In the 1950s, Bill Holman was largely a mighty big band saxophonist and arranger. But occasionally, he broke away and led sensitive small-group recording sessions. In May and June of 1958, Bill recorded with a quintet for Hollywood's Andex Records, a Keen subsidiary founded by John and Alex Siamas in 1957. John Siamas had made his money in the aerospace industry and started a series of short-lived labels as a business hobby. The labels didn't last long.
The small-group album was Jive for Five and featured Lee Katzman (tp), Bill Holman (ts, bar), Jimmy Rowles (p), Wilfred Middlebrooks (b) and Mel Lewis (d). What makes this album special are the tasteful and subtle instrumental personalities of each player and the fact that we can hear them all distinctly. Here, Bill is out in the open and his sound and solos are delightfully exposed. You get to fully appreciate Bill's big, confident, smokey tone and how artfully he navigates his solos.
Katzman [above] isn't especially well known by East Coast jazz fans but he was a huge, tangy presence in Stan Kenton's orchestra of the 1950s. On this quintet date, he blows a soft-sizzling horn. Katzman, who wound up a member of the Baja Marimba Band in the '60s, died last August. Rowles, Middlebrooks and Lewis add luster and lushness to the tracks. Middlebrooks is also little known—he appeared on only 54 career sessions from 1950 to 1992, but mostly with Ella Fitzgerald in the '50s and pianist Paul Smith and drummer Frank Capp on Smith's leadership dates in the '60s and beyond. He died in 2008 at age 74.
On each of the six tracks, Bill's conversational cool and Katzman's delicate heat, supported by the breezy rhythm section, capture your ear as though all were seated around a dinner table swapping terrific stories. Bill not only knew what to say, he also knew whom to invite to the party. To this day, Jive for Five remains a perfect album.
JazzWax tracks: You'll find the impossibly beautiful Jive for Five for $5.94 here.
JazzWax clips: Here's Bill and the group on Jive for Five...
Here's Lee Katzman on the Merv Griffin Band...
And here's Kathryn King's Kickstarter drive to raise funds on behalf of a documentary on Bill's career. Fingers crossed.