The big band era didn't come to an end at the end of World War II. People just stopped dancing to them. In the late '40s fans went to theaters and concert halls to hear bands, and in the '50s they listened to them on LP. In the early '60s, with the rise of pop-rock in the States, bands went off to Europe on lengthy tours—thanks to lifting of bans on American artists by musicians' unions there starting in '61 that allowed them to work there for extensive periods. [Pictured above: Kenny Clarke]
Some big bands started outside the U.S. One notable example was the Kenny Clarke-Francy Boland Big Band—which was formed in '60 by American expatriate drummer Clarke, Belgian pianist Boland [pictured] and former Ellington bassist Jimmy Woode. The band lasted just over 10 years and recorded more than 20 albums. Solos were spread among the 13 all-star musicians, and the band's charts were often intricate and laced with European flavor.
Charts were most often written by Boland, a classically trained composer who spent a chunk of the '50s in the U.S. The band's first album was Jazz Is Universal (Atlantic), recorded in December 1961 in Cologne, Germany. As the Atlantic album's liner notes by public relations maven Bob Altshuler point out, musicians from seven countries were in the band—six from the U.S., two from England while one each from France, Belgium, Sweden, Turkey and Austria.
Here's the sterling lineup: Benny Bailey, Roger Guerin, Jimmy Deuchar and Maffy Falay (tp); Nat Peck and Ake Persson (tb); Derek Humble (as); Zoot Sims and Karl Drevo (ts); Sahib Shihab (bar, fl); Francy Boland (p,arr); Jimmy Woode (b) and Kenny Clarke (d).
It took a year and a half to plan this recording due to the jagged schedules of the musicians and the need for rehearsals. During the time that elapsed, Boland wrote and arranged many of the tunes. Listening back to the album more than 50 years later, it's remarkable how fresh and modern the material sounds.
Among the notable solos are those by tenor saxophonist Drevo on Gloria, Shahib's flute and Sims's tenor sax on Charon's Ferry, pianist Boland on Valutes and Bailey, Shihab, Drevo and Sims on James Moody's Last Train From Overbrook. But truly, there isn't a bad composition on the entire album.
The Kenny Clarke-Francy Boland Big Band's sophisticated sound paved a courageous new course. Among the modernist bands that were formed during the early '60s were Gerry Mulligan's Concert Jazz Band in '60 (both Clarke and Boland played in the band) and the Thad Jones-Mel Lewis Orchestra in '65. The Kenny Clarke-Francy Boland band was jammed with all-star talent who spoke the same musical language and performed accordingly—harmonious together, monsters apart. [Pictured above: trumpeter-arranger Thad Jones and drummer Mel Lewis]
JazzWax tracks: You're in luck: Jazz Is Universal is available as a download at Amazon for $4.83. How long it remains there at that price is anyone's guess. You'll find it here.
JazzWax clip: Here's Francy Boland's arrangement of Last Train From Overbrook...