The word swing means two things when discussing big band jazz. It refers to the swing era of the 1930s and 1940s, when big band swing music was the popular music of the day. It also refers to that unique rhythmic result of well played jazz, a quality defying meaningful definition but something avid listeners recognise immediately.
This article addresses big band releases distinguished by swing-as-rhythm. Not all big bands swing. An example of one that does is the Count Basie Orchestra (any of them). Basie loved to take a simple, riff oriented arrangement and allow his stellar soloists (like saxophonist Lester Young and trumpeter Harry "Sweets" Edison) blow.
An example of a fine big band that did not swing was the Stan Kenton Orchestra. Kenton (with arranger Bob Graettinger) made an art form out of dense, West Coast arrangements, often at the expense of the musical momentum (read swing). It is fortunate we have both flavors, because as a universal art form, jazz has a lot of musical appetites to sate.
Gary Tole and Legends of Swing
One Kettle for the Count
Gary Tole is a trombonist originally from Pittsburgh, Philadelphia. In the late 1970s he made for the West Coast and calls Claremont, California the home base for his big band, Legends of Swing. Tole and his band enjoy a national reputation for their performances of the music of the swing era as well as Tole's own arrangements for newer fare. One Kettle for the Count provides healthy examples of each of these sources.
In keeping with the disc title, Tole and company pay homage to Basie with trombonist Scott Whitfield's composition, replete with a spare Basie-esque introduction by pianist Bob Remstein and swinging horns in the Basie tradition. The band does the same with swing standards "Flying Home," "C-Jam Blues" and "Moten Swing." These are played with a traditional, if not a bit too perfect flair.
Splendidly tasteful and entertaining is the band's "Sing, Sing, Sing" take on the Average White Band's "Pick Up The Pieces." The parallel is perfect right down to Bob Marino's drumming, Don Shelton's clarinet, and Glenn Morrissette's tenor saxophone. Rarely does the adaptation of newer songs to the art of the big band turn out so well. The same is true for Whitfield's arrangement of the Lennon/McCartney classic "With A Little Help From My Friends," sung with verve by Mike Costly.
Vocalist Cassie Miller adds to the spin Tole puts on the Turtles' "Happy Together." The newer music is completed with "American Bandstand Boogie." And Mr. Tole's trombone? A well turned "Someone To Watch Over Me" provides the band leader plenty of room for his large open-bell tone. One Kettle for the Count will appeal to swing purists who like swing so hard they flirt with whiplash.
Visit Gary Tole and Legends of Swing on the Web.
Phil Norman Tentet
"Totally" Live at the Catalina Jazz Club
There is a subtext to "Totally" Live at the Catalina Jazz Club by the Phil Norman Tentet. That subtext is the conspicuous absence of long time associate Bob Florence in who's memory the recording is dedicated.
Florence, a West Coast composer, band leader, arranger and pianist passed away May 15, 2008, shortly after this live performance was captured. Florence, the regular pianist for the Tentet, was too ill to perform but his presence was palpable at the proceedings as evidence by Helen Borger's introduction and the inclusion of several Bob Florence compositions and arrangements.
And arrangements are what this recording is about. Phil Norman's Tentet achieves the near impossible by having inventive and compelling West Coast arrangements that allow the pieces to swing with epistaxic abandon. That said, Florence's arrangements of Miles Davis' "All Blues," and his own "Frothy" and "A Joyful Noise," puts a very fine point of the loss of such talent.
If the listener is partial to Marty Paich and Dave Pell, then he or she will be partial to "Totally" Live at the Catalina Jazz Club. Think of this recording as an updated Art Pepper + Eleven (Contemporary, 1959).
Visit Phil Norman Tentet on the Web.
Gene Ludwig Trio with the Bill Warfield Big Band
Duff's Blues-Live from the Zoellner Arts Center
18th & Vine
If One Kettle for the Count is too-straight swing and "Totally" Live at the Catalina Jazz Club distills that swing for a medium sized ensemble, then Duff's Blues is a collision with casualties between the chittlin' circuit and the Savoy Ballroom. Jazz veteran Gene Ludwig adds his organ trio to the Bill Warfield Big Band for an eclectic blues-funkfest. The listener should cue up "Dance of the Coal Cars" and listen to Ludwig/Warfield's take on "Pick Up The Pieces" (albeit reharmonized).
Jazz-funk is well represented here with selections by Lee Morgan ("Totem Pole"), Woody Shaw ("The Organ Grinder"), and Dave Stryker ("Naked City"). The inclusion of Stryker in this list is opportune has he provides a contemporary contribution to the the book. Herbie Hancock's "Dolphin Dance" provides the ballad interlude to this otherwise funk heated affair. The closing funk-blues "Breakin' the Ice" sums up Ludwig's overall approach to his trioequal parts organist Jimmy Smith, guitarist Grant Green and the Tower of Power.
Speaking of Smith, it is difficult to listen to this recording and not think of his big band recordings on Verve. While Smith and Ludwig's approaches could not be more different, the spirit of the jazz organ in a big band format remains a powerful one. Ludwig's vision is a low calorie affair, easy on the grease. But no matter...funk is funky no matter the fat.
Visit Gene Ludwig and Bill Warfield on the Web.
Cy Touff & Sandy Mosse
Okay...wait a minute. This is an article about big bands, isn't it? Indeed. But someone forgot to tell Chicagoan's Cy Touff and Sandy Mosse who, in spite of their Windy City roots, assimilated the swinging arrangement style of Left Coaster Marty Paich for a very fine, if not a bit unorthodox, quintet. What makes any recording with Cy Touff novel is his choice of instrument, the bass trumpet. It sounds a bit like what a bass valve trombone might sound like.
The bass trumpet is a marching band instrument and is thus given to providing bass and rhythm support to larger ensembles. However, Touff is a master at coaxing unique improvisations from the unwieldy horn. He and saxophonist Sandy Mosse provide each other with capable support during solos and head, approximating the one voice per part in a small ensemble that pianist Joshua Rifkin advocated for Bach choral performances.
Thusly, the listener is treated to a stripped down, yet full bodied treatment of swing and be-bop standards. Of keen interest is the pair's take on the Lester Young vehicle "Tickle Toe" and Denzil Best's "Allen's Alley." The empathy shared between the two horn players makes for an inventive counterpoint that sounds a bit like a hip Art of Fugue. While this recording may not be for everyone, listeners certainly can respect the crafty arrangements and performances by the two masters.
Visit Cy Touff and Sandy Mosse on the Web.
Tracks and Personnel
One Kettle for the Count
Tracks: One Kettle For Count; Pick up the Pieces; A Little Help From My Friends; Someone to Watch Over Me; That Did It Marie; C-Jam Blues; American Bandstand Boogie; Happy Together; I'll Never Smile Again; Flyin' Home; Moten Swing; Love For Sale; Baby It's Cold Outside; Breathless.
Personnel: Cassie Miller, Mike Costley: vocals; Mike Higgins: guitar; Glenn Morrissette, Dave Hill: clarinet; Don Shelton, Charlie Richard: alto saxophone; Roger Neumann: baritone saxophone; Gary Halopoff, Tom Marino, Bob O'Donnell: trumpet; Jim Boltinghouse, Gary Tole, Scott Whitfield: trombone; Bryant Byers: bass trombone; Bob Remstein: piano; Jennifer Leitham: bass guitar; Bob Marino: drums.
"Totally" Live at the Catalina Jazz Club
Tracks: CD1: Helen Borgers Introduction; I'm Dig; All Blues; The Outlaw and Middle Jazz; Hymn To Her; Frothy; Stolen Moments. CD2: Tumbling Tumble Weed; Night In Tunisia; Nature Boy; Robin's Nest; A Joyful Noise; Theme and Variations.
Personnel: Larry Koonse: guitar; Rusty Higgins: flute, soprano saxophone, alto saxophone; Phil Norman: tenor saxophone; Roger Neumann: baritone saxophone; Ron Stout, Carl Saunders: trumpet; Andy Martin: trombone; Christian Jacob: piano; Kevin Axt: bass instrument; Brad Dutz: drums, percussion; David Tull: drums.
Tracks: Duff's Blues; Totem Pole; Naked City; Circuit, The; The Organ Grinder; Dance of the Coal Cars; Dolphin Dance; Breakin' the Ice.
Personnel: Gene Ludwig: Hammond B-3 organ; Bob DeVos: guitar; Rudy Petshauer: drums; Bill Warfield: trumpet, arranger.
Tracks: Tickle Toe; Centerpiece; The Man I Love; Allen's Alley; Alone Together; Secret Love; What's New?.
Personnel: Cy Touff: bass trumpet; Sandy Mosse: tenor saxophone; John Campbell: piano; Kelly Sill: bass; Jerry Coleman: drums.