Danny Bank (1922-2010), a revered baritone saxophonist who anchored the reed sections of many leading big bands of the 1940s and 1950s, and appeared on more recording sessions than Gerry Mulligan, died on June 5 in Queens, N.Y. He was 88.
Danny was one of my first interviews after starting JazzWax in August 2007. Intrigued by seeing his name on so many of my favorite albums, I decided to track him down for an interview. I found him in the Oakland Gardens of Queens, N.Y. On the phone, Danny immediately sensed someone who was a big fan and gave me as much time as I needed and was happy to talk whenever I called. Though his sight was failing and he was housebound in a wheelchair, Danny's mind and memory were razor sharp.
Over the course of several interviews on different subjects (see the right-hand column under "JazzWax Interviews"), Danny painted a picture of the jazz studio scene in New York as a tough, industrious environment where musicians always had to be on their game for fear that another musician might be called instead to fill the seat. Danny's ambition and survivalist instincts led him to master not only the baritone saxophone but also the flute, the bass clarinet, the clarinet, alto flute, piccolo and virtually all reeds, saxes and woodwinds.
On the baritone, Danny could get an enormous sound out of the instrument, often forcing studio engineers to run sound checks on him before recording began. What made Danny doubly astonishing as a heavy hitter in the jazz studio world was his disability. Stricken with polio as a child, Danny wore metal braces on his legs. Despite the discomfort and restrictive nature of the cumbersome support, Danny was never late to a recording session nor did he make excuses. He was an impeccable musician who was highly regarded by record producers and his studio peers.
"Danny was amazing," recalls alto saxophonist Hal McKusick [pictured], who played with Danny on many recording sessions. "Early on, before he hired an assistant, I always wondered how Danny managed to carry so many heavy instruments to dates with that kind of disability. I carried a fair number of instruments myself, and they were cumbersome for me. One day I asked Danny, and he told me he did extensive upper-body exercise with weights to stay in shape."
Danny was always at ease emotionally and happy to lend support, which is probably why he was such a revered teacher. Whenever I spoke with Danny, I sensed I was in the company of someone who knew his business inside and out. Never boastful and always understated and humble, Danny was firm and supremely sure of himself.
"I remember Danny and I were on a recording session playing a tricky Gil Evans arrangement," says Hal. "I was playing flute, and my part called for a high B trilling to a C. I turned to Danny before we started and said, 'Man, how am I going to get to the C after hitting that B?' Danny said, 'Just play the high B and wiggle your finger. So I did, and there was the C [laughing]."
Here's Danny, from my first interview, on how he came to be on so many recording sessions:
"I was working so often back then I'd get called to play on several recording dates a day. They'd hire me because I was a strong reader. I saved them overtime. They didn’t have to deal with extra costs because I didn’t make mistakes. I also was close friends with one of the busiest copyists in New York at the time. The copyist was the guy who wrote the sheet music for each player from the arranger's score. Whenever there was a big date coming up, he would tip me off."
Danny didn't have a computer, so after each interview was posted at JazzWax, I'd print out a color copy and mail it to him. Then the next time I'd call, Danny would spend the first few minutes talking about how much he had enjoyed reading the post and how thrilled he was that someone remembered him and his contribution. Danny knew how good he was. He just never bothered to say so.
I miss Danny. For more on Danny, go here.
As a tribute, here's Charlie Parker with a big band playing Night and Day. Parker personally picked Danny for this session (see post here). Listen to Danny's walrus-sized notes on the baritone at 2:44 and 2:45 into the clip...
David Amram. Following my posted interview with David Amram on Bobby Jaspar last week here, David sent along the following gracious note...
"Thank you for the fine interview about Bobby Jaspar, and also getting what I said right (and correcting two dates I gave you that were wrong and fact-checking two dates that I told you I wasn't sure of).
"In an age of misinformation and disinformation, you are doing a great service to this amazing music we call jazz by documenting so many fine artists, including those like Bobby Jaspar, who left us way too soon.
"And thanks for spending the time to present it in a way that is a pleasure to read and not wasting a word while doing so. Keep doing your fine work.
"Also a big shout-out for the outstanding artwork. Straight ahead...no chaser!!!"
"Interesting post, and I agree with you about the jazz-disco connection. Part of the LP that I co-produced for Astrud Gilberto in 1977 called That Girl From Ipanema included disco tracks recorded in Philadelphia. Vibraphonist Vince Montana arranged four of the charts, and we mixed those tracks at Sigma, which was the hot disco studio at the time.
"For the album, we used four bands and four arrangers—Vince [pictured], Don Sebesky, Ben Aronov and Al Gorgini. Each band was made up of about 14 musicians plus strings and percussion. Musicians on the date included George Young, Urbie Green, Jimmy Knepper, Ron Carter, Phil Bodner, Bernie Glow, Chet Baker, Gene Bertoncini, Jack Wilkins and Victor Paz,
"In short, all the jazz studio heavies at the time were there, and all the Montana songs were disco oriented."
Slim Gaillard. Today, Sid Gribetz of WKCR-NY presents a five-hour radio broadcast celebrating singer-songwriter and pianist-guitarist Slim Gaillard from 2 to 7 p.m. (EDT). You can tune in anywhere in the world on your computer by going here.
Blog-o-rama. Blogger Doug Payne at Sound Insights has a fine appraisal post of Marvin Gaye's jazz influences here... Ed Leimbacher at I Witness turns his attention to reggae, particularly one-drop rhythm of the 1970s here.
CD discoveries of the week. One of the more exciting new big-band albums I've heard this year is Jack Cortner's Sound Check. In the Rob McConnell tradition, Sound Check is clean and lyrical, with an emphasis on band section playing. Best of all, the CD features the crisp trumpet and warm flugelhorn of Marvin Stamm. The album features standards and a few Cortner originals.
Speak Low is taken uptempo, with a soft bossa beat, while Herbie Hancock's Cantaloupe Island has a big, brassy funk snap. Included in the reed section is Jerry Dodgion [pictured], who has been recording since 1954. In the trombones is Tony Studd, whose first recording was the Incredible Kai Winding Trombones, the third album released on the Impulse label in 1960. Jay Berliner on guitar has been around for some time as well, recording with Charles Mingus in 1963.
This is a smart big band album, and Cortner had the good sense to seek out some seasoned hands to ensure the session had the old time religion.
You'll find Sound Check (Jazzed Media) at iTunes or here.
John Goldsby's big warm bass is always a welcome sound. On his new album, The Innkeeper's Gun, John takes an experimental approach, with music coming very close to free jazz. Mentored by Red Mitchell, John is originally from Kentucky but now lives in Germany. On this album, he's joined by alto saxophonist Jacob Duncan and drummer Jason Tiemann.
Kicking off the album is Lady Gaga's Paparazzi, which in the hands of this trio sounds more like late Charles Mingus than Stefani Germanotta. John's More Than Something also heads off in interesting directions.
You'll find John Goldsby's Innkeeper's Gun (Bass Lion) at iTunes and here.
Oddball album cover of the week. Positioned as an adult- contemporary album, this 1958 LP for ABC Paramount featured Auld playing a moody tenor. Given the fact that Auld was more naturally a hard-driving swinger, one wonders whether these blue, bar "babies" are sax-relaxed or actually blasé on rosé.