The U.S. had Glenn Miller and Stan Kenton. The U.K. had Ted Heath, who combined both sounds. Born in 1902, Heath played trombone in jazz bands from the 1920s through the mid-1940s, when he formed his own big band on D-Day in 1944. Inspired by Miller's Army Air Force Band, with its precision and dramatic moodiness, Heath grew in popularity after the war, incorporating Kenton's explosiveness and performing every Sunday at London's Palladium.
Then came Heath's 1956 tour of the U.S. that kicked his reputation up several notches. Negotiating a groundbreaking deal with the American Federation of Musicians, Heath was allowed to perform in the States with Nat King Cole, June Christy and the Four Freshmen—playing 43 concerts in 30 cities in 31 days. Though Heath never became a household name in the U.S., he recorded ferociously in London up until his death at age 67 in 1969.
For much of 1948—as bebop's popularity neared its zenith—American musicians were prohibited by their union from recording. That year, Heath commissioned Tadd Dameron to write arrangements for his band, which was remarkably ambitious and proficient. Dameron penned a batch for Heath—including his Lyonia written for Heath, Hoagy Carmichael's The Nearness of You, Roy Kral's Euphoria and his own So Easy. Earlier, George Shearing had written the arrangement to Dameron's Ladybird.
These five arrangements wound up on singles recorded in London in 1949. To create a concert atmosphere, Heath's theme—Listen to My Music—opened and closed a reissue of the album. [Pictured above: Tadd Dameron]
As always, Dameron's bop arrangements here are noble and hip. They also are fairly difficult, with sections constantly moving in and out and intersecting every now and then with the song's melody. Interestingly, So Easy is virtually the same arrangement that Dameron wrote for Artie Shaw's 1949 band—but taken at a faster and more engaging clip.
This album shows off the Heath orchestra's crisp style and the ease with which it could play big-band bop in '49. Britain was devastated economically after World War II and it would take until the 1960s before U.K. households began to recover financially. Throughout the '50s, Heath kept the the British in good spirits, proving that the country's homegrown answer to the Miller and Kenton bands could indeed keep up.
JazzWax tracks: You'll find Ted Heath Plays Tadd Dameron here.
JazzWax clip: Here's Tadd Dameron's arrangement of Ladybird for Ted Heath's orchestra in '49...
JazzWax treat: I came across a YouTube link that will let you listen to all 12 tracks of Ted Heath's Kern for Moderns—a terrific album from the '50s that demonstrates his band's tight style and Heath's awesome taste. Go here.