Georgie Auld should be better known today, but he isn't. In his prime, he was a furiously swinging tenor saxophonist and leader of some pretty hip bop bands of the '40s. Today, the late reedman is probably best known for appearing in Martin Scorsese's New York, New York (1977) as bandleader Frankie Harte, working as a consultant to help Robert De Niro with his sax fingering and dubbing all the sax solos. That is, if you remember this marginal film. [Pictured: Georgie Auld, circa August 1947]
Auld (born John Altwerger) started out on alto sax in his home town of Toronto, Canada—but when he heard Coleman Hawkins, he switched to the tenor. Auld traveled to New York in the '30s and was playing in Manhattan in 1936 when Bunny Berigan hired him for his band. As a result, Auld is on Berigan's famed recording of I Can't Get Started in August 1937.
In late 1938, Auld joined Artie Shaw's big band and was featured on hot solos. When Shaw abruptly quit his own band in November 1939 for a sabbatical in Mexico, Auld took over the leadership slot. But Auld lacked sufficient charisma to hold the band together and it folded within three months.
In Tom Nolan's Three Chords for Beauty's Sake, his biography of Artie Shaw, Nolan quotes Shaw on Auld:
"At Buddy [Rich's] funeral [in 1987], I'm talking to Mel Brooks, outside the funeral home. And Georgie Auld—he turned out to be a fucking gangster, horrible guy—he comes up: 'You're fulla shit. You're fulla shit.' 'Wadya mean, George? Wadya talkin' about?' I said, 'Is that your considered opinion? Is there anything you want to add to that?'
"George was disappointed he wasn't called on to speak [at Buddy's funeral] and was very angry. 'You're fulla shit.' That's all he could say! Chagrin! What—I dunno, he identified himself with me, and he never could quite make it, as a star, you know, whatever it was. Angered him. Infuriated him. When I quit the music, man [in 1939], I gave him the band; I gave him my book. He could not make it work. He didn't have the quality that it took. Certain people don't."
After Shaw, Auld went on to play with Jan Savitt, Benny Goodman and a revived Shaw band before he entered the Army in 1941. After being discharged in 1944, Auld led his own orchestra—a band that included trumpeter Sonny Berman and saxophonist Al Cohn.
In fact, Auld's bands throughout the '40s were rather spectacular, always featuring sterling talent and solid bop arrangements. Despite Shaw's assessment, Auld could attract and hold onto major players. For example, a 1946 band featured Al Porcino, Manny Fox, Al Aarons, Art House (tp), Rudy DeLuca, Tracy Allen, Mike Datz (tb), Louis Prisby and Gene Zanoni (as), Al Cohn (ts,arr), Irv Roth (ts), Serge Chaloff (bar), Harry Biss (p), Barry Galbraith (b-g), Ed Cunningham (b), Art Mardigan (d) and Lynn Stevens (vcl)—with additional arrangements by Tadd Dameron, Budd Johnson, Hugo Winterhalter and Al Killian. [Photo of Georgie Auld with Serge Chaloff (bs), Red Rodney (tp) and Tiny Kahn (d) in 1947 by William P. Gottlieb]
In 1949, Auld led another great band. This one included Neal Hefti (tp,arr), Billy Byers (tb,arr), Clint Neagley (as), Pete Terry (ts), Gerry Mulligan (bar,arr), Jimmy Rowles (p), Joe Mondragon (b), Alvin Stoller (d), Karl Kiffe (bgo) and Viginia Maxey (vcl), with additional charts by Hal Vernon.
Auld was featured on a range of excellent albums in the '50s, mostly for EmArcy, but he also spent too much time recording dreadful albums for Coral that included a miserable choir. Auld was always a solid player, but some of his best moments came between bebop's emergence and its triumph in the late '40s.
JazzWax tracks: Auld's 1946, 1949 and 1951 bands are all on Georgie Auld 1946-1951 (Classics France), which is here but out of print. There's also an offering at iTunes that features Auld's 1949 band. The hidden album is called By George! Georgie Auld & His Orchestra. There are 10 tracks: So What's New? Sweet Thing, Nashooma, Lullaby in Rhythm, They Didn't Believe Me, Blues for Me, Flying Home, So What Can Be New, You Got Me Jumpin' and Mo-Mo. As best I can tell, it's an Armed Forces Radio Service date recorded live at Hollywood's Empire Room in February 1949.
JazzWax clip: Here's Mo-Mo from June 1946 written by Auld and Neal Hefti with an arrangement by Hefti. The band: Al Porcino, Sonny Rich, George Schwartz (tp) Neal Hefti (tp,arr) Johnny Mandel, Gus Dixon, Mike Datz (tb) Georgie Auld (sop,as,ts,vcl) Sam Zittman, Gene Zanoni (as) Al Cohn (ts,arr) Irv Roth (ts) or Joe Megro (ts) Serge Chaloff (bar) Harvey Leonard (p) Joe Pellicane (b) and Art Mardigan (d)...