In August 1988, trombonist and educator Ashley Alexander went for a walk in the woods at a jazz camp in Saskatchewan, Canada and never returned. When camp officials searched for Alexander, they found his body nearby. The 52-year-old music professor at Mt. San Antonio College in Walnut, Calif. reportedly had a history of heart trouble.
While in Los Angeles seven years earlier, Alexander and his big band recorded Secret Love for AM-PM Records, a venture of producer Albert Marx. The album remains a document of how top clinic bands of the period sounded, and it captures a lost light at the top of his game. Alexander was probably most famous for playing the double trombone—with valves and a slide—which the Holton Company made in the '70s and Maynard Ferguson and Alexander mastered.
Born in Oklahoma, Alexander's father played organ in the local church and jazz piano on Saturday nights. Alexander picked up the trombone in school and played in Western swing bands in his teens, even working for a year in a band of the Barnum & Bailey Circus.
After graduating from college, Alexander worked in the big bands of Teddy Phillips, Ralph Marterie, Tex Beneke and Glenn Miller. He soon began teaching high school in Oklahoma, and then enrolled at North Texas State for an advanced degree in trombone performance.
The first seven tracks on Secret Love featured Jim Linahon, John Harbaugh, Tom Gause, David Alexander and John Thomas (tp); Bill Yeager, Charles Stolfus, Jeff Tower and Lee Gause (tb); Ashley Alexander (tb,ldr); Matt Catingub, Keith Squires, Gordon Goodwin, Matt Datillo and Dan Barilone (saxes); Frank Mantooth (p); Les Johnson (g); Bob Bowman (b); Nick Ceroli (d;) and Tony Villa and Mark Villa (perc).
The last two tracks were recorded in March 1981 and featured Mark Capalbo, Rick Cox, Jeff Owen, Yvonne Christine and Gabe Tafoya (tp); Gary Smith, Rob Loomis, Louise Stoneman and John Sandhagen (tb); Scott Eilers (tb-1); Ashley Alexander (double-tb,bar); Ralph Correa, Daniel Garcia, Kevin Downing, Sue Bryan and Dan Barilone (saxes); Mark Ellis Stephens (p); Donn Cary Boyd (g); Gary Unitt (b); Scott Moreno (d); John Berry (perc,b-2) and Paul Justi and Joe Schiff (perc).
In all, Alexander recorded on 17 albums—incuding Back to Birdland with Freddie Hubbard. In nearly all cases, the albums were big band dates. On Secret Love, the arrangements showcased the band's youthful energy and Alexander's forceful and honey-toned trombone. He also was versatile. On It Mostly Bees That Way, Sigmund Floyd, a song by Phil Wilson, Alexander plays double trombone (also known as the Superbone) and overdubs baritone sax.
Though Alexander had barely begun his career as a mature player, he left his mark on this album. The first seven tracks out of nine were inventively arranged by Frank Mantooth, the band's pianist. Hopefully someone will re-issue this one on CD. [Pictured above: Frank Mantooth]
A JazzWax thanks to David Langner.
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