Over the course of his career, Gene Roland appeared on 230 recording sessions either as an instrumentalist or arranger. He began recording in 1944 with Stan Kenton, and his contributions to the band included charts for Tampico, Just a-Sittin' and a-Rockin', Easy Street, I Get a Kick Out of You, Jump for Joe, Opus in Chartreuse and a good chunk of the Stan Kenton at the Tropicana album in 1959. In the 1960s, he played mellophonium in the band. Roland was actually the only Kenton arranger to work for the band in the 1940s, '50s, '60s and '70s. [Pictured above, from left, Stan Kenton and Gene Roland]
Roland also arranged for other bands, including orchestras led by Claude Thornhill, Charlie Barnet, Artie Shaw, Charles Mingus (Town Hall Concert in 1962) and Woody Herman, for whom he wrote 65 charts in all.
The downside to Roland's heady arranging schedule was that he recorded very little under his own name. In fact, there were just four dates. The first was his 12-man group called Gene Roland's Boppers, which recorded four tracks for DeLuxe in 1949 that went unreleased. As leader of the so-called Band That Never Was rehearsal orchestra, Roland managed to bring together and write for the cream of the New York scene in 1950—including Al Porcino, Charlie Parker, Zoot Sims, Don Lanphere, Eddie Bert and others. Then came the Gene Roland Septet's Kid From Denver sessions with Paul Quinichette in 1957.
But Roland's finest 27 minutes in vinyl was his fourth and last album leadership date—Swingin' Friends, recorded in 1963 for Brunswick. The session featured Clark Terry and Snooky Young (tp), Jimmy Knepper (tb) Al Cohn and Zoot Sims (ts), John Bunch (p), John Beal (b) and Sol Gubin (d). What's interesting about this album is how large the band sounds given that there are only eight musicians. Thanks to his steady work with Kenton, Roland had a knack for making any size group sound significantly larger and broader. Roland's other gift was his intimate knowledge of all the instruments in a band. He could play trombone, trumpet, saxophone and piano among others. Roland died in 1982.
JazzWax tracks: Unfortunately, Gene Roland's Swingin' Friends isn't available as a CD or download. However, it was re-issued on vinyl by Fresh Sound (go here), which hopefully will put it out digitally along with Roland's septet recordings and tracks from the Band That Never Was. It's also available on vinyl at eBay here. Roland's septet sessions for Paul Qunichette are available here.
JazzWax clips: Here's Gene Roland's Bottom's Up from Swingin' Friends...
And here's Jimmy Knepper with a beautiful trombone solo on Mel Torme's A Stranger in Town...