JazzWax List: With Strings - JazzWax

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May 25, 2010


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Ed Leimbacher

Marc, given the dozen you chose, you might more accurately have said "Recorded for Norman Granz" (and his prior-to-Verve labels Clef and Norgran) since about half of the selections were. For too many years Granz got the bad rap for forcing Parker's participation, when in fact Bird was eager to string along and "elevate" his sax solos orchestrally. And though those first awkward experiments were inadequate at best, look what elegant results they led to... Still and all, Focus gets my vote.

By the way, Gordon Jenkins' lush, lusher, lushest string arrangements (for Sinatra, Cole, and others) were always a bit over the top. I guess he just liked syrup. (The cover photo of Jenkins and Royal makes them look like a couple of Brit pretenders.)


Suggest adding Jim Snidero's 2003 recording on Milestone "Strings" to your list. Excellent arrangements and some very fine saxophone playing.

Larry Kart

Illinois Jacquet's "Bosses of the Ballad," recorded for Argo in 1964, now coupled on one Lonehill CD (under the "Bosses of Ballad" title) with a 1965 Cadet Jacquet album, "Spectrum." The material with strings is all Cole Porter songs, with striking arrangements by Tom McIntosh and Benny Golson.

One caveat -- one half of "Spectrum" (i.e. a quarter of the entire album) is an excellent small group date with a fine rhythm section (Patti Bowen, George Duvivier, Grady Tate, and Candido); the remainder of "Spectrum" is pop-ish/cheesy. On the whole, though, a gem. Jacquet himself is in excellent form.

Doug Payne

As always, a noteworthy post very well presented, Marc. I would add two or three favorites of my own, ALL produced by Norman Granz and featuring the under-appreciated string writing of Russ Garcia: "Buddy DeFranco and Oscar Peterson Play George Gershwin" (1954), "In A Romantic Mood" by Oscar Peterson with Strings (1955) and "That Warm Feeling" by Russell Garcia and Strings with Roy Eldridge. Ed's suggestion of adding Jim Snidero's wonderful "Strings" is a great one - especially as its somewhat more of a recent effort successfully blending jazz soloists with strings.

Mike Milner

I would respectfully add another recording to your list Mark, Art Pepper's "Winter Moon". An absolutely beautiful session. Keep up the great work my friend!


Great, Marc! I did not know about many of these, including the Stitt, Carney, Royal recordings.

Might I add to your list: Donald Byrd with Strings (arranged/conducted by Clare Fischer), 1957 and recently released on CD (Lonehill-Spain). Here's the editorial comments from amazon.com:

ditorial Reviews
Product Description
Donald Byrd's Only Recording With Strings For The First Time Ever On CD! Includes The Complete Album: Discovery's LP September Afternoon Also Contains As Bonus Tracks: The Complete Transition LP Byrd Blows On Beacon Hill Total Time: 70:15 Donald Byrd and Clare Fischer's 1957 New York studio collaboration is important for several reasons. For one, it marks Fischer's first recording since January 1953, as well as his debut as the sole arranger for an album. It is equally important for Donald Byrd, as it remains the only album that the trumpeter ever made with string accompaniment. While the majority of the personnel for the orchestra remains unknown, we do know that in addition to Byrd's trumpet and Clare scher's piano and arrangements, the concert master was Gene Orloff, Harry Lookofsky played violin, Julius Baker was on the flute, Romeo Penque played clarinet, Milt Hinton was on the bass and Osie Johnson played drums. Also included on this outstanding release is a New York, May 7, 1956 quartet session featuring the trumpeter backed by pianist Ray Santisi, bassist Doug Watkins and drummer Jimmy Zitano. Although this date varies greatly from Donald Byrd & Clare Fischer's session with strings, we have decided to include it here in its entirety as bonus tracks, due to the date's equally unusual format. While Byrd recorded countless CDs in a quintet or sextet setting, the May 7,1956 date is one of only two sessions that Byrd recorded as a leader in a quartet setting. Lonehilljazz. 2006

Thanks again for unearthing the gems mentioned today and a special thank you bringing to our attention, Hank O'Neal's website, blog, photography and books.


Bill Routt

If string quartet backings are included you can add Lee Konitz' wonderful "Motion".

In spite of Gunther Schuller, who said that it was NOT "jazz with strings", you might also want to consider some "third stream" music under this heading. Apparently some people consider "Focus" a third stream composition. How about "The Skies of America"?

John P. Cooper

Gordon Jenkins wrote beautiful string charts. It is sad to see them demeaned here as "syrupy".

OTOH - Parker's string charts are just monotonous hack work.


Suggest something new and beautiful: Steve Kuhn with Strings - Promises Kept (ECM 1815)

Sid Gribetz

Another beauty for your "With Strings" list for your readers:

Gary Smulyan With Strings
Criss Cross 1129

Ed Leimbacher

And to think that monotonous hack work (strictly for the Bird's) launched all this... Amazing what sixty years of recording can do.

Rab Hines

Late to the party, but I second Mr. Milner's mention of Art Pepper's "Winter Moon"

Steve Provizer

Bobby Hackett managed to transcend fairly treacly string arrangements on a number of recordings. I don't know all the recordings you and others have cited, but of those I do know, I'd also cast my vote for "Focus."

John Ludlow

I believe one of the best "with strings" album is Hal McKusick's "In a Twentieth Century Drawing Room."

John Salmon

Musicians didn't tend to like Jenkins' writing, which did lean towards schmaltz, but Sinatra did do sveral of his best albums with Gordon nonetheless, including "September of My Years", "She Shot Me Down" (Frank's last strong album, from 1981 or so), and FS's best Christmas album, "A Jolly Christmas from Frank Sinatra."

I'd much rather hear Riddle or May, but Frank seemed to dig Jenkins as well.

Joel Lewis

This is a bit obscure -- but the great Finnish tenor player Juhani Aalatonen recorded two astonishing albums called Strings (76) & Strings Revisited (03). Both were arranged by Henrik Otto Donner & the latter features Reggie Workman on bass & Andrew Cyrille on drums. AAltonen is highly respected in European circles & is best known here for the albums he did on ECM with fellow Finn drummer Edward Vesela. Hard edged, non-romantic work leaning towards the outside. A good source for the fertile Finnish jazz scene is the Digelius shop in Helsinki, which has an online presence

Larry Kart

That excellent Lee Konitz with string quartet record mentioned by Bill Routt above is not "Motion" (no strings there, only Konitz, bassist Sonny Dallas, and either Elvin Jones or Nick Stabulas on drums) but "An Image." Bill Russo compositions/arrangements. AFAIK, the members of the string quartet on "An Image" are unidentified, which is a shame.

Hiroyasu Minowa

Hank Crawford "Soul of the Ballad" ! The arrangement is great Marty Paich and the tunes are good; The Wispering Grass, Anytime, Time Out for Tears,,,,,,

O'Sullivan, "Red"

...but no Robert Farnon!!!!!!!!! You gotta have Farnon, and I nominate the 2 records he wrote for Shearing ("On Target", '81, and "How Beautiful Is Night" c. '93) and the amazing record he wrote for J.J. Johnson, "Tangence".
Also, his brother, Denis Farnon's record for Phineas Newborn Jnr is a masterpiece.
Bill Finnegan's Ellington record for Sonny Stitt is a big favourite in my house too (although the Stitt record you nominated is pure gold).
Also, I adore what Michel Legrand wrote for Bud Shank, for Phil Woods ("Images", a bone-fide masterwork) and that amazingly rich Stan Getz "Communications '72".
For Getz/Eddie Sauter I wouldn't be without the soundtrack to "Mickey One". I think I prefer it even to "Focus".
You know that Charlie Shavers and strings record? That's a good one!
And my favourite Ben Webster and strings record is the one Johnny Richards wrote for him, "The Warm Moods". Marvellous record. My favouite Coleman Hawkins strings date is the one with Billy Byers (who also wrote such appealing sounds for an Hampton Hawes strings date that mightn't neccesarily be a great record, but nevertheless).
Ogermann's 2 records (especially "Symbiosis") for Bill Evans, of course, are mandatory, but there's a quasi-jazz record he wrote for Jan Ackerman, "Aranjues", that has his string writing at its most exposed and beautiful ever (and a record he wrote for Freddie Hubbard has an astonishingly beautiful "Lazy Afternoon").
Oh, and I love Torrie Zito's writing for Moody on "James Moody and Strings" on Argo. Gorgeous.
But Farnon is King!


Joe Lovano's "Rush Hour" arranged by Gunther Schuller si a masterpiece.

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  • Marc Myers writes regularly for The Wall Street Journal and is author of "Anatomy of a Song" (Grove) and "Why Jazz Happened." Founded in 2007, JazzWax is a two-time winner of the Jazz Journalists Association's best blog award.

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