Trumpeter Carl Saunders
is best known for his contributions to jazz orchestras, having put his mighty horn to good use for Stan Kenton
, Bill Holman
, Maynard Ferguson
, Benny Goodman
, Gerald Wilson
, and numerous other big band leaders of note over the past half-century. Yet his work as a composer may end up being his lasting legacy. Saunders has amassed a considerable body of workmore than three hundred of his tunes appear in a Real Book-style collection titled New Jazz Standards
and he's been showcasing these compositions by handing them off to notable performers for a series of albums for Summit Records. The late Sam Most
's final datealso dubbed New Jazz Standards
(Summit Records, 2014)kicked off said project, and trombonist Scott Whitfield
took the baton and delivered a second volume of material in 2016. Now, top-notch pianist Roger Kellaway
is taking his turn with the Saunders songbook.
Fronting a first-rate trio with bassist Jay Leonhart
and drummer Peter Erskine
, Kellaway delivers a set that alternately swings and soothes. "Prudence," one of Saunders' better-known compositions, opens the album by cutting against its name. There's nothing cautious about this sunny swinger. Then there's "Dees Blues," a number dedicated to lyricist Michael Dees. Erskine, aligned perfectly with Leonhart's buoyantly shuffling bass, sets that train in motion with a Mel Lewis-worthy feel that perfectly supports Kellaway's excursions, which include some Gene Harris
-esque tremolos. The aptly titled "Calming Notion," where Kellaway overdubs a second piano, provides a marked shift in direction, but the laid-back pseudo-bop of "Noodlin" puts the trio back on its cheery track while showcasing Kellaway's remarkable chops and split- handed brilliance.
As the program continues, Kellaway and company deliver more of the same along with a few surprises. Leonhart puts his voice and bow to good use in a humorous blues setting on "Is That Asking Too Much," "Valtzing" calmly bounds along in line with the titular dance, and "Sweetness" proves to be the standout ballad on the set. Add to that a "Hurry Up & Wait" that finds Kellaway and Leonhart syncing up before the trio goes to serious swing town, a solo piano episode of optimistic quietude in "A Verse," and a skulking-turned-cooking blues finale in the form of "Minor Infraction," and then you have a real work of art. But Saunders goes one better, tacking on a balladic bonus track recorded by the trio of Kellaway, bassist Buster Williams
and drummer Santo Savino
at the 1994 sessions for his first solo album. It may or may not have been necessary, but it's most definitely the cherry on top.
Whether or not these and other Saunders songs will take their place as new jazz standards remains to be seen, but they certainly have merit. And there's plenty more from where these came from: a fourth volume in the serieswith guitarist Larry Koonse
taking the reinsis already in the works, so we'll be hearing more of Saunders' music in no time.
Prudence; Dees Blues; Calming Notion;
Noodlin'; Short Sweet: Walking On Air; Is That
Asking Too Much; Valtzing; Sweetness; Hurry
Up & Wait; A Verse; Minor Infraction; Forever
Roger Kellaway: piano; Jay Leonhart: bass,
vocals (7); Peter Erskine: drums.