We'd know little or nothing about post-World War II jazz or any other form of music if not for the entrepreneurs who developed the technology that made at-home listening possible. One of these audio giants was Edgar ("Eddie") M. Villchur, who died last week in Woodstock, N.Y. He was 95.
In 1954, Villchur invented a small loudspeaker that when enclosed in a cabinet could produce a bass sound as rich as much larger counterparts. When combined in the box with his small dome tweeter, the pairing revolutionized the home audio system. [Photo of Edgar M. Villchur by Rosemary Villchur]
By creating small speakers that could deliver highs and lows with clarity and by nesting them in a compact wood box, Villchur enabled the unit to be mass-produced for home phonograph consoles. The more dynamic sound was an immediate improvement over the tiny, metallic-sounding single speaker entombed in phonographs. As a result, high fidelity could be appealing both to music lovers and those for whom home design took precedence.
In short, this speaker allowed for affordable, highly improved sonic quality just as consumers were shifting to the 12-inch LP record. From the one speaker holding both a woofer and tweeter, stereo was a short hop away. For a New York Times obit of Villchur, go here. For a Stereophile interview, go here.
And Pete Rugolo, as the arranger. Through most of its run in the early '60s, the theme to TV's Leave It to Beaver was a fairly stiff, earnest enterprise. Known as The Toy Parade and composed by David Kehn, Melyvn Leonard and Mort Greene, the sitcom's theme early on was an overly serious, strings-heavy ode to suburban conformity and the harmless hi-jinx of teenage boys. Then, in the show's final season, arranger Pete Rugolo was brought in to give the instrumental some lift. Listen to a few of the early renditions in the following clip, then move the bar to 2:34 to hear what Rugolo did with it. I'm sure that part of my love for jazz and big bands came as a result of being subconsciously groomed by swinging TV themes like Rugolo's...
Hal's pals. Following my post on Hal McKusick's list of jazz musicians of the early '50s who were little known by the public but adored by fellow musicians, JazzWax reader Jack Bowers of Albuquerque, N.M., sent along the following email...
"Angelo Tompros and Ben Lary were in the saxophone section on Willis Conover Presents THE Orchestra, the only album ever recorded by one of the greatest big bands ever to come out of Washington, D.C.
"Also in the section were baritone Jack Nimitz (no introduction needed), tenor saxophonist Jim Parker and alto saxophonist Jim Riley. Several of the charts were by the orchestra’s chief arranger, a young man stationed at a nearby Army base named Bill Potts [pictured].
"Trombonists included the Swope brothers—Earl and Rob—while the trumpeters were Marky Markowitz, Ed Leddy, Charlie Walp and Bob Carey."
Trombone lovers will certainly get a kick out of this video clip of Peanut Vendor sent along by JazzWax reader John Barden...
Brian Wilson and Smile. Domenic Priore is author of two terrific books—Smile: The Story of Brian Wilson's Lost Masterpiece and Riot on Sunset Strip. He also wrote the liner notes to the new Smile Sessions set coming from Capitol on Nov. 1. Domenic sent along the following btw email last week...
"I picked up a promotional gatefold LP edition of Smile from Capitol on Tuesday, complete with sleeve and booklet. On my way home, I had a weird sensation: I felt as though I was back in the '60s bringing a brand new record home. I know that kind of sounds... obvious... but ... seriously, it kind of gave me a goin'-to-the-local-mom & pop-record-shop-on-Saturday goosebumps. It felt really, really weird. Good weird."
Zoot Fest. If you're near East Stroudsburg University in East Stroudsburg, Penn., on Sunday, Nov. 13, Bob Bush of the
Al Cohn Memorial Jazz Collection is hosting a Zoot Sims tribute at the campus' Keystone Room from noon to 6 p.m. Fee: $50 (food and drinks included). Guests will include The Jazz Loft Project author Sam Stephenson and jazz greats Phil Woods, Bob Dorough, Bill Crow, Lew Tabackin, Ronnie Free, Hod O’Brien, Bill Goodwin and the COTA Festival Orchestra playing and reminiscing about Sims. For more information, go here.
CD discoveries of the week. One of the finest vocal CDs I've received in some time is Paul Broadnax's Here's to Joe. This tribute to singer Joe Williams was recorded in 1995 and was produced by the great Donn Trenner, who's also on piano. Herb Pomeroy is here, too, on flugelhorn, along with horn and string sections. Broadnax sounds as nearly pure and as soulful as Williams, with enormous richness and power. I'm not sure whether this album was released back in the '90s and if not, why not. But it's out now—and it's one incredible recording on every level. Dig Imagination, Darn That Dream, the Comeback and Here's to My Lady. This is a perfect album. You'll find it here. More on Paul Broadnax here.
It's impossible to tire of Johnny Cash. His country honesty and saddle-smooth sung stories are gripping and soothing. Sony Legacy has just released Bootleg: Vol III, and the tracks are just as seductive and engaging as the earlier two live-performance packages. On this two-CD set, the folk-rock pioneer is captured in 10 different settings. Included are concerts at the Jamboree in Dallas (1956), New River Ranch in Maryland (1962), the Newport Folk Festival (1964), a USO tour in Vietnam (1969), a semi-surreal Nixon White House performance of Boy Named Sue (1970), a Swedish prison (1972), a CBS convention in Nashville (1973), a Carter Family Virginia date (1976), the Wheeling Jamboree (1976) and the Exit Inn in Nashville (1979). The tracks are warmly remastered and prove once again that Cash should be viewed as Bob Dylan's father, not solely as a Sun slinger. You'll find this one at iTunes and here.
Tenor saxophonist Michael Pedicin has toured with Maynard Ferguson, Dave Brubeck, Stanley Clarke, and Pat Martino, as well as Stevie Wonder and David Bowie. And what a sound he has on Ballads: Searching for Peace (Jazz Hut). It's big and full, with searing determination and grabbing command. His warm, seasoned style jumps out on You Don't Know What Love Is, yielding to an even more tender tone on Hank Mobley's Home at Last. On Wayne Shorter's Virgo, Pedicin shifts again. This is reflective, patient music that's perfect for autumn, in all its introspective glory. You'll find this one at iTunes and here. For more on Michael Pedicin, go here.
Leon Greening knows how to caress a keyboard. The British jazz pianist's new CD, Cookin' in Brooklyn (Leopard) is confident without pounding or driving the listener to the wall. Each track offers a tasty example of how the jazz piano should be played—assertively yet with tender grace and eyebrow-raising ideas. Sample Waterloo, The Summit and I Want to Be Wanted. Many thanks to JazzWax reader Don Emanuel for hipping me to Greening's scene. You'll find this one at iTunes or here. More on Leon Greening here.
Reedman James L. Dean leads the Whiskey Cafe Jazz Quintet on These Things We Dig (Cexton) The group plays regularly at its namesake Lyndhurst, N.J. club. What's cool about this band, in addition to its spunky playing, are the selected songs. Pretty gutsy choices: Hank Mobley's This I Dig of You, John Coltrane's Satellite, Benny Golson's Park Avenue Petite, Dave Liebman's Dancing on Bird's Grave, Chick Corea's The Loop and Friends, Thelonious Monk's Ask Me Now, Thad Jones' Fingers, Antonio Carlos Jobim's No More Blues, Eddie "Lockjaw" Davis' Jaws and a Dean original. Yeah, I know. Any one of them could have been a sinker. But the band pulls off each one smartly. You'll find this one here (scroll down to the yellow box, where there are three sample tracks).
Oddball album cover of the week. Richard Hayman is a conductor and harmonica player who started out in the Borrah Minnevitch Harmonica Rascals, arranged at Metro Goldwyn Mayer and spent more than 30 years orchestrating for the Boston Pops. As you can see, this cover clearly was designed in Freedonia, where art directors have been trained to avoid relating images to album themes. What's more, there are no musicians in Freedonia, so tarty dancers traditionally cut the rug to the brush strokes of pie-eyed portrait painters.