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Dave Pell: Remembers John Kirby and Big Small Bands

C. Michael Bailey By

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Historical recreations of music are nothing new. Every tribute recording ever released is one. In the 1980s and '90s, classical music went through its "period instrument-performance practice" phase, where the entire Baroque, Classical and early Romantic repertoires were recreated using instruments and metronomic markings from the 18th and 19th Centuries. In the late 1950s, jazz was going through an interesting transition that had its genesis a decade earlier in Miles Davis' famous Birth of the Cool (Capitol, 1957). In 1949, Davis, bored with be bop, assembled his famous nonet and with the help of arrangers Gil Evans, Gerry Mulligan and John Lewis, brought the bebop small combo back closer to the swing era big band, using the brass voicings (including French Horns) from Claude Thornhill's popular and successful band.

West Coast multi-reedist Dave Pell has recorded a string of well-received octet albums based on Davis' nonet model. He extended this "big small band" philosophy to a project he recorded early in 1959 that was eventually released as The Big Small Bands (Capitol). What Pell did with the music chosen for this project—that comprises a dozen compositions recorded over the previous 30-year period (typically on 78 RPM discs)—was to have Jimmy Priddy and Bob Enevoldsen transcribe the charts note-for-note.

Pell termed these new recordings "musical recreations." The participants were all West Coast Jazz royalty—pianists Marty Paich and Andre Previn, trumpeter Jack Sheldon, and drummers Mel Lewis and Shelly Manne were all on hand. Alto saxophonist Art Pepper appears on Shorty Rogers "Popo," Miles Davis' "Boplicity" and Gerry Mulligan's "Walking Shoes." Pepper was to rerecord the latter of these with a Paich-led ensemble that would become his famous Art Pepper + Eleven: Modern Jazz Classics (Contemporary, 1959).

Regardless of the recording proximity, The Big Small Bands could not sound more different from + Eleven. "Quaint" would best describe Pell's efforts and that is no slight. Pell is attempting to faithfully recreate music, almost making a historic document. Pell's touch is a soft one, treating all of this disparate music as, perhaps, trumpeter Wynton Marsalis has with the music of Louis Armstrong and Thelonious Monk. Projects like this have their place and should appeal to a broad number of jazz fans.

Track Listing: Big Small Bands - Then I'll Be Happy; Smo-O-O-Oth One; In an 18th Century Drawing Room; Summit Ridge Drive; At the Codfish Ball; Jumpin With Symphony Sid; Popo; Boplicity; Dark Eyes; Viva Zapata; Walking Shoes; Mountain Greenery Dave Pell Remembers John Kirby - Rose Room; Royal Garden Blues; Anitra's Dance; It Feels Good; Tootsie Roll; Double Walk; Undecided; Blue Skies; Coquette; Opus #5; 20th Century Closet.

Personnel: Big Small Bands - Then I'll Be Happy; Smo-O-O-Oth One; In an 18th Century Drawing Room; Summit Ridge Drive; At the Codfish Ball; Jumpin With Symphony Sid; Popo; Boplicity; Dark Eyes; Viva Zapata; Walking Shoes; Mountain Greenery Dave Pell Remembers John Kirby - Rose Room; Royal Garden Blues; Anitra's Dance; It Feels Good; Tootsie Roll; Double Walk; Undecided; Blue Skies; Coquette; Opus #5; 20th Century Closet.

Title: Remembers John Kirby and Big Small Bands | Year Released: 2012 | Record Label: Fresh Sound Records


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