Saxophonist Hal McKusick is on some of the finest New York recording sessions of the '50s. His reputation for reading music perfectly the first time, no matter how complex, spread quickly among fellow musicians and those in charge of assembling them for recordings. Hal could always be counted on to swing, lead a big-band reed section and deliver smooth solos. It also helped that Hal was a supremely confident player, a virtuoso on virtually every reed and woodwind instrument, and as easy-going as a June breeze.
From a collector's standpoint, 1956 was a particularly golden year for Hal. We recently spoke on the phone about his recording work that year as a sideman and leader, and Hal was as amazed as I was by the sheer number. To give you a sense of his busy recording schedule in '56, here's a list of his 27 sessions that year—all of which are top-shelf recordings with many of the finest East Coast jazz studio and club musicians:
- We Could Make Such Beautiful Music—George Williams and His Orchestra (January 11-13)
- The Hawk in Hi-Fi—Coleman Hawkins (January 18)
- Plays Tiny Kahn and Johnny Mandel—Elliott Lawrence (January 30-February 2)
- Drummer Man—Gene Krupa (February 12)
- Jazz Workshop—Hal McKusick (March 3 and April 3-4)
- A Mellow Bit of Rhythm—Andy Kirk (March 4 and 12)
- The Drum Suite—Manny Albam (March 5-7)
- Johnny Mathis (March)
- The Jazz Workshop—George Russell (March 31, October 17 and December 21)
- A Bit of the Blues—Osie Johnson (April 7)
- Larry Sonn and His All-Star Band—Larry Sonn (April 10-11)
- Rhythm Was His Business—George Williams (April 23-28)
- The Mellow Moods of Jazz—Peanuts Hucko (May)
- Kansas City Memories—Nat Pierce (June)
- Manhattan Jazz Septet—(June)
- To You From Teddi King—Teddi King (June 9)
- Swinging at the Steel Pier—Elliott Lawrence (June 16-21)
- All About Urbie Green—Urbie Green (July 31-August 5 and 23)
- Gil's Guests—Gil Melle (August 10 and 24)
- Erroll Garner With Orchestra—Erroll Garner (September 2)
- Swingin'—Terry Gibbs (October 1, 2 and 8)
- Shepard's Flock—Tommy Shepard (October 1-3)
- In a Swingin' Mood—Ann Gilbert and Elliott Lawrence (October)
- Jazz at the Academy—Hal McKusick (November 3)
- Larry Sonn and His Orchestra—Larry Sonn (November 20)
- The Swingin' Miss D—Dinah Washington (December 6)
- Hal McKusick Quintet—Hal McKusick (December 31)
JazzWax clip: Johnny Mathis' first session for Columbia was in 1956 and featured Bernie Glow (tp), Ben Harrod (oboe), Ray Beckenstein (fl), Hal McKusick (cl,as), Danny Bank (b-cl), Eddie Costa (p,vib), Barry Galbraith (g), Milt Hinton (b) and Osie Johnson (d). Manny Albam wrote the arrangements.
One of the four tracks recorded that March was I'm Glad There Is You, with Hal McKusick on alto saxophone behind Mathis. To hear the track and Hal's alto sax for free, go here.
You'll find the track at iTunes or here on Johnny Mathis: 40th Anniversary Edition. The track is incorrectly listed at Amazon as the Percy Faith version. That one came later and had strings.