Pianist/composer Joe Elefante's New York City-based big band has been quite favorably received by the local media, and now we can hear whywell-built ensemble, impressive soloists, splendid arrangements by Elefante, who assembled all the charts on the band's debut album, Vanity Fair, and wrote everything save Ray Noble's "The Touch of Your Lips."
"Lips," usually played as a ballad, is an arresting example of Elefante's innovative approach, as the tempo is accelerated and the familiar melody bracketed by free-form exchanges among trumpeter Dave Ballou, tenor Walt Weiskopf, bassist Dennis Irwin and drummer Andy Watson. Elefante then has some "Fun with Glass," standing the Tommy Dorsey theme "I'm Getting Sentimental Over You" on its ear, and salutes "Valentine's Day" with a cleverly camouflaged version of the Rodgers and Hart classic, "My Funny Valentine" (I hope I'm right about the last two; that's what they sounded like to me).
Elefante and the band can swing hard too, shaking the rafters on "Copy Cat" and "Phoney Mahoney," flexing their muscles on "Eider/Tale" and "D. n' T.," and adding a funky beat on the album's "bonus" track, "Danger," one of two numbers on which Elefante sings (the other is "I Cry"). Singing seems to bring out the rocker in Elefante, while his lyrics remind me of something Stevie Wonder or Neil Diamond might have written.
Alto Andy Fusco is showcased on the sensuous ballad "Quiet Dream," tenors Weiskopf and Gary Keller on "D. 'n T." Besides those already noted, there are persuasive comments along the way by Elefante, trumpeter Joe Magnarelli, baritone Scott Robinson, trombonist John Mosca and guitarist Ken Sebesky. The opener, "Vanity Fair," uses a shuffling groove to usher in bracing solos by Keller, Magnarelli, Mosca and Watson.
Now that we know what all the fuss is about, we'd suggest that you find out for yourself. Elefante has put together a world-class ensemble, loaded with top-notch players, and given them high-grade music to perform. The album they've produced lives up to the outpouring of praise that preceded it.
Track Listing: Vanity Fair; Elder / Tale; I Cry; Quiet Dream; The Touch of Your Lips; Fun with Glass; D. 'n T.; Copy Cat; Valentine's Day; Phoney Mahoney; Danger (70:45).
Personnel: Joe Elefante, conductor, piano, Fender Rhodes, vocals; Dave Ballou, Craig Johnson, Don Downs, Glenn Drewes, Joe Magnarelli, trumpet; Dave D'Angleo, alto, soprano sax, flute; Andy Fusco, alto sax; Walt Weiskopf, tenor, soprano sax; Gary Keller, tenor sax, clarinet; Scott Robinson, baritone sax, bass clarinet; John Mosca, Pete McGuinness, Jason Jackson, trombone; Doug Purviance, bass trombone; Ken Sebesky, guitar; Dennis Irwin, bass; Andy Watson, drums. On Danger only -- Elefante, Fender Rhodes, vocal; Bruce Williams, Craig Yaremko, Anthony Nelson, Dave Noland, Mike Brown, reeds; Alan Quinn, Nathan Eklund, Rich Polotchek, Freddy Hendrix, trumpet; Erick Storckman, Marshall Gilkes, Laurence Ross, Dennis Argul, trombone; Matt, McDonald, guitar; Mike Todd, bass; Joe DeVico, 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.