Johnny Mandel. Following my five-part interview last week with legendary arranger-composer Johnny Mandel, a flurry of emails arrived. [Pictured: Johnny at the piano with songwriting legends Alan and Marilyn Bergman]:
From the great saxophonist Bud Shank, who appeared and played in I Want to Live, scored by Johnny:
"I still shudder at the thought of that film. All of the source music for I Want to Live was performed on the stage next to the one constructed for the death scene! But, of course, performing Johnny's music was never anything but joy."
"Great stuff on Johnny Mandel, one of my heroes! It's so nice that JM is represented so beautifully by you. He is one of the best and always was!"
From saxophonist and jazz historian and writer Bill Kirchner:
"Great interviews with Johnny. When I interviewed him in 1995 for the Smithsonian Jazz Oral History Program, he mentioned doing ballad arrangements for Buddy Rich's 1947 band. One of them, Jerome Kern's The Song Is You, was recorded in 1953 by THE Orchestra, the Washington, D.C., band fronted by radio personality Willis Conover. It's a forgotten masterpiece—one of the first big-band charts I know of that used counterpoint in a major way, and all the more extraordinary having been written by a then 21-year-old Johnny Mandel."
Editor's note: The Song Is You is available on Willis Conover's House of Sounds Presents THE Orchestra here. Or, if you don't have the $70 that sellers are now charging for the CD, you can download Thou Swell for 99 cents from Charlie Parker: One Night in Washington at iTunes. Johnny Mandel arranged that one, too, also for THE Orchestra.
From video documentarian Bret Primack:
From reader Jim Wardrop:
"Fantastic job with the Johnny Mandel series! Wonderful, down-to-earth, this-is-how-it-works stuff. As I keep saying, this is stuff you would never find in a magazine. Thank you for doing it."
Stan Getz. WFIU jazz radio historian David Brent Johnson came across a wonderful time capsule of a TV ad at YouTube featuring Edie Adams (who passed away October 15) and Stan Getz for Muriel Cigars. Adams, an actress, had been married to trumpeter Pete Candoli and appeared in a long string of TV series and movies. Her filmography includes The Apartment (1960) and Made in Paris (1966), which features a fabulous Nelson Riddle score. Go here to view the 1965 ad at David's Night Lights site. And for yet another '60s throwback ad for Muriels, featuring Edie and her sisters, go here.
JazzWax on the air. My monthly live JazzWax radio segment last week with Ralph Benmergui on Canada's leading jazz radio station JAZZ.FM91 focused on saxophonist-arranger-composer Benny Golson. To listen to the podcast, go here.
Mike Melito. So few hard bop albums today from up-and-coming jazz artists capture the true flavor of this mid-1950s genre. Hard bop isn't exclusively about blowing. It's a mix of instrument textures, earthy tones and edge, which many musicians somehow miss. So it was with great pleasure last week when I put on drummer Mike Melito's new album, In the Tradition.
What makes this hard bop album superb are the players and song choices. Which doesn't surprise me too much, considering Melito credits tenor saxophonist Joe Romano with personally helping to shape his approach. Romano was a mainstay in the post-1958 bands of Woody Herman, Buddy Rich, Louie Bellson and others. Taste tends to be taught and learned.
Joining Melito are Grant Stewart [pictured] on tenor sax, John Swana on trumpet, Paul Hofmann on piano, Neal Miner on bass and Rob Sneider on guitar. I've written about Grant in the past, and on this disc he continues to be among the leading contemporary voices on the instrument. Grant here displays a wonderful sense of jazz history in his playing and solos. Through enormous sensitivity, he modernizes classics without damaging the brickwork. Grant also knows that for a hard bop date, you have to farm the saxophone's lower register, and he does so fearlessly. Swana [pictured], for his part, has a terrific rapid-fire technique on the trumpet that complements Grant's tone and attack beautifully. Though this CD was recorded earlier this year, it sounds 50 years old, which is exactly how a hard bop album should feel.
The opening track, Junka, says it all. Only someone intimately familiar with hard bop would pick this offbeat Sonny Clark [pictured] composition, and the group executes perfectly. Also included on the album is The Dolphin, a rich showcase for Grant; Barry Harris' Bish Bash Bosh; Hank Mobley's Hankerin' and Tadd Dameron's Good Bait. And that's just part of the CD's tracklist.
What's interesting about the album is that drummer Melito [pictured] delivers the beat with stick-work that smartly allows the drumheads to be heard, which is rare today. Drums actually have a sound, and it takes a sensitive drummer to purposefully tease out the "skin" quality of the instrument. That requires a mind-shift by the artist from "Listen to me, I'm the man" to a more sensitive "I want to tell the listener something." As a result, I actually found myself paying attention and enjoying Melito's figures behind Grant and Swana. On piano, Hofmann's lines are delicate and knowing, allowing for space and message, while bassist Miner and guitarist Sneider keep things interesting. Pay particular attention to Sneider's solo on The Dolphin.
Melito's In the Tradition along with sample tracks can be found here.
Buddy Rich. While doing research for my Johnny Mandel interview series, I came across this page of video clips featuring the incomparable drummer. Scroll down slightly to the thumbnail boxes. But be warned. You'll start clicking on the clips, and the next thing you know a half-hour will have passed. Be sure to leave yourself plenty of time.