When Herb Harrison, director emeritus of Jazz Studies at Cal State University-Sacramento, retired a number of years ago and moved to his wife, Mary's, hometown of Columbus, Ohio, he never envisioned a "second career" writing for and conducting a ready-made big band. That was before he met Vaughn Wiester, whose Famous Jazz Orchestra holds forth each Monday evening at the Columbus Music Hall, and who wasn't about to let talent like Harrison's go to seed.
To make a long story short, Harrison, now 82 years young, was soon contributing charts for the orchestra, many of which were recorded over a period of several years by engineer Don Loose. Herb's Book, the FJO's third album since it was formed eight years ago, is devoted entirely to Harrison's arrangements, as sight-read during those Monday evening sessions (that's right, the orchestra doesn't rehearse, usually seeing the music for the first time when the lights go down and the performance begins).
To pull that off, a leader must have sidemen who know what they're about, and Wiester has some of the Columbus area's best, several of whom have spent time on the road with various bands, as Wiester once did with Woody Herman and others. Drummer John Von Ohlen, a mainstay with Cincinnati's celebrated Blue Wisp Big Band, sits in on the last number, "Bus to Nowhere" (based on Stan Kenton's "Artistry in Rhythm"), one of Harrison's three original compositions (the others are "Third Set Sarah" and "The Cat's Meow"). There's one more, Al Young's "Chip Off the Old Block," to complement ten jazz standards and evergreens from the Great American Songbook.
Loose has sought to preserve the informal atmosphere of a live concert, recording the ensemble without amplification through a single pair of microphones located front row center in the audience, which occupies half of the room, while using minimal signal processing and no dynamic compression. The result is quite similar to what one would hear on a given Monday evening at the Columbus Music Hall.
The orchestra sight-reads Herb's Book admirably, while the various soloists do their utmost to keep things bright and interesting. Trombonist Linda Landis is featured on "When You Wish Upon a Star," tenor Brian Olsheski on "Give Me the Simple Life," trombonist Matt Ellis on "All of Me," baritone Bob LeBeau on "For You," Von Ohlen and horn player Sarah Brown on "Bus to Nowhere." A splendid introduction to Herb's Book ; we hope there are many more chapters yet to come.
Track Listing: Flying Home; Memories of You; Chip Off the Old Block; When You Wish Upon a Star; Give Me the Simple Life; The Touch of Your Lips; All of Me; Third Set Sarah; It's a Blue World; For You; The Cat's Meow; Like Someone in Love; Honeysuckle Rose; Bus to Nowhere (55:35).
Personnel: (Collective) -- Vaughn Wiester, music director; Herb Harrison, conductor, arranger; John Vermeulen, Tom Ryan, Bryan Olsheski, Bob LeBeau, Michael Cox, Michael Wyatt, Meilana Gillard, Art Silva, reeds; Erik Gimbel, Larry Everhart, Jim Powell, Bob Larson, Phil Winnard, Ansyn Banks, Brian West, Ben Huntoon, Tim Perdue, trumpet; Linda Landis, Matt Ellis, John Hall, Bill England, Kie Watkins, Ryan Hamilton, Jessica Leach, Matt Benson, trombone; Jim Luellen, piano; Tisha Simeral, Terry Douds, Larry Cook, Chris Michaelides, bass; Steve Schaar, John von Ohlen (14), drums.
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.