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Meet Ladd McIntosh

Craig Jolley By

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Composer/bandleader Ladd McIntosh emerged in the 1960's with a shattering big band sound. Freely integrating exotic rhythms, non-traditional colors, pop and classical music references, and expanded rhythm sections, his bands explode with energy and swing yet they sound natural. McIntosh has never landed a favorable recording contract, but he has enjoyed his share of musical successes over the years including a groundbreaking record (Impulse A-9145) in 1967 with his Ohio State big band. As a legendary educator he has challenged his students with personal music that has stimulated them to excel, and he has won several awards at college jazz festivals. He is also a premier string writer. McIntosh's LA big band has recently released two CDs: Temptation , arrangements of classic popular songs and Ride the Night Beast , original music.

Ohio State University Big Band

I was at Ohio State for eleven years on and off. I started my own jazz band there in '63. I ran it for five years as a student. It wasn't a course—I just had to write music. There had been a group before us not sanctioned by the school of music. There was some bad feelings about that. We were sponsored by Phi Mu Alpha, a music honorary society, and we had a faculty advisor. The first band was like a "Maynard" [Ferguson] band—twelve pieces, four saxophones. I wrote music all week long, and the band met every Sunday evening. There were times I'd drop out of school, but I kept the band. Then I started a second band, a feeder band to prepare players for the "Maynard" band. I wrote all the music for that, too. One of the saxophone players the first year was Richard Stoltzman, the great classical clarinetist. One thing that makes Dick attractive to classical audiences is that he improvises. In the fall of 1966 I went to a 20-piece band with a new (and different) library. We took first place and I won a best original composition award at the American College Music Festival in May, 1967. From the core of that band I created the more commercial "Ladd McIntosh and the Live New Breed" (13 pieces plus vocalist) in the fall of that year. The Live New Breed was the hit of Columbus, Ohio. It looked like we were really going to take off. It was right around the time of Blood, Sweat, and Tears. We played standards, jazz, and pop tunes. There was an agent in New York interested in us. At the time he was managing George Carlin, the comedian, and I guess he's still around. He set it up for us to play on the Johnny Carson Show which was still in New York, one week at Lennie's-on-the-Turnpike in Boston, another week at the Café ?u Go Go in New York, the Electric Factory in Philadelphia, and some other places—a five-week tour. We needed money to pay for the tour and new equipment, and we found a wealthy Columbus investor. He tried to turn the deal around so he could take control. The thing just fell through, and I was really disillusioned.

Las Vegas

I left Columbus in the fall of '68 and went to Las Vegas. I had a friend in the Harry James band who said he'd introduce me to everybody. I had to wait out my [union] card. There were thirteen hundred musicians in the union and nine hundred were working full time on the Strip. Every hotel had more than one band. I got in the show band at the Dunes, a 21-piece band. I played in it a couple of months, and I could not stand it. I was one of the tenor players, and there was a problem with the lead alto player. It wasn't worth staying even though it was the best money I'd ever made. Part of the frustration was that I wasn't writing. I had a family—my wife was pregnant with our third child. We literally left town under cover of darkness. I went back to Columbus and re-enrolled in graduate school. I had visited LA during my Las Vegas period and talked briefly with Stan Kenton who I knew. After I got my degree in 1970 Stan offered me a job in the saxophone section, but I didn't take it. It wasn't very appealing to be away from my family [on the road]. Stan loved my writing, but I don't think I would have gotten to write that much for him. Once I became a writer that was far more important than playing.

University of Utah

At that time (fall of 1970) Bill Fowler offered me a job on the strength of having heard me with the Ohio State band. Bill is a brilliant man. Every day I'd see him he'd have something new to talk about. He'd started a program for jazz majors at the University of Utah with seven students. The next year when I showed up there were 33, and the following year there were 101. That was the year you heard us at the Kennedy Center with the amplified string quartet, three or four guitars, two keyboards, and a couple of extra percussionists added to the band. The jazz majors came from all over the country. They saw the value of playing everything (not just jazz), and they really improved the classical wind ensemble and the orchestra. Within three years one third of the music majors were in the jazz program, and we only had a small part of the budget. I think the other faculty were afraid we were going to take over. Bill ruffled a lot of feathers, and there was a big political fight in the department. The department head called me in and said in so many words if I would side with him against Bill I could stay. Of course I could not be a party to that. They took the program away from Bill and fired me (claimed they had only hired me on a temporary basis). It was a big deal. Hundreds of people signed petitions to keep me, and it was in the newspapers and on local TV. Bill walked into the office of the president of Westminister College [also in Salt Lake City] and said, "How'd you like to get relevant in jazz education in a hurry?" They hired me as Director of Jazz Studies. I ran the jazz program with Bill in an advisory capacity (on sabbatical from the U.) for one semester. 42 jazz majors transferred from Utah to Westminister. At the jazz festival that year my Westminister band won.

New CD's: Temptation and Ride the Night Beast ( Review )

People can order them through cdbaby.com or amazon.com—they're not in stores yet. My recording sessions are with eighteen musicians playing as you hear it without overdubs. The CD's are very gratifying. For a long time I've wanted to do an all-standards CD because they're such great tunes. I also had a number of originals I wanted to record. Esther [McIntosh, wife and business manager] got it off the ground. She said this is your legacy—these things need to be recorded. It's not that common to do two at once, and I still don't know whether it's a good idea. They're getting played on various radio stations across the country—some favor one or the other, some are playing both. BBC in England is playing Temptation. When my dear friend Grant Wolf died a couple of years ago we had a memorial concert for him, and I wrote "The Last Suite Mesa" to pay tribute. All this stuff came together, and I said, "Why don't we record enough for two CD's." We went into the studio for three days and did two sessions each day—I almost killed the guys (their chops), but they said they'd love to come back and do more. They don't get to play music like that very often-most of what they do is tedious. Esther was there to take care of the business end of things, call all the guys, bake great cookies, call the breaks, and write the checks.

Latin rhythms

I've always liked that stuff. Kenton's Cuban Fire album. I just let the rhythm section do what they want to do. Latin music gives the CD's more variety. I think of it as three areas: ballads, swing tunes, Latin. With swing you can go extreme—really fast, medium tempo, or slow it way down and have a really slow, grinding groove.

Suite Mesa

It's sort of a play on words because I had good times in Mesa, Arizona. Grant Wolf was a jazz educator at Mesa Community College, a two-year school. He'd commissioned the two previous "Suite Mesa's." He was so good students would sign up for a couple of years and end up staying a couple more. He had a series of summer jazz camps (one- or two-weeks long) from about 1972-85, and he hired me for every single one. Clare Fischer, Dick Grove, the great Joe Pass, Gary Foster, and many other pros did some also. He brought his college band up to the festivals in Salt Lake City in the early 1970's. "Taco Tee Shirt," the first movement of "The Last Suite Mesa," has to do with Grant's encounter with a woman with an outrageous message on her T Shirt. There's symbolism, too at the end where it stops and there's this slow trumpet thing played by Fred Forney with lush chords underneath. Fred was a close buddy of Grant, and he took over the program from Grant. It signifies the passing of the torch. "Suite Mesa I" is actually on an album Energy that's still available on Americatone. "Suite Mesa II" is one of the better pieces of music I've done: the melody in the first movement; the melody, the alto solo, and some of those voicings in the second movement; the third movement which is really humorous; the way I bring everything in at the end—I echo what was at the beginning, but I play with it more with the clarinets and orchestration.

Orchestral color

I use a lot of different instrument combinations to create different colors in my writing. Geoff Stradling, my pianist and a former student, was saying he remembers an arranging class where I gave a handout (he still has it) of 800 different ways to come up with color combinations within a big band-combining various mutes, unison trumpet with this, combining flugelhorn with that. The trombones are a choir all by themselves, wonderfully versatile. Kenton had five of them, and there was a reason for that. I love to put the trombones in unison with the baritone and the tenors. The bass trombone and the baritone saxophone—I give them different tasks. The band doesn't sound the same all the time because of the colors. It's going to be even more noticeable on the next CD.

Trombones
About Ladd McIntosh
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