Thursday, September 14, 2006

Will big bands ever come back? Woody Herman... Gil Evans... Thelonious Monk... Anthony Braxton

Jimmy Giuffre came to fame originally way back in the forties with his arrangement for the second Herman Herd of his composition 'Four Brothers' which had the unusual lineup of three tenor saxophones and baritone (with Herman and Sam Marowitz making up the rest of the section)– on this recording: Stan Getz, Zoot Sims, Herbie Steward and Serge Chaloff (Steward was replaced later by Al Cohn). The tenor trio were all coming from the general direction of Lester Young, so there is a light and airy blend here which offers hints of later Giuffre (if anyone could have written a work titled 'Skies of America' apart from Ornette, Giuffre would have been up for the task). The rougher jazz saxophone timbres have been removed... one could not see them working so well with three tenors from the Hawkins lineage, say. Possibly one of the first sightings of the 'cool school, birthed from Lester... A true jazz classic... Interestingly, the genesis of this sound was a little earlier than the Second Herd:

'In their first incarnation, the brothers were Herbie Steward, Zoot Sims, Jimmy Giuffre and Stan Getz, all playing tenor saxophones. "We had a band at Pontrelli's in the Spanish section of Los Angeles," recalls Stan. A trumpet player named Tommy De Carlo was the leader and we just had trumpet, four saxophones and rhythm. We had a few arrangements by Gene Roland and Jimmy Giuffre. Herbie doubled on alto and I transposed the third alto part to tenor.”' (From here... scroll down a ways... ).

Looks like a big band trip today... Goddoggo mentioned the Gil Evans version of 'Bilbao Song' from the 1960 album 'Out of the Cool' and in my usual eagerness to please (and find inspiration!) I had a rummage round – I have the bugger somewhere but since the recent house move much is still buried. Synchronicity came to the rescue as ever – managed to acquire it ( a tip of the bop beret to the Busconductor... ). Evans offers a dark-hued reading of the Brecht/Weill song. Cymbals and bass plus percussion figures lead it in as the orchestra hold long skirling notes up to a strident chord – then the bass brings in the melody over light swishing -like a rattlesnake- with some heavy double stops. A light backbeat then orchestra stab and a splash of 'arranger's piano' and some more bass before the ensemble take up the theme in a staggering gait, strange extended phrases – a hint of drunken dancehall tango, evocative maybe of the beat-up venue celebrated in the song:

“No paint was on the door,
The grass grew through the floor
Of Tony's Two By Four
On the Bil - ba - o shore”. (English Lyrics: Johnny Mercer).

Sounds like I place I used to know down in the west of Ireland...

A sudden biting crescendo - then silence... An oddly uncentred rendition conjuring in my mind dream-like, hazy recollections of 'Tony's Two By Four,' sketched lightly from the Evans palette with just the occasional surge of power and sonority to add a larger smear of colour...

Not strictly a big band but just one of my favourite aggregations - Monk at Town Hall, 1959. Here's 'Friday the Thirteenth,' played by a tentet and led in by the guv'nor's piano, a strange tune that evokes some awful mental treadmill or Kafkaesque nightmare as it trudges remorselessly through the repeating four chord descending sequence, with just a hint of macabre humour lurking. Hall Overton's arrangement handles his forces well, one section given the theme as another shadows the chords down the treadmill. Phil Woods comes up for the unforgiving task of improvising over this sequence – and is well up to the mark. Monk next, playing some nice rhythmic tricks. As ever. Charles Rouse the redoubtable, safely home, a few familiar licks to get there. Donald Byrd – lyrical and edging in thoughtfully before essaying some double timing to lay his authority on the piece (maybe time for some Donald Byrd soon...) - followed briefly by Monk at one point behind him - ending with the theme statement to lead into the band's restatement of same, doubled on bass at the finish. This is taken from one of my favourite records – it must have been a joyous night...

Anthony Braxton put together a large ensemble he called the 'Creative Orchestra' in 1976 – a track from this offered, Piece Five. A squalling bouncing introduction - then the rhythm drops out as a jaunty sectional counterpoint ensues – returning and on a flourish of drums announcing a sturdy walking bass. Kenny Wheeler solos first – high notes and histrionics, far from his usual trademark plangency. Big band trumpet writ large. Jerky horns and pounding ensembles then Abrams solos – rippling and bright over bass and drums, building through some percussive stomping figures. Ensemble return over a repeated pedal, some fascinating section work – low brass and trumpets set against each other without the rhythm section – the lines becoming denser, more dissonant. The piano repeats an insistent two bar riff as Braxton shimmies in, the contrabass clarinet taking a solo of awkward but appealing grace. Braxton the revolutionary has always returned to the tradition for his own homages. One forgets sometimes he was doing it so long ago... In the lineage of big band sectional experimentation that we started with – check out the the strange sax/woodwind section and the depth of the brass section – bass trombone/tuba – a hint of Gil Evans' sonorities... Braxton at this time in the seventies recorded as a sideman with a couple of larger congregations such as the Global Unity Orchestra and the Jazz Composer's Orchestra...

In the Videodrome
Pepper Adams in the UK with some Brits... here...

Some of the MJQ

Get happy with Bud Powell – if only he could have done regularly...

Woody Herman and the Herd
(Stan Fishelson, Bernie Glow, Marky Markowitz, Shorty Rogers, Ernie Royal (tp) Bob Swift, Earl Swope, Ollie Wilson (tb) Woody Herman (cl, as, vo) Sam Marowitz (as) Stan Getz, Zoot Sims, Herbie Steward (ts) Serge Chaloff (bars) Fred Otis (p) Gene Sargent (g) Walter Yoder (b) Don Lamond (d) ).
Four Brothers


Gil Evans
(John Coles, Phil Sunkel (tp), Jimmy Knepper, Keg Johnson (tb), Tony Studd (btb), Bill Barber (tu), Ray Beckenstein (as, fl, pic), Bob Tricarico (bas, fl, pic), Budd Johnson (ts, ss), Ray Crawford (g), Ron Carter (b), Elvin Jones, Charlie Persip (dm, perc), Gil Evans (p, arr, cond)).
Bilbao Song


Thelonious Monk
Thelonious Monk - piano. Donald Byrd - trumpet. Eddie Bert - trombone. Phil Woods - alto. Charlie Rouse - tenor. Pepper Adams - baritone. Robert Northern - french-horn. Jay McAllister - tuba. Sam Jones - bass. Art Taylor - drums. Hall Overton - arranger.
Friday the thirteenth


Anthony Braxton Creative Orchestra
(There seems to be a little confusion over personnel on some tracks so I have given the overall lineup taken from the Braxton discography here...).

Anthony Braxton (as, cbcl, cl)
Seldon Powell (as, cl, fl)
Bruce Johnstone (bs, bcl)
Ronald Bridgewater (ts, cl)
Roscoe Mitchell (ss, bsx, fl, as) on #2-4
Kenny Wheeler, Cecil Bridgewater, Jon Faddis (tpt)
Leo Smith (tpt) on #2-4, 6; conductor on #1, 3, 5
George Lewis, Garrett List (tb)
Earl McIntyre (btb) on #1, 6
Jack Jeffers (btb) on # 2-5
Jonathan Dorn (tuba)
Muhal Richard Abrams (p) on #1, 2, 4, 5; conductor on #6
Richard Teitelbaum (syn) on #2
Frederick Rzewski (p, b-d) on #2-4
Dave Holland (b, clo)
Warren Smith (d, tmp, b-d, sn-d, bmba, chm) on #1-5
Barry Altschul (perc, gongs, sn-d, bells, chm) on #2-4
Philip Wilson (d, perc, marching cymbals) on #2-4
Karl Berger (glck, vib, xyl, chm) on #3-5
Piece Five



etnobofin said...

A great collection of pieces - although I've heard "Four Brothers" before, I was only really familiar with the Gil Evans...

Will big bands make a comeback? Well, raw economics seem to dictate that they will never operate on a fulltime basis. But large ensembles seem to pop up at strange, infrequent and luminous moments -the Mingus Epitaph concert, Kenny Wheeler's all-too-seldom big band tours, the London Improvisers' Orchestra are some that spring to mind. They play only occasionally, but the scene is enriched by their fleeting presence.

godoggo said...

Well, there was that swing revival - speaking of which, Brian Setzer's big band, I understand, included a lot of members of the L.A. "improvised music scene" specifically meaning Vinnie Golia alumni, though the only name I'm sure of is Michael Vlatkovich - though he really didn't like to talk about what he did to pay there bills. Here in L.A. I'd mention the James Newton's Luckman Jazz Orchestra, Gerald Wilson as imprtant big bands, but there really is a musical difference between a full-time big band and a bunch of musicians who get together to play some charts (of course, there's always the Sun Ra model: big band as religious cult...)

BTW, if it was me doing the choosing, I might continue on with Zorn's contribution to that Hal Wilner's Weill tribute, also from "Happy End," I forget the name, but it's the one that starts out "Obacht gebt obacht," whatever that means (I don't normally like Zorn, but I like that)...and then I'd play Marrianne Faithful singing Surabaya Johnny (from Happy End) from her 20th Century Blues album (I remember reading an allegation that Brecht used to steal his lovers' work and publish it under his own name, leading to a suicide in one case; Surabay Johnny always struck me as a likely example, Pirate Jenny as another one)...but that's just me.

Molly Bloom said...

There is always a place for them to come back. I think we need some more joy and something great to 'fill the space' in a way. All of the air is filled when you head a big band playing live. I was listening to these pieces and thinking of times when people came together to listen to music like this. I hope they do return and become big again.

Did you see that family on the news recently...who sing together. I know that they play Rockabilly...but in a way...they capture something that we have lost. The joy of playing music together through love of music. Rather than playing to 'get on'. I think it's the same with creativity. There are those who do it for the joy of it and those who do it for the game-plan. I hope that big bands fit into the former category. Marvellous.

squeezo said...

New Accordeon Blog:

DJA said...

Well, there's obviously Brookmeyer's band (New Art Orchestra), Maria Schneider's band, John Hollenbeck's band, the Vanguard band (with a newish album of amazing Jim McNeely stuff), Dave Holland's band, and all the European radio bands, who do great work.

And, um, me.

godoggo said...

..and I was hoping to find a Youtube video of Lenya singing Pirate Jenny from the Threepenny Opera movie. No dice, but here's Bilbao song sung by somebody named Servio Tulio(with Portugues subtitles, if that's helpful):

Rod... said...

apologies for tardy reply - been busy... I meant the title in an ironic way, really, as a memory of many an article down the years forecasting a big band revival - or bemoaning the fact that one hadn't happened. But there always seem to be big bands around in various idioms - one I've just remembered was Graham Collier's - and unjustly neglected composer - although I suppose they came together more for specific compositions - as Godoggo says, there is a difference between a working band and specific projects... I know Maria Schneider's stuff, mentioned by DJA - in fact have posted some here and there... and what about the Mingus Big Band? Dave Holland's big band does some good stuff - I have some somewhere I may dig out...

Molly Bloom said...

The phoenix in this gal is all powerful. I hope the ashes don't last longxx

Anonymous said...

Itd be swell if the Woody Herman was relinked :D

John Kliem said...

I agree with your views on the excellent Monk Big Band version of Friday the 13th. However I reckon that it is Rouse who takes the fine first sax solo, and Phil Woods the excellent and much commented on second (after Thelonious).