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January 10, 2011

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Mike DiMartino

Tremendous interview...and most inspiring to me. Thank you! You see, I think I share much in common with Marty. Also a trumpeter, I, then barely age 20, toured and recorded with Mongo while Marty was our chief composer / arranger. Marty might remember me as a punk in need of serious attitude adjustment--well, I had some emmotional issues... Looking back, I now see Marty as a role model professional. Marty always had a smile and friendly greeting for you; always upbeat, a pleasure to be around. Looking at the studio photo, one can see that Marty has retained those qualities today.

Like Marty, I turned to orchestration as my main expression, though do still play. As I'm in my '50s, this is happening very late for me (though I had dabbled with arranging since taking up trumpet in 1963--and of course my many years in Latin music has forever influence my writing). Thus I look to exemplaries like Marty, and those greats who've inspired him, for inspiration. And to add to those names--and this CD should be required listening for all jazz arrangers!-- I suggest DONALD BYRD WITH STRINGS. This was Clare Fischer's very first arranging session, recorded in 1957, a year after Brownie's fatal car accident. In tribute to Clifford, Donald Byrd begins the album where Clifford left off--with "Stardust" the last tune on Brownie's Hefti EmArcy classic. Sadly, this tribute was shelved by Warner Brothers for some 25 years, until Discovery issued it on LP around 1982 (currently on Lonehill CD--I reviewed it on Amazon). When I heard Clare Fischer's phenominal orchestrations, I knew then in '82, if I ever did a strings album, THAT'S the sound I'd strive for: sheer orchestral tapestry--strings augmented by woodwinds and horns. And talk about absolutely gorgeous alternate changes!

I had feared my style was maybe too "retro." But after reading this interview, I have renewed enthusiasm and confidence. It was reassuring to learn that Marty and I share some of the same 1950s style string writer influences. The most inpiring comment he made was when he said, "I love what Eddie Sauter did with strings on Stan Getz’ Focus album in 1961, but that’s not the kind of music I hear."

In other words, Marty writes as he hears and feels it. An artist has to be true to their convictions, no matter what is currently trending or fashionable. Again this interview inspires me to stick to what I know, my influences, how I hear things.

I would add that "retro" is among current trends, actually. I heard a Michael Bubble tune on the radio. Damn, like Nelson Riddle himself arranged it! Real orchestral command there, wow.

If I may expound on Marc Myers' opening comments looking back on how strings were used in jazz, I would only add, as he touched on, the jazz cats avoided strings for fear of sounding syrupy or to classical. Strings weren't conceived as hip accompaniment. I'm sure many arrangers knew strings could be written for so as to make them more cool or modern jazz sounding. The Harry James--Artie Shaw--Tommy Dorsey style strings were for those times and were beautifully written with consumate skillI. But for jazz, it would just be a matter of time until the right arrangers came along who would overcome the syrupy stereotype--which unfortunately still persists today. Many jazz musicians just won't even listen to anything with strings on it. Hey, just check out DONALD BYRD / CLARE FISCHER AND STRINGS. And while you're at it, give a good listen to this Joe Magnereli / Marty Sheller CD. VERY nice! Especially "The Duke" in latin tempo.

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  • Marc Myers writes frequently on music and the arts for the Wall Street Journal. He is author of "Why Jazz Happened" (University of California Press). In 2012, JazzWax was named the Jazz Journalists Association's "Blog of the Year."

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