This marvelous new recording by clarinetist Bob Wilber and the Tuxedo Big Band from Toulouse, France, is akin to finding buried treasure — and it’s no wonder, as these sparkling arrangements by Fletcher Henderson were “buried” for many years in collections donated by Benny Goodman to the Lincoln Center Library for the Performing Arts and the Yale University Music Library. Wilber was given access to them in 1984 as he planned a 75th birthday tribute to the King of Swing at Waterloo Village in New Jersey, and spent more than a decade after Goodman’s death in 1986 planning an album to showcase Henderson’s unrecorded gems as he searched for a big band capable of expressing their notable spirit and charm. Wilber found his band in Toulouse, France. Tuxedo, formed in 1990 by clarinetist Paul Chéron and named in honor of the Tuxedo Club in turn–of–the–century Manhattan, is devoted to music of the Swing Era. The band has recorded two CDs of material by Jimmie Lunceford, Rhythm Is Our Business
and Siesta at the Fiesta,
on its own TBB label, and recently released a third album, To Ella and Chick,
dedicated to Ella Fitzgerald and Chick Webb. Even more important, Wilber and Chéron have become friends and Wilber has performed with the band on a number of occasions. The surprisingly accomplished TBB is present on all save one selection, Jerome Kern / Dorothy Fields’ “Bojangles of Harlem,” played by Wilber and the rhythm section. With the exceptions of “Bojangles,” Neil Moret’s “Song of the Wanderer,” Antonin Dvorak’s “Humoresque” and the Dixieland staple “Milenburg Joys,” the songs were adapted by Henderson from the Great American Songbook, the sturdy bedrock on which every Swing Era band rested. Make no mistake, these charts are by no means “modern”; they are typical of the period in which they were written, the mid–’30s to late ’40s when Goodman’s orchestra was at the height of its popularity. The Tuxedo band stays in character throughout, sounding for all the world like a pre–World War II era ensemble; even the solos are swing-derived carbons. Wilber, who says Goodman was his "first inspiration to play clarinet," is a masterful replacement for the King, flexing his impressive chops on most numbers and building to a toe-tapping finish on "Bojangles" (which also features inspired drumming by Jean-Luc Guiraud). Those who remember and / or appreciate America's golden age of big-band music will find a lavish storehouse of riches in these previously unheard arrangements.