stout: trumpet, flugelhorn; Charlie Loper, Alex Isles, Bob McChesney, trombones; Craig Gosnell: bass trombone.

Live At Charlie O's

Tracks: Postage Due; Blue Daniel; A Message From The Captain; Let's Get Lost; Sunset Dreams; Spring's Kiss; You Go To My Head; Bye Bye Blues.

Personnel: Scott Whitfield: trombone, vocal (4,7); Roger Neumann: tenor and soprano saxophone, flute; John Rangel (1,4,5,7): piano; Jennifer Leitham: bass; Kendall Kay: drums. Special guest: Bob Florence (2,3,6,8): piano.


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