One of the hot new trends by record companies is going back into label vaults to find superb albums that have been completely forgotten or overlooked. Real Gone Music has been doing a terrific job at mining vinyl—particularly with country, folk and pop recordings from the late '60s and early '70s. Another company busy combing the archives is ABKCO, which has been excavating its Cameo-Parkway label. One of ABKCO's latest releases is Jimmy Wisner: Time and Space—a jazz-pop album of tracks by a pianist who is virtually unknown today.
The reason Wisner isn't a household name is because for decades the Philadelphia-born independent producer operated behind the scenes in recording studios on jazz, pop-rock and pop-soul dates as well as on film scores. To insiders, Wisner is known as "The Wiz," having produced, arranged, written and/or conducted more than 100 hit records—earning 36 Gold and 22 Platinum awards. [Pictured from left: John Madara, Joey Heatherton, Dave White and Jimmy Wisner]
With offices at the famed 888 Eighth Ave. in New York in the '60s, Wisner worked with artists including Nat Adderley, Tony Bennett, Vivian Reed, Mel Torme, Cissy Houston, Judy Collins, Tommy James and the Shondells, Al Kooper, Esther Phillips, Miriam Makeba, Herbie Mann, Carly Simon, Barbra Streisand and many others. [Photo above from Billboard, 1966]
Among my favorite Wisner pop-rock arrangements and productions are the Cowsills' The Rain, the Park & Other Things, Len Barry's 1-2-3, The Tymes' So Much in Love, Randy & the Rainbows' Denise, and Tommy James and the Shondells' I Think We're Alone Now (yeah, given my Monday post, it's True Confessions week).
After the Beatles arrived in 1964, the classically trained Wisner, who had recorded as a jazz pianist, was especially deft at adapting the new big-beat sound for solo acts and pop-rock bands. On many of these New York recordings, Wisner likely used studio musicians to create professional-sounding singles for stage artists who may not have been able to pull off what he wrote. Wisner [pictured] was also head of Columbia A&R between 1968 and 1969.
On the newly released Time and Space, Wisner rolls up his sleeves and plays jazz piano, and rather well I might add. But rather than re-issue Wisner's complete Cast Your Fate to the Wind and The Girl From Ipanema albums recorded in 1963, ABKCO chose to pluck the instrumentals from them. I can't tell you whether or not that was a wise decision, since I don't own either album. But I can tell you that what is on this CD is tasty and swinging. [Pictured above, Scarlet Rivera, Clarence Clemons and Jimmy Wisner at New York's Record Plant in 1978]
All the tracks were composed and arranged by Wisner, and he was recorded in trio and septet settings—though the group sounds larger because Wisner overdubbed himself playing strings, horns and harp. Among the standout sidemen here are Don Shelton on flute and Vince Montana on vibes.
Sample Jasmine. If I were doing a late-night radio show, this would be my theme. Also dig the Shearingesque Kimberly and Spanish Jazz.
"Jimmy turned out to be a very straight-laced, middle-aged professional. He was a sophisticated, well-schooled musician and loved the idea of highbrow arrangements over three-chord rock and roll. The Beatles may have had George Martin but we had Jimmy."
JazzWax tracks: You'll find Jimmy Wisner's Time and Space at iTunes and Amazon here.
JazzWax clip: Here's Jimmy Wisner's arrangement of Dee Dee Warwick's Don't You Ever Give Up on Me from 1967. Dig the orchestral workup of the big-beat sound...