Friday, November 30, 2012

A Tribute to the Music of Gerald Wilson

We always enjoy it when Gerald Wilson "stops by" and brings along some of his music. The tune is Patterns and it features solos by pianist Jack Wilson, Carmell Jones on trumpet, Harold Land on tenor saxophone and Joe Pass on drums with Mel Lewis booting things along from the drum chair. You can locate our previous, two-part feature on Gerald in the blog sidebar.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Grant Geissman: Studio Jazz Guitarist

© -Steven Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

“Grant Geissman's latest CD looks like a five-inch homage to the album-cover artist Jim Flora, with a cartoon of the guitarist serenading a bikini-clad redhead on the cover, and a collage in the center spread crammed with beatnik musicians, cats, birds and a pink elephant. The disc itself is designed like a vinyl record, complete with fake grooves.

Musically, Geissman takes a step into the past too, abandoning his smooth-jazz track record in favor of rootsy sound based in soulful hard bop, with a little New Orleans and upbeat melodies that still go down smoothly without the gloss.

From the Horace Silver-influenced title track to "Theme From Two and a Half Men," which gives the guitarist and Brian Scanlon (on soprano sax) a chance to blow over the sitcom theme, Geissman proves himself to be no wallflower when he puts his mind to it. But often tracks like "Bossa," with wordless vocals by Tierney Sutton, or "Wes Is More," with an excessive section of traded fours and twos with organist Jim Cox, come off more like bossa nova and blues without the necessary roughness.”

- Mike Shanley Review of Grant Geissman’s Say That! CD in JazzTimes APRIL 2006

“Grant Geissman's third in a trilogy of wildly eclectic outings once again has the versatile guitarist indulging in more than a few of his favorite things. From loping funk to boogaloo to earthy blues shuffles, with a haunting ballad, a beautiful samba and an urgently swinging post-bop romp thrown into the mix —along with touches of classical, flamenco and zydeco — he covers all the bases with authority on “Bop! Bang! Boom!
'It's all stuff I'm interested in and like to play, so it just comes out," says the San Jose native who is well known for his improvised guitar solo on Chuck Mangione's 1978 pop crossover hit 'Feels So Good* and more recently for co-writing the theme for the hit CBS-TV sitcom Two and a Half Men ("Men, men, men, men, manly men!*] ‘I have eclectic tastes and the way I play and write follows that. And since this album is on my own label, I get to do what I want!’”
- Bill Milkowski, liner notes

“One of the reasons I created my own label, Futurism, was so that I could explore anything I wanted—which to me is what an artist is supposed to do.”
- Grant Geissman

Like his counterpart, guitarist Lee Ritenour, who is affectionately known as “Captain Fingers” for his legendary ability to play any style of guitar at a moment’s notice, Grant Geissman really knows his way around a recording studio.

Grant is a Pro’s Pro: he brings it; he lays it down; it’s perfect. No need for another take. It’s done. Let’s move on.

Given the amount of money that record producers have to spend to develop an album, Grant’s ability to make it happen and to make it happen right the first time is why he’s first call on most contractor’s lists.

Grant also understands the technical aspects of the studio; he's savvy about the processes involved with making a recording. Whether it’s the sound board, the mix, the use of electronics and synthesizers to create and enhance the music, Grant knows about this stuff.

More importantly, Grant knows enough about all of these elements of engineering sound so that he can make them subservient to the final product – good music.

Grant also surrounds himself with musicians who are at home creating Jazz in a studio environment.

In recent years, Grant has taken matters a step further with the formation of his own label - Futurism Records.

Beginning in 2006 with Say That! and following in 2009 with Cool Man Cool, Grant has offered eclectic Jazz stylings that appeal to a wide range on interests: some Smooth Jazz; some Latin Jazz; some straight-head Bebop – all infused with Grant’s sophisticated studio sensibilities.

Bop! Bang! Boom!, the latest CD in the series, was released by Grant on July 17, 2012

In addition to a whole host of special guest such as saxophonist Tom Scott, guitarist Larry Carlton and keyboard artist  Russell Ferrante who join Grant on selected tracks, there is the bonus of the artwork of Miles Thompson that graces these CDs and is very reminiscent of the classic LP cover art that Jim Flora developed for many RCA and Columbia classic Jazz LP’s in the 1950s.

Here’s what Michael Bloom Media Relations had to say about Bop! Bang! Boom!:

“[This CD] is the third album in a loosely fashioned trilogy that reflects Grant Geissman's shift to more traditional jazz expressions. The powerfully eclectic follow-up to Say That! and Cool Man Cool includes amped-up ventures into numerous genres that reflect Geissman's multitude of passions.

The key to making meaningful music for me is to not limit myself stylistically. I actually can't envision writing an album where every track sounds the same. One of the reasons I created my own label, Futurism, was so that I could explore anything I wanted—which to me is what an artist is supposed to do. I don't know what happens after Bop! Bang! Boom!, it might be completely different. But it's not about having a master plan, it's about writing and recording music that excites and inspires me.”

Geissman co-wrote the Emmy-nominated theme (and also co-writes the underscore) for the hit CBS-TV series Two and Q Half Men. He also co-writes the underscore for the hit series Mike & Molly (also on CBS). As a studio musician, he has recorded with such artists as Quincy Jones, Chuck Mangione (playing the now-classic guitar solo on the 1977 hit "Feels So Good77), Lorraine Feather, Cheryl Bentyne, Van Dyke Parks, Ringo Starr, Gordon Goodwin's Big Phat Band, Joanna Mewsom, Inara George, Burt Bacharach and Elvis Costello.”

Here’s a taste of the music on Bop! Bang! Boom! The tune is Un Poco Español on which Grant plays his mellow-sounding 1972 Hernandis nylon string classical guitar with Russell Ferrante featured on piano.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Louis Stewart /Mundell Lowe. play Body and Soul. Duets#2

Put your feet up, grab a cup of coffee or tea and relax while listening to some exquisite guitar playing.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Buddy DeFranco and Dave McKenna: Two for the Recording Studio

© -Steven Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

“Nobody has seriously challenged DeFranco's status as the greatest post-swing clarinetist, although the instrument's desertion by reed players has tended to disenfranchise its few exponents (and Tony Scott might have a say in the argument too). DeFranco's incredibly smooth phrasing and seemingly effortless command are unfailingly impressive on all his records. But the challenge of translating this virtuosity into a relevant post-bop environment hasn't been easy, and he has relatively few records to account for literally decades of fine work….”

Dave McKenna hulks over the keyboard…. He is one of the most dominant mainstream players on the scene, with an immense reach and an extraordinary two-handed style which distributes theme statements across the width of the piano.

McKenna is that rare phenomenon, a pianist who actually sounds better on his own. Though he is sensitive and responsive in group playing … he has quite enough to say on his own account not to need anyone else to hold his jacket.”
- Richard Cook and Brian Morton, The Penguin Guide to Jazz on CD, 6th Ed.

In the 100+ years that Jazz has been in existence, it has been expressed in any number of instrumental combinations: combos, trios, quartets, quintets, sextets, octets, tentets and big bands.

It almost seems that as the popularity, and with it, the fortunes of the music, waned, the smaller the groupings became.

The big bands of the Swing Era were replaced by combos after WW II and these would soon be reduced to piano-bass-drum trios. Sometimes locally-based trios served as pick-up rhythm sections for horn players who traveled the Jazz club circuit of major cities as guest soloists. It was cheaper for them to get booked into local clubs this way.  Star alto/tenor saxophonist Sonny Stitt made his living this way for many years.

Throughout its history, Jazz has had a long association with night clubs many of whose owners were looking to pedal booze with the music serving as a convenient backdrop.

Jazz nightspots like The Lighthouse and Shelly’s Manne Hole in southern California, The Blackhawk in San Francisco, the Jazz Showcase in Chicago and Birdland and The Village Vanguard, all of which featured the music as well as sold libations, have become few and far between since their heyday from 1945-65.

Not that these smoke-filled rooms were ever the best environment for the music let alone the musicians, but at least they gave Jazz fans venues in which to hear the music performed on a regular basis.

Duos have always been around the Jazz scene, but they were generally formed by a pianist or a guitarist backed by a bass player, in other words, an instrument to carry the melody while the other played rhythm to keep the swinging sense of metronomic time which is a key feature of Jazz.

This low-key approach was generally favored by some of the smaller rooms that offered Jazz and was usually easy on the wallet of the club’s owner. Adding horns and drums to such an environment would overpower the patrons.

Not surprisingly, with the passing of time and the diminishing of its fans base, Jazz solo piano gigs also became ensconced in some clubs. Occasionally, a guitarist, or a trumpet player with a mute or even a saxophonist who could keep the volume down might drop by to sit-in with these solo pianists.

For many years, one of the best pianists in Jazz was a frequent performer as a solo pianist in clubs in the greater Boston area with occasional swings down to Newport, R.I. and to Florida for “the season.”

His name was Dave McKenna [1930-2008] and he always maintained that, “[ … because of his fondness for staying close to the melody], I’m not really a bona fide jazz guy”. Instead, he claimed, “I’m just a saloon piano player.” Regulars at the Boston’s Copley Plaza Bar (now the Oak Room), where Dave often performed, rebuffed this modest remark by telling McKenna that he was ‘just a saloon player’ like Billie Holiday was ‘just a saloon singer.’” 

Thanks to the late Carl Jefferson’s patronage, many lesser known, but not necessarily less-skillful, solo pianists would have their work showcased on his Concord Records Maybeck Recital Hall [Berkeley, CA] series which was issued in the 1980s and 1990s.

Concord also put out recordings with some of these pianists represented on the Maybeck series paired with woodwind and reed players such as Alan Broadbent and Gary Foster, Kenny Werner and Chris Potter, and my favorite, Dave McKenna and Buddy DeFranco.

Richard Cook and Brian Morton of The Penguin Guide to Jazz on CD, 6th Ed. had this to say about the DeFranco-McKenna collaboration:

Concord threw a line to players of DeFranco's sensibilities. The one to get … is the magisterial encounter with Dave McKenna, still as fiercely full-blooded as ever at the keyboard, and musician enough to have DeFranco working at his top level. 'Poor Butterfly', 'The Song Is You' and 'Invitation' are worth the admission price, and there are seven others.”

Here’s what Dr. Herb Wong had to say about the DeFranco-McKenna Jazz alliance in his insert notes to Dave McKenna and Buddy deFranco: You Must Believe in Swing [Concord CCD-4756-2].

© -Dr. Herb Wong, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

“Though rare up until some 25 years ago, duos now occupy a pivotal niche in jazz. Their interest stretches beyond mere curiosity; two-instrument bands face the challenge of creating musical moments germane to their special environment which neither solo musicians nor conventional small combos can furnish.

Most duos highlight the beauty of musicians of similar styles and schools of thought playing with a preferred consonant sound. On the surface, therefore, the pairing of Dave McKenna and Buddy DeFranco might seem unlikely. "At first thought, Dave and Buddy may not be a perfect fit, since they come from somewhat different directions," recalls Dr. Dave Seiler, Director of the University of New Hampshire Jazz Band. "But we watched them rehearse - the way they communicated was incredible!"

The background trail leading to this unusual pairing is of interest. Born in the vision of one Joe Stellmach, a devout fan and good friend of both McKenna and DeFranco, this recording was inspired by the spectacular match-ups of DeFranco with super piano icons Art Tatum and Oscar Peterson back in the 1950s. The prospect of DeFranco's thorough mastery of the instrument (with his modern harmonic vocabulary and improvisational skills) brought together with the extraordinary pianism of McKenna (one of the most triumphant post-Tatum pianists) was Stellmach's dream.

"I was inspired to bring Dave and Buddy together - specifically Dave as the third prodigious jazz pianist to be coupled with Buddy," said Stellmach, who was the catalyst in gaining the enthusiasm of Concord Jazz to make this recording. Less than a week after the teaming was agreed to, a debut concert was organized by local piano great Tom Gallant and the aformentioned Dr. Seiler for October 9, 1996 at Portsmouth, New Hampshire as part of the Harry W. Jones, Jr. Jazz Concert. Prior to this venue, McKenna and DeFranco hadn't really played together other than brief jams at parties. A week later, they were in New York recording this CD.

DeFranco's esteem for McKenna is markedly illustrated by this anecdote: "Two summer ago in New England, a friend of Dave's asked me if I'd like to go hear him play solo in a hotel by the coast. I had a plane to catch later on, so I decided to catch one set and then fly home. I wound up listening to the entire three sets."

McKenna is an anomaly in the world of jazz pianists; his two-handed style is so rhythmically powerful that he's essentially self-sufficient. Ace trombonist Carl Fontana, who has played with McKenna many times, simply said, "Dave is a band. You don't really need one when he's around!" Pianist Dick Hyman agrees, "He's his own rhythm section. The left hand plays a 4/4 bass line, the right hand plays the melody, and there's that occasional 'strum' in between - like three hands." Check his right hand off-beat single notes, and unpredictable spaces promoting accents that create ear-tugging reactions. Reminiscent of Tatum, McKenna's arpeggios at times seem like they're 50 feet long.

"Dave plays a different way - an orchestral way," DeFranco elaborates. "Of course, Errol Garner and Oscar Peterson had it too, but Dave has a bass line going on all the time. He has the orchestral melodic part, and those exciting chord progressions, but somewhere he sneaks in what might be 'brass figures,' and it's fascinating to wonder how he gets them in. He inserts these figures while everything else is going on."
McKenna explains it quite simply: "I like to play a long line - like a horn player's single notes, which also equate to single notes on a bass. Well, sometimes I'll pause - take a breather in that line, and on occasion just throw in a chord or two." His predilection for single note lines suggests that he has listened a great deal more to horn players than he has to pianists.

Buddy DeFranco is the titan of the modern jazz clarinet who had taken his instrument to the peak of mastery decades ago and has maintained this preeminence internationally since the forties. He has pushed his digital precision to its technical boundaries, and early on merged his blazing, flawless execution with the vital force of Charlie Parker's harmonic approach. With his devastating speed and gorgeous, fluid tone, he improvises with emotional candor and blows nuclear ideas that explode with surprising hues and shapes.

An accomplished clarinetist himself, Seiler says simply "Buddy is a clarinet player's clarinet player." …

Speaking about DeFranco, McKenna said firmly, "It was a real pleasure working with him. Man, he's got it all! In a duo you have to be busy all the time. It's one of the hardest things to do, but with a great horn player like Buddy - that's something else! I really enjoy his musicality."

In a duo, each musician is truly half of what happens. It's a matter of the freedom to express and letting things happen with complete confidence — a process which shows the music is worthy of risk. There's an enchanting aura about the numeral "two". This duo reflects that mystifying magnificence. There is something pristine about combining a piano note and a clarinet note. Dave McKenna and Buddy DeFranco share in tandem a striking set of properties of integrity and musical character only mature creative players experience. Their sophisticated knowledge and simpatico are self-evident.

DeFranco said it well: "If it doesn't swing, it isn't happening!"

You can savor the duo delight that is Dave McKenna and Buddy DeFranco in the following video tribute which features their performance of Tadd Dameron’s If You Could See Me Now. [Click on the “X” to close out of the ads should they appear].

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Gerry Mulligan: Part 5 - The Gordon Jack Interview

© -Steven Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

“Gerry … was enormously knowledgeable and skilled in harmonic structure and chord changes — all of that. He could solo in a very linear fashion as well, but he may have wanted to play in a more vertical way because we didn't have a piano. He played the piano sometimes himself, and although he wasn't a great pianist, he knew what he wanted to do on the in­strument. On baritone he was amazing, but sometimes it was a little hard to play with him, especially on a double-time thing where he would blow so many notes that he would get behind the time. I would be scuffling along, try­ing to drag him with me, but that was because of that big, awkward horn he was playing. Unlike an alto or tenor, it takes a long time for the air to get through. I have great respect for him both as a writer and a player.”
- drummer Larry Bunker as told to author Gordon Jack

“… it was Gerry's inimitable presence that drove and de­fined the character and flavor of the group, and I loved working with it. I couldn't wait to get to work each night, because it was great being out there, totally exposed to the challenge of inventing melodically interesting bass lines, strong enough to eliminate harmonic ambiguity and simple enough to swing. I thrived on that challenge!

Of course Gerry's abilities as an accompanist were phenomenal, and he had that vast pool of ideas to draw upon, from all those years as an arranger. His forte was building spontaneous arrangements, because he was something of an architect. It was really exciting to walk a bass line and discover him moving along a tenth above, totally enhancing the whole effect. He always had his ears open and expected the same from his cohorts. With all due respect to the other guys, without Gerry's accompaniment, there is no Gerry Mulligan Quartet.”
- bassist Bob Whitlock as told to author Gordon Jack

“Mulligan was one of the quintessential jazz musicians of his genera­tion. As much as the silhouette of Dizzy and his upturned trumpet, the image of bone-thin Mulligan, tall enough to dominate the baritone, his hair country-boy red (before it turned great-prophet white) had an iconic familiarity.  … No musician in the postbop era was more adept at crossing boundaries. Though a confirmed mod­ernist credited with spreading the amorphous notion of cool jazz, he achieved some of his finest work in collaborations with his swing era idols Ben Webster and Johnny Hodges; he displayed a photograph of Jack Teagarden in his studio.

Mulligan fashioned a music in which all aspects of jazz commingle, from Dixieland two-beats and polyphony to foxtrot swing to modern harmonies, yet he remained something of an outsider, set apart by his devotion to certain not always fashionable musical principles, including lyricism and civility. By lyricism, I mean an allegiance to melody that, in his case, was as natural as walking. …

By civility, I mean his compositional focus on texture. Mulligan was chiefly celebrated as a baritone saxophonist, for good reason. He is the only musician in history to win a popular following on that instrument, the only one to successfully extend the timbre of Harry Carney and de­velop an improvisational style in the horn's upper range. … the baritone best expressed his warmth, humor, and unerring ear for sensuous fabrics of sounds. Yet he insisted he was less interested in playing solos than an ensemble music— even in the context of his quartet. He was, as he proved from the beginning of his career, a master of blending instruments.”
- Garry Giddins, Visions of Jazz

“Gerry Mulligan lived through almost the entire history of jazz. It is against that background that he should be understood.”
Gene Lees

In compiling information from a number of highly regarded Jazz sources and configuring them into a five-part feature on Gerry Mulligan [you can locate the first, four pieces in the sidebar of the blog], it has been the intent of the editorial staff at JazzProfiles to create a broad outline for a comprehensive and critical [i.e.discerning] biography of Jeru and his music.

Over the span of this five-part feature, we have enlisted in the service of this cause, writings about Mulligan by such Jazz luminaries as [these are not listed in any particular order]: Gene Lees, Garry Giddins, Nat Hentoff, Bill Crow, Ted Gioia, Doug Ramsey, Bill Kirchner, Ira Gitler, Bob Gordon, Gunther Schuller, Pete Clayton, Burt Korall, Whitney Balliett, Michael Cuscuna, Dom Cerulli, Martin Williams and Alain Tercinet.

This listing is by no means exhaustive and no doubt excludes other important essays and articles about Gerry Mulligan.

Astoundingly and not withstanding the 100+ pages of manuscript contained in the five JazzProfiles Mulligan features and the fact that Gerry is the subject of a permanent exhibit at the Library of Congress, there remains no definitive book length treatment on the career and music of Gerry Mulligan!

Our thanks to Gordon Jack for allowing us to use his interview with Gerry in Part Five of our feature about one of the most influential figures in the history of Jazz.

Bill Crow, himself one of the subjects in Gordon Jack’s Fifties Jazz Talk, An Oral Perspective [Lanham, Maryland: The Scarecrow Press, 2004, refers to Gordon, as “… one of the jazz world’s most skillful interviewers. He asks all the right questions and then gets out of the way, letting his subjects reveal themselves.”

I’m sure you will agree with Bill’s assessment after reading Gordon’s interview with Gerry Mulligan, who reveals things about himself and his career that I never knew before reading their 1994 talk.

[We have refrained from populating Gordon’s piece with photos as none were interspersed in the original chapter.]

Fifties Jazz Talk: An Oral Perspective [Lanham, Maryland: The Scarecrow Press, 2004, pp. 143-153].

© -Gordon Jack/Scarecrow Press. Used with the author’s permission. Copyright protected, all rights reserved.

“Gerry Mulligan was born on April 6, 1927, in Queens, New York City. By the time he was seventeen, he was contributing arrangements to Johnny War­rington’s band for their broadcasts on WCAU, a local radio station in Philadelphia. Over the next few years his writing for Elliot Lawrence, Gene Krupa, Claude Thornhill, Miles Davis, and Stan Kenton showed him to be one of the best of the young postwar generation of arrangers. Although he played in all those bands except for Kenton’s, he was far better known as a writer than as an instrumentalist. It was not until his move to California in 1952 and the formation of his first quartet that he really started to develop as a bari­tone soloist. We met on two occasions at his suite in London’s Ritz Hotel in May 1994, and we concentrated on his career until the demise of the Concert Jazz Band in 1964. I hoped to continue our discussion at a later date, but Gerry died on January 20, 1996.

In the late forties I played in a group with Kai Winding, Brew Moore, and George Wallington, in clubs like Bop City in New York. We also recorded quite a lot, and we visited Kansas City in 1947, which is where I first met Bob Brookmeyer, when he sat in on valve trombone. At the same time I was play­ing and writing for Elliot Lawrence, and I was featured in a quintet from within the band, with Phil Urso on tenor. When I wrote “Elevation” for Elliot, he claimed a joint‑composer credit, which was the convention with band­leaders in those days, but it was my tune. A little later that band became very good when he had Charlie Walp on lead trumpet with Ollie Wilson and the Swope brothers on trombone. Those guys were known as the “Washington brass section,” and Herbie Steward was there, too, on lead alto. I remember walking into a rehearsal when they were playing one of my charts, with Tiny Kahn on drums, and it was the first time I heard a big band make my things sound really great. The first time that happened with a small group was Georgie Auld’s little band, with Serge Chaloff and Red Rodney.

For the Miles Davis nonet I actually arranged seven of the twelve numbers that were recorded, although I have seen most of them credited to somebody else over the years. There were two other titles not included on the Birth of the Cool album, “S’il Vous Plait” and “Why Do I Love You?” which were John Lewis arrangements. You may have heard that Miles wanted another trumpet to play lead so that he could concentrate on soloing, but that is quite untrue. He didn’t want to know about another trumpeter, and remember, if we had someone else on lead, they would have phrased the band into another area. Miles wanted to do it his way, and I wanted him to do it his way. If you were writing for him in that band, you knew exactly where you were, and I only wish I had written more for it.’

A lot of these things seem easy in retrospect, because in 1992 we went on the road with the “Rebirth of the Cool” band and worked with those charts. That’s really why I did it, because I finally wanted an insight into those pieces, to see where we might have taken them. Before the tour I thought a lot about the in­strumentation, because I didn’t see any reason to be nailed to Miles’s nine-­piece. The Tentet arrangements I had from California, for instance, had mo trumpets and two baritones, and I liked the idea of two baritones. You can have them playing unison in the ensemble, and it’s like a cello section, which is fun I really wanted a baritone doubling clarinet, but finding somebody to do both became a problem. Ken Peplowski was supposed to be with us, and he was a nice guy and a beautiful player, but I didn’t want to push him into switching from tenor to baritone. Unfortunately on the day of rehearsal, he telephoned ill say that he’d been running for a plane at a small airport somewhere when he slipped on the wet tarmac and broke his ankle. That’s when I got Mark Lope­man, who is a fine musician, and he had done a lot of the transcribing for me.
Getting back to Miles’s band, we originally wanted to have Danny Polo or clarinet, but he was on the road with Claude Thornhill all the time. During most of the years of Thornhill’s success, he had two clarinets, Irving Fazola and Danny Polo, and they both had this great wood sound because they played “Albert” system. This was not “Benny Goodman” clarinet you know: we’re talking about something much darker and richer, which were the timbres we were looking for. Anyway, Gil Evans and I decided not to me‑s,, around with the clarinet if we couldn’t have Danny. Miles liked the idea Av having a singer, so he had his friend Kenny Hagood sing a couple of number, one of which, “Dam That Dream,” was recorded. For the 1992 “Rebirth” tour I rewrote that arrangement, although what I actually did was to finish it. because I wrote it in too much of a hurry for Miles. The other ballad we featured on the tour was “Good‑bye John,” which I dedicated to Johnny Mercer.

Before I left the East Coast for California in 1951, I had already started ex­perimenting with a piano-less rhythm section, using trumpeters like Don Joseph [tpt], Jerry Lloyd [tpt], or Don Ferrara [tpt], with Peter Ind on bass and Al Levitt on drums. It was actually Gail Madden who suggested the idea. She played pi­ano and percussion, and as a matter of fact I’ve recently been trying to find out what happened to her. It was her experiments that helped me when I got to L.A., since I already had an idea of what would and wouldn’t work. The last record date I did before leaving New York was in September for Prestige, playing my compositions with Allen Eager [ts] and George Wallington [p], among others. Gail played maracas on some titles, but the atmosphere was spoilt by Jerry Lloyd, who couldn’t pass up the opportunity of making jokes about her boobs bouncing up and down when she played. Jerry was an old‑guard male chauvinist and couldn’t help it, but after a while, I sent the band home except for the saxes. I didn’t want to do that thing with just Allen and me, but I had to complete the album.’

I decided to leave New York because the drug scene was a little out of con­trol and the work was rapidly drying up, so I sold my horns and Gail and I hitchhiked to California. I did a little work along the way, using borrowed horns, mostly tenors, and I remember playing in a cowboy band outside Al­buquerque for a while. I was lucky, because I knew a guy who was teaching at the university there, and he helped us keep body and soul together. When we reached L.A., I sold some arrangements to Stan Kenton, thanks to Gail, who arranged the introduction through her friendship with Bob Graettinger. She was really responsible for Graettinger’s survival up to that point, because he was nearly “done for” with alcohol, but when I met him, he was absolutely straight. I liked him a lot, and he was in the thick of a reworked “City of Glass,” and he was also writing a cello and a horn concerto. As a matter of fact, I had heard the original “City of Glass” when they were rehearsing at the Paramount Theater in New York a couple of years before.

When I first got to L.A., I did some playing with Shorty Rogers at Balboa with Art Pepper, Wardell Gray, Coop, and June Christy. Shorty was very good and always used me whenever he could, and I remember Bob Gordon was around at that time, and I liked him a lot. I soon met Dick Bock, who was in charge of publicity at the Haig, and I started working there with Paul Smith, who was the leader on the off‑nights, when the main attraction had a night off. We worked opposite Erroll Garner’s trio, and when he left, they brought in Red Norvo with Tal Farlow and Charles Mingus. That’s when I took over as leader on the off‑nights, using Jimmy Rowles until I got the quartet together with Chet Baker, Bob Whitlock, and Chico Hamilton. I had encountered Chet at jam sessions in the San Fernando Valley, so when it came time to put the group together, I wanted to see how he would work out. Gail had already told me about Chico, who was just finishing a gig with Charlie Barnet’s seven‑ or eight‑piece band at the Streets of Paris down on Hollywood Boulevard. Car­son Smith took over from Bob later, and being an arranger, a lot of the good ideas in the early quartet were his. For instance the way we did “Funny Valen­tine,” with that moving bass line which really makes the arrangement, was Carson’s idea. Chico thought of doing some a cappella singing behind Chet on a couple of numbers, but Chet never sang solo with the quartet. We played opposite Red Norvo for a while, then went up to the Blackhawk in San Fran­cisco for a few weeks before returning to the Haig, this time as the main at­traction.

Bernie Miller wrote “Bernie’s Tune,” but I never knew him. As far as I know, he was a piano player from Washington, D.C., and I think he had died by the time I encountered any of his tunes. He had a melodic touch, and he wrote a couple of other pieces that musicians liked to play. The recording company wanted to put “Bernie’s Tune” in my name but I refused, because I always objected to bandleaders putting their names to something that wasn’t theirs, so I wasn’t going to do it to Bernie Miller whether I knew him or not I told them to find out if he had a family so that the money could go to his heirs. If he didn’t have one, I would have claimed it to stop it going into the public domain. A few years later Lieber and Stoller wrote a lyric for it, which I thought was a little presumptuous; I hated the damn thing. They were nice enough fellows, but I really resented them doing that.

Chico liked using brushes, because he was an admirer of the great brush artists like Jo Jones, who was incredible ‑ also Gus Johnson and Shadow Wilson. It would be a mistake, though, to think that the records are a total indi­cation of what the group sounded like, because the drummer didn’t always use brushes, even though a lot of the pieces were recorded that way. You know, when you examine the recordings of the twenties, you find that Bessie Smith never used a drummer at all, but nobody ever comments on that. Until it was possible to isolate instruments through multi-tracking, a set of drums was hard to balance with the rest of the band. This was especially so with cymbals. A lot of recordings, even in the forties, had cymbals that tended to drown the main attraction, hence the beauty of brushes in recording. I remember when we first started rehearsing in Chet’s house down in Watts or somewhere in southeast L.A., Chico would just use a snare, standing tom‑tom, stand cymbal, and a hi‑hat, and that’s all, but when I looked in his trunk as he packed to go to the Haig for our first date, he had a whole set of drums. I said, “Where are you going with those?” and he said, “We’re going to work.” “Oh, no you’re not,” I said. “This is not what you rehearsed with. I don’t want to get to the club and find a surprise waiting for me.” So he came to work with the very minimum kit; then, as time went on, he figured out he could add to the set without changing the sound. It was always a kit geared to what we had rehearsed with and not a whole big band set of drums.

Very little of what we played was written, although my originals sometimes were. Chet and I often put the arrangements together driving to the Haig, which is how we did “Carioca,” for instance. He used to like singing the parts as we drove from his house, and we worked out that arrangement by singing t. A lot of movie people used to come and see us at the Haig, and one of the most regular was Jim Backus (Mr. Magoo), who often brought his buddy David Wayne. Mel Ferrer and Anne Baxter also used to come, and in fact, Anne had the quartet over to play at her birthday party.
Some months after our first records were released, Stan Getz showed up, playing at the Tiffany club with Bob Brookmeyer and John Williams, who was a good piano player. Stan used to sit in with us at the Haig, and I re­member a jam session at somebody’s house, probably Chet’s, where Stan, Bob, Chet, and I were the front line, and we worked really well, improvising on ensemble things that were great. Stan decided that we should all go out to­gether as a group, only he wanted it to be his group. Musically it was too bad that we couldn’t do it, but personality‑wise, I don’t think it would have worked. Stan was peculiar; if things were going along smoothly, he had to do something to louse them up, usually at someone else’s expense.

Early in 1953 we did the tentet album, and because I didn’t think Chet wanted to play lead, I brought in Pete Candoli so that he didn’t have that re­sponsibility. In the event, Chet wound up playing most of the lead parts any­way, so I had Pete, who was a high‑note man, on second trumpet! Somehow this myth has grown that Chet couldn’t read music, but people love myths. It’s more fun that way. There are lots of myths about Chet and the gothic, ro­mantic life he lived and died; it’s grist for that whole “Dark Prince” mode.

Both Dave Brubeck and Paul Desmond had recommended Dick Collins as a good replacement for Chet when I was reforming the quartet at the end of 1953, but he wasn’t available. By this time I had become angry with L.A. any­way, so I telephoned Bob Brookmeyer in New York and asked him to come out to California for rehearsals, and bring some New York musicians with him. Bringing guys from the East was obviously expensive, but after rehearsals, we only had a couple of dates booked before going back to the East Coast to work. He arrived with Bill Anthony and Frank Isola, who had both been with Stan Getz. Before leaving town, we did our one and only engagement with the ten­tet at the Embassy Theater in downtown L.A., and that was quite an experi­ence. When I looked through the curtains at 8 o’clock, it seemed as though we had bombed out, because there was hardly anyone in the house. We decided to get the show underway when someone came backstage very excitedly telling w to wait, because people were lined up around the block. Apparently, the newspaper advertisement for the concert quoted the wrong time. We wound up with a full house, and it really was quite an evening. It was so exciting that some fans stole a couple of the books, including mine, and it was at that point that we started to be more careful with the music.

I had a second baritone as well as the tuba in the tentet, because they do different things, although the baritone is used in today’s big band setup as if it were a tuba, but it’s not at all. However, I’ve finally realized that I don’t need a tuba, because laying in all those bottom notes gets in the bass player’s way. Later on, when I was organizing the Concert Jazz Band, I had intended to include a tuba, but at that point, there was nobody I could count on who could cut the book to go on the road with us. The third trombone was sup­posed to be a tuba, so Alan Raph came in on bass trombone. What I really wanted was Bob Brookmeyer, bass trombone, and tuba, which would have given me a complete scale and palette, starting at the bottom and going chromatically to the clarinet on top. I could have used flutes, but they depended on amplification to be heard in that kind of band, and I didn’t want to me­ss with that. I would have liked to have a couple of clarinets or possibly a soprano sax and maybe even C trumpets to sustain higher tones.

When the quartet reached New York early in 1954, I replaced Bill Anthony with Red Mitchell, who was one of the best bass players I’ve had. Frank Isola was with me for most of that year, and his thing really was to play time and keep out of the way, which worked out alright. Most of the drummers approached the quartet like that, which I accept. I hired guys because I liked the way they played, and Frank’s approach established a precedent for the bard, whether I wanted it or not. It’s not quite what I wanted, because I would rather have had a little more activity or aggression in the rhythm section.

I had become used to playing with drummers like Max Roach, and when we were in Kai Winding’s group, he was wonderfully considerate, thinking like an arranger by injecting melodic interest into what was going on. Very few drummers could do that. Most of them were aggressive but didn’t add musical things that a writer would appreciate, and as a soloist, I didn’t appreciate it either. Everyone should be working together, and if anything, soloist should dictate where the solo goes. If you were playing with Buddy Rich or Art Blakey, for instance, and they felt it was time for the soloist to be pushing and getting into something climatic, they’d start pushing, whether you were ready or not. Max didn’t do that because he listened to the soloist and that is the kind of player I would have really welcomed.

That was one of the reasons why I always had problems with drummers,  I needed somebody who was walking a thin line between playing the non-aggressive smooth thing that, say, Lennie Tristano wanted, where the drumm­er just kept time without any comments, but on the other hand, not dropping bombs all over the place. Even Chico used to do that, which is one of the rea­sons I took his bass drum away from him. He did it in Charlie Barnet’s band and I said, “I’ll kill him if he does that to me!” You have to remember that we were a totally acoustic group, and getting a balance to include the bass in the overall sound meant coming pretty far down in volume. I always needed a drummer who thought in terms of the ensemble sound, which is why Dave Bailey and Gus Johnson played the way they did with the quartet. Now if a drummer has a way of doing that and being busy, like Mel Lewis, for in­stance, that’s fine. Mel never actually played with the quartet, which is a pity, because he carried on that chattering conversation underneath your playing which I always liked. There would be punctuations, and it would relate in a way that meant something in the construction. Gus Johnson’s feel with the group was a lot different, but I had remembered how polished he was from seeing him with Count Basie. He was fun, and he loved playing brushes. As time went on, I was after drummers to play louder and use more sticks, but I never really pressed the point.

Later on in 1954 I was between trumpets and trombones, since I needed a replacement for Bob Brookmeyer, and being in the East, I decided to try Tony Fruscella. Now Tony had that fuzzy, introverted tone that Chet had, although Chet’s was more outgoing while Tony’s was very inwardly directed. It sounded nice, but one concert at the Newport Jazz Festival was enough for me to realize that having Tony traveling with me and being onstage together night after night would have driven me crazy. He lived in a world of his own, and when someone is a real introvert, it can take all your strength just to sur­vive. They seem to have a magnet sucking in your energy but nothing comes out, which is what shyness does to people. For the professional life of con­certs in a band that works and travels, your energy has to be up for it, and you can’t live in a world of your own because you have to deal with the real world. Having a guy like Tony meant I had to deal for myself and him too. It was too bad it didn’t work out, because he was such a lovely player, but he just did that one concert with me.

It’s funny because Stan Kenton was the M.C. at Newport that year, and he always had the amazing ability of giving a speech that sounded so serious. You would be listening attentively, until you suddenly realized that he’s not saying anything! I don’t know how he did it, but it was all delivered with such oratorical sincerity that you felt it was your fault for missing the point. To­wards the end of that year, I recorded some titles with John Graas and Don Fagerquist in California. I loved the way Don played, and he would have been an ideal trumpeter for the quartet, but he wasn’t available when I needed him. At the end of 1954 I disbanded the quartet to go home to New York and write some new music.

In 1955 I  sometimes played as a guest in Chet Baker’s group, and I seem to remember a date in Detroit with him and Mose Allison. I also worked at Basin Street for a few weeks with Al Cohn, Gil Evans, George Duvivier, and Herb Wasserman. Now Stan Getz was around the comer at Birdland, and he drove Al crazy. Every time he was free and we were playing, he would come and watch Al from the Peanut Gallery, staring up at him and making him feel uncomfortable.’ What he really wanted was to take Al’s mouthpiece and have it copied over at Otto Link’s. Al kept refusing, but Stan pestered him for about ten nights until he finally gave in. They met during the day, and Stan had it copied so that he could get a sound like Al’s.
Later on that year I formed the sextet, and initially Idrees Sulieman was on trumpet, but he just did a couple of dates with us because we had a hard time getting together on a style for the ensemble. I think he was an interesting choice, and the group would have sounded a lot different, but we weren’t comfortable with each other, because our stylistic approach wasn’t compati­ble. I have often wondered what the sextet would have sounded like if we had aimed it in that direction. We ran the group for quite a while, although I don’t remember all the reasons for not continuing with it. Zoot Sims may have wanted to leave, because a soloist like that would have found it to be a strait-jacket after a while, and I certainly didn’t try to replace him; Zoot was Zoot.

After the sextet I was “between groups,” and “between everything” at this point. I was really at a low ebb, having had enough of being a bandleader for a while, because being the leader can be a pain in the neck. You have to lay out the focus of the thing, decide what to play, and arrange the transportation and hotels as well. There have been periods when I have been fed up and looked for somebody else’s band to play with, which happened much later when I worked with Dave Brubeck. I was just going to be a soloist on one date; then we played in Mexico. One thing led to another, and I became the saxophone player who came to dinner and didn’t leave for about seven years!  In 1956 I did a little campaigning for Adlai Stevenson, who was the Democratic nominee for the presidency, when he ran unsuccessfully against Ike.  The following year, I worked a little with Mose Allison, and I think that Chet and I took a group out together, although it was primarily his group. We  a recorded a couple of albums, but there was never any talk of us getting together permanently. Over the next couple of years I did a lot of recording. I remember a session with Manny Albam, which was a nice L.P. with a good group musicians, and it was fun playing in the ensembles. [Jazz Greats of Our Time, Vol. 1, Coral CRL 57173]
I did a date with Stan Getz which Norman Granz wanted us to do [Stan Getz Meets Gerry Mulligan in Hi Fi, Verve 849 392 2]. He was recording Stan, but you can ­tell from the material that we really didn’t have anything prepared. The jam session idea is alright, but it has never been my bag, and it wasn’t my idea to switch horns on some numbers; Stan or Norman suggested it. I liked Zoot’s and Brew Moore’s mouthpieces, but I never liked Stan’s, and I didn’t like the sound I got on it.  I did an album with Monk, and having Thelonious as an accompanist was a challenge [Gerry Mulligan Meets Thelonious Monk, OJCCD  20 310-2]. We only played together a couple of times, but I remember a jam session I finally dragged him to, where we played “Tea for Two” and one other tune all night. He was trying to get us to play “Tea for Two” the way Tatum played it, where the progression goes up and then down in semi‑tones, and we had to try and follow him. In the mid fifties we lived near each other in New York, hence my original “Good Neighbor Thelo­nious,” because he lived on 63rd and I was on 68th Street near Columbus.

I also recorded with Paul Desmond, who always wanted to do the piano­-less quartet thing, with the alto playing lead instead of trumpet [Gerry Mulligan-Paul Desmond Quartet, Verve 519-850-2]. Dick Bock produced an album with me, Lee Konitz, Al, Zoot, and Allen Eager, which he called The Mulligan Songbook, Volume 1 [CDP 7243 8 33575 2 9] although I told him that title was a little optimistic. I used Freddie Green on guitar, because I was always mess­ing around with the rhythm section, trying to find out what to do with it, and I loved the idea of playing with Freddie. The Annie Ross date was Dick’s idea, and although we hadn’t worked together before, I liked her and the al­bum came out well. My favorite record from the “Mulligan Meets . . . “ se­ries was the one with Ben Webster, Jimmy Rowles, Leroy Vinnegar, and Mel Lewis [The Complete Gerry Mulligan Meets Ben Webster Sessions, Verve 539-055-2]. We played quite a lot with that group, including a feature on the Di­nah Shore T.V. show, and everybody could be called a co‑arranger because they all made a contribution. Jimmy Rowles was wonderful, and what he does is so deceptively simple, fitting things in so that they become part of the whole. Unfortunately he is now very ill with emphysema.”

In 1957 I did a big band album which I didn’t complete, and consequently it wasn’t released until about twenty years later [Mullenium, Columbia CK 65678] I wasn’t pleased with the way things were going, because on the fast numbers I couldn’t get my rhythm section together. I had Dave Bailey on one set of dates and Gus Johnson on the other, and I realized that I had to write more for them, because there wasn’t time for them to get to know the pieces like they would in a small band. It created a problem which I couldn’t overcome, and George Avakian, who was the A and R man for CBS, said to postpone everything until later. He then left CBS, and it wouldn’t have come out at all if it hadn’t been for Henri Renaud. I remember Don Joseph played beautifully on “All the Things You Are.”

When I formed the Concert Jazz Band in 1960, Norman Granz’s financial input was pretty extensive. He paid for a tour in the States to prepare us for a European trip, but I paid for everything else, which is how I always ill‑spent any profit I was able to make; I’ve always been a sucker that way! Judy Hol­liday did an album with us, although she never sang live with the band [Judy Holiday with Gerry Mulligan  DRG Records SLI 5191]. She should have done, because she would have been more comfortable when we got into the studio. Judy always joked, but it was only half‑a‑joke, that her way of going to work was to go to the theater, heave, and then start to get dressed. Recording for her was worse, but as she got to know the material, her sound would evolve, so it would have been good if she could have sung with the band at some point. Phil Woods didn’t record with us, but he was a regu­lar in the band whenever we could get him. He was always pretty busy, but he played quite a lot with us at Birdland. Later on, in the seventies, I formed another big band, and although I never really dropped the name, the Concert Jazz Band was a particular band and instrumentation in my mind.

After the CJB I went back to the piano-less quartet with Bob Brookmeyer. until we finally disbanded the group in 1965. Later that year I played with Roy Eldridge and Earl Hines in Europe. I would have loved to play more with Roy, but they booked the tour in such a ridiculous way, I wound up getting flu or something and I gave the whole thing up. The sixties were turbulent years.

I have always played a Conn baritone, but in the early sixties I used a Selmer for about a year. Jerome Richardson was funny, because when I started playing the Selmer, he said, “You sound peculiar. Why don’t you get your Conn back and sound like you’re supposed to. That sounds awful­! Eventually the Selmer got damaged, so I went back to the Conn, and Jerome came into the Vanguard one night and said, “Finally you’ve got your Conn and everything’s back to normal.” I never did like the Selmer anyway, be­cause of the way it was balanced, with the short neck on it.

Coming right up to date, in January 1994 I was elected to the Down Beat “Hall of Fame.” Somebody said, “What took so long?” and it’s true, things do seem to happen slowly for me, but I guess I’m not considered to be a fash­ionable elder. Popularity polls can be strange, because I started out as at arranger and always think of myself as one, but I don’t show up in that cate­gory at all, which used to bug me. Have you noticed in the Down Beat polls that nobody ever votes for my present quartet? If I don’t have a piano-less quartet, it’s as though I don’t have a quartet at all. You know, these things are fun to talk about, but I’ll have to stop, or we’ll be here all night.”

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Curnow, Metheny and Mays

© -Steven Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

I was going to add the phrase - “not a law firm” – to the title of this piece, but then I realized that it was an unnecessary qualifier.

Pat Metheny and Lyle Mays are names even more widely known in musical circles outside of Jazz and Jazz cognoscenti have been aware of Bob Curnow’s contributions to the music for many years.

In all honesty, I was just looking for a vehicle to present Bobby Shew’s masterful trumpet work on Bob Curnow’s big band arrangement of Pat Metheny and Lyle Mays’ tune, Always and Forever.

As sometimes happens, I made the video using this track from Bob Curnow’s L.A. Big Band: The Music of Pat Metheny and Lyle Mays [MAMA Foundation MMF 1009] and then backed into this piece.

The following annotation details the evolution of Bob Curnow’s career as a composer and arranger for big bands, as well as, his current activities as the proprietor of Sierra Music. You can checkout more about the later at The site also includes a biography on Bob.

Its almost impossible to encapsulate the overarching musical careers of Pat Metheny and to a somewhat lesser extent that of Lyle Mays.

I first became aware of their music on a 1978 ECM LP entitled The Pat Metheny Group [1-1114].

Although I was never a big fan of the Jazz-Rock-Fusion genre, some aspects of it appealed to me because in the hands of capable musicians, aspects of it could offer new approaches to developing melodies and alternative harmonies. I also liked the looser feel to rhythm that some of this music conveyed.

Of course, the overall texture or sound of the genre was heavily influenced by the use of electronics, particularly synthesizers.

What attracted me to the music of The Pat Metheny Group was the fact that it was easy on the “Rock” while being heavy on the use of electronic instruments to advance beautiful themes and interesting new approaches to harmonies such as the use of different tonal centers and chromaticism.

Pat and Lyle created music that was lighter in sonority and that just seemed to float, rhythmically.

Their music evoked moods and was easy to “visualize.” It had a down home feel to it and contained some elements of blues, country-and-western and folk.

As described by Richard Cook and Brian Morton in their Penguin Guide to Jazz on CD, 6th Ed.:

“Metheny seemed content to drop his playing into whatever con­text it might find. …. At this time Meth­eny favored a clean, open tone with just enough electronic damping to take the music out of 'classic’ jazz-guitar feeling, but he clearly owed a great debt to such urban pastoralists as Jim Hall and Jimmy Raney, even if he seldom moved back to bebop licks.

The Metheny Group albums settled the guitarist's music into the niche from which he is still basically working: light, easily digested settings that let him play long, meticulous solos which can as often as not work up a surprising intensity. Pat Metheny Group and American Garage each have their ration of thoughtful improvising which the guitarist settles inside a gently propulsive rhythm, more ruralized than the beefy urban beats of the con­temporary fusion bands.

That strain also colors the playing and composing of Mays, who has been Metheny's principal collabo­rator for 20 years. Scarcely a major voice in his own right - … - Mays is the perfect second banana. He feeds Metheny all kinds of tasteful orchestration without getting too much in his way.

New Chautauqua is a rare all-solo album in the Metheny canon. A pleasant, sweet-toned diversion, it hints at the multifarious-ness; with various electric and acoustic settings, including a i5-string harp-guitar, with which Metheny has grown fascinated in recent times.”

Given these descriptions of the form and format of the music of Pat Metheny and Lyle Mays, imagine my surprise when in 1994 I stumbled upon a recording entitled Bob Curnow’s L.A. Big Band Plays The Music of Pat Metheny and Lyle Mays [MAMA Foundation MMF 1009].

I had a fledgling awareness of Bob Curnow as a budding arranger for some of the bands that the legendary Stan Kenton led in the 1970s before his passing in 1979 and I knew of his work with Stan in marketing and distributing the band’s music through Kenton’s Creative World enterprises.

But never in a million years would I have figured the Metheny/Mays musical canon fitting into the big bold sound of a Kenton-like orchestral setting.

If anyone had proposed it to me conceptually, I would have thought of it as a musical contradiction in terms.

And yet, I was holding the realized promise of such a union in my hand; all I had to do was buy it, take it home and play it.

Which is exactly what I did and much to my delight, the combination of Pat and Lyle’s music as orchestrated and arranged for big band by Bob worked extremely well together.

 As Bob Curnow alludes in his insert notes to the recording: the big band arrangements of Metheny and Mays music became one example of what Stan Kenton’s Orchestra might have sounded like in the 1980's and beyond.

Bob Blumenthal had this to say about the music on Bob Curnow’s L.A. Big Band Plays The Music of Pat Metheny and Lyle Mays.

© -Bob Blumenthal, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

Acoustic and electric. These are the categories most frequently employed to compartmentalize jazz these days.  Many diehards in each camp will tell you that never the twain shall meet. Obviously, they have not heard this incredible album.

Bob Curnow’s L.A. Big Band Plays The Music of Pat Metheny and Lyle Mays
is an amazingly successful translation to the idiom of jazz big band of music originally created in an electric context. The source material, a dozen compositions from the book of the Pat Metheny Group, was created by musicians who have never allowed simplistic categories to place restrictions on their imaginations.  It has been adapted by a kindred spirit who, while working from a more traditional base, has an equally open mind and the requisite big ears.

Bob Curnow's name is not as familiar as Pat Metheny's, yet he too has enjoyed a rich and diverse career. Curnow was a trombonist with The Stan Kenton Orchestra (which also performed his compositions and arrangements) and served as A&R Director, General Manager and Producer for Kenton's Creative World label.

His conducting career has brought him to the podium of symphony orchestras and jazz ensembles throughout the United States, and his extensive experience as an educator includes the presidency of the International Association of jazz Educators, teaching positions at California State Los Angeles, Michigan State and Case Western Reserve Universities, and an eight year directorship of the McDonald's Ail-American High School jazz Band during which he helped to discover and nurture many now-prominent jazz musicians.  Sierra Music Publications, his publishing company, carries charts from the likes of Bill Holman and Maynard Ferguson and Bob's own arrangements of the music of the Yellowjackets and others.   Finally, he is a long-standing fan of the Pat Metheny Group.

"The music inspired me from the first time I heard it," Curnow explains.  "I initially transcribed If I Could just to find out how the piece worked and exactly what Pat was doing." Curnow then went on to complete some 12 arrangements of compositions by Pat Metheny and/or Lyle Mays.  Working from source material heavily steeped in electronic and synthesized sound was no deterrent to Curnow's labors.  He was responding to the strengths of Metheny's music — to its heart, its sophistication and its ability to simultaneously communicate to a mass audience while still providing a musical challenge.

Further, Curnow recognized that the dynamic and coloristic range of the Metheny Group was not that far removed from the directions he had pursued with the Stan Kenton band.   "From my perspective," he says, "the earliest keyboards, going back to violin and flute stops on organs, were frequently trying to emulate acoustic sounds. When I hear Pat's group, I layer in acoustic sounds in my mind. To my ears, the possibility of presenting this music in a big band context has always been there."

Possibility is not realization, however, and Curnow has done a magnificent job of writing arrangements that preserve the integrity of the originals without deviating from the big band tradition he knows so well. In each case, Curnow's rendering retains the nucleus and builds logically upon it, using the larger palette of the jazz orchestra and its expanded timbral possibilities to transform these already sublime pieces. The result is nothing less than a series of masterworks for jazz ensemble. Fans of the Metheny Group who spend little or no time listening to big bands will feel immediately comfortable here, just as big band fans who may never have listened to Metheny could be forgiven for assuming that these pieces are simply original works of uncommon quality. It was all there in Metheny's music, and now it has been preserved in a new context by Curnow.

It takes more than a skilled arranger to bring off a project of this scope, which is where the talented ensemble that Curnow has assembled comes in.  "As exciting and challenging as it was to score these pieces for big band," Curnow states, "it was even more thrilling to hear them played by these magnificent musicians.   It was truly the culmination of a ten-year dream."

"These arrangements have gone through a real metamorphosis in preparation for the recording," Curnow adds.  "Several were altered to fit the players, and to create solo space for as many members of the band as possible."  The role of guitarist Paul Viapiano is indicative.  "There was originally very little guitar in these charts, but I loved the way Paul played and wanted him to be heard."  As his feature track See the World makes clear, Viapiano was creating very much in the spirit of respectful individuality that characterizes Curnow's arrangements.  The same can be said for the other musicians.  Examples abound, from Bobby Shew's heartfelt flugelhorn on Always and Forever and Danny House's alto sax on If I Could to Bob Sheppard's volatile soprano sax on The First Circle and the simple eloquence of Bill Cunliffe's piano throughout. …

And we could go on listing such treats (the liquid clarinets behind Lockart earlier in the piece, those brass shakes at the start of See the World ...) for pages. These are Curnow's gems, his way of honoring music that clearly means a great deal to him in its original form. A string of such gems has created one large triumph — an album which will be enjoyed alike by every Pat Metheny Group fan, big band fan and plain old music fan who hears it.”

The liner notes also contains these thoughts by Bob Curnow a about the project.

© -Bob Curnow, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

To many people, the words "big band" conjure up an image of music from the ‘30s and ‘4Os. But I have never felt that the big band should be limited by a style created long ago. While I have a deep and abiding respect for the older music, I also know that the music of the '70s, '80s and '90s works beautifully in this medium. To me, a "big band" is simply a band that's big — in this case big enough to include twenty of the best jazz musicians in the world.

There are two unmistakable and pervasive influences on this body of work. The first is, of course, Pat Metheny and his unique and timeless compositions — often created in collaboration with his partner Lyle Mays. The second is the arranging styles of those who wrote for the Stan Kenton Orchestra during its almost 40 years of existence. Whether it was Bill Holman, Pete Rugolo, Johnny Richards, Lennie Niehaus or Stan himself, my love of the big band comes from years of listening to, studying and playing the music created by these men for that great orchestra.  Kenton's composers were always on the cutting edge, using the entire dynamic range and colorful palette of the big band.  Stan would have it no other way.

The question has been asked: "What would the Kenton band sound like today?"  Perhaps a little like this CD.  In retrospect, I think I wrote these arrangements as though the Kenton band still existed. I certainly tried to use the hallmarks of that
band — the many colors, the powerful soloists, and the range of dynamics, from quiet and pensive to roaring ….”

The following video contains a track from Bob Curnow’s L.A. Big Band Plays The Music of Pat Metheny and Lyle Mays in the form of “ …Bobby Shew's heartfelt flugelhorn on Always and Forever.”  Caution, Bobby’s gorgeous playing on Bob Curnow’s arrangement is guaranteed to make your heart skip a beat.

Perhaps after you’ve had a chance to listen to this music you’ll understand why I found it to be so impressive and enjoyable.