Last week, saxophone legend Hal McKusick and I were talking about Boyd Raeburn's band from the mid-1940s and the staggering number of visionary arrangers Boyd had on board. Raeburn's penmen included Ed Finckel, George Williams, Johnny Richards, Johnny Mandel, Tadd Dameron, Ralph Flanagan, Dizzy Gillespie, Juan Tizol, George Handy and others.
One listen to Flanagan's chart for Hep Boyd's or Finckel's Little Boyd Blue from the mid-1940s and you'll know instantly why Raeburn's band was not only years ahead of its time but also the birthplace of 1950s orchestration. Hal played in Raeburn's bands of 1944 and 1945—and in virtually every other remarkable orchestra of the 1940s and 1950s.
"Hey, if you like the charts written for Boyd, get your hands on the Urbie Green albums with arrangements by Al Cohn and Johnny Carisi," Hal said. "They are something else."
"Wait, I think I just bought an Urbie Green set," I said, rummaging through a small stack of unopened CDs on my desk. "Here it is, I've got it. Let me have a listen and I'll call you back."
As usual, Hal was right. The two-CD set is Urbie Green Big Band: Complete 1956-1959 Recordings (LoneHill Jazz). Hal adores Urbie's playing, and I can't recall the last time I've been this excited about a CD set. Urbie is one of the finest trombonists of the 1950s with the purest and glossiest sound. If you dig big band music from this period with aces-up arrangements, your ship has arrived.
The two CDs combine four Urbie Green LPs—All About Urbie Green and His Big Band (1956), Let's Face the Music and Dance (1957), Jimmy McHugh in Hi-Fi (1958) and The Message (1959). The arrangements are by Johnny Carisi, Al Cohn, Irwin Kostal and Urbie himself. A quick scan of the personnel tells you instantly why the writing sounds so good. The best session guys of the 1950s were on the dates—including Hal McKusick, Al Cohn, Sol Schlinger, Boomie Richman, Gene Quill, Johnny Carisi, Bernie Glow, Hank Jones, Osie Johnson, Barry Galbraith, and on and on.
Which got me thinking. Hal is probably the only jazz giant around today who not only knew all of the best arrangers of the 1940s and 1950s personally but also played their cutting-edge charts on record dates. So I asked Hal for a list of his favorites pen men and the charts that stand out.
Tomorrow, Hal will share that list along with remarks on what made each writer special. For now, see if you can get your hands on that Urbie Green set. It's going fast.
JazzWax tracks: Urbie Green Big Band: Complete 1956-1959 Recordings is becoming increasingly hard to find but may still be available here and here. The beauty of these dates is that Hal's horn is featured on most of the tracks above the reed section, which is no wonder since all of these arrangers adored his cool sound and phrasing.
If you want to hear what Boyd Raeburn's band sounded like in the mid-1940s, spend $2 and download Hep Boyd's and Little Boyd Blue at iTunes. You'll find them under Boyd's name on an album called Jewells.
JazzWax video clips: Urbie Green had—and still has—one of the most beautiful trombone sounds. Go here and here to see Urbie in the early 1970s with Bobby Hackett. And go here for a huge swinger with Urbie, Georgie Auld, Roy Eldridge, Buster Bailey, Johnny Guarnieri, Stuff Smith and other heavy-hitters in 1958.