One of the most seductive and swinging West Coast big band arrangers of the 1960s and beyond was Bob Florence. Born in 1932, Florence embraced music early, taking piano lessons at age 4 and playing recitals at age 7. In college, he was studying to be a classical pianist when he fell in love with jazz orchestration, which is no wonder since he attended Los Angeles City College's music school, a center of classical and commercial composing and arranging.
Following college in the early 1950s, Florence became a freelance arranger, writing dozens of charts for bands. The turning point for him came in 1960, when he began arranging for Si Zentner, one of the few leaders who would have a thriving big band in the pop-rock era. Florence arranged 11 of Zentner's album, coming to the attention of Dave Pell and other members of Liberty Records' A&R team. Florence arranged many of Liberty's big band albums in the 1960s and wrote often for TV shows. In the 1970s and '80s, he led bands that played clubs in the Los Angeles area and he recorded several gorgeous albums as a leader and as a sideman on piano.
One of Florence's first leadership albums for Liberty was Here and Now!, a 1964 recording that beautifully illustrates his passion for taste and sophisticated swing. The personnel included John Audino, Jules Chaiken, Tony Terran and Tom Scott (tp); Bob Edmondson, Herbie Harper and Harry Betts (tb); Gail Martin (b-tb); Bud Shank (as,fl); John Rotella (as); Bob Hardaway, Bill Perkins (ts); John Lowe (bar); Bob Florence (p,arr); Tommy Tedesco (g); Buddy Clark (b) and Frank Capp (d).
By the mid-1960s, Florence had developed an interesting expertise—creating dynamic interpretations of pop-rock hits. These included several albums for World Pacific, such as Joe Pass's A Sign of the Times and The Stones Jazz; Bud Shank's Michelle, Bud Shank and the Sax Section and Music From Today's Movies; as well as his own Pet Project, featuring songs made famous by Petula Clark.
Other superb albums by Florence include David Allyn's This Is My Lucky Day (1962), Basie on the Beatles (1969), Joanie Summers' Dream: Live at the Backloft (1980), Sue Raney Sings the Music of Johnny Mandel (1982) and his own Westlake (1981) and With All the Bells and Whistles (1992).
Florence died in 2008. Unfortunately, many of his albums aren't available on CD or as downloads, so here are three tracks from Here and Now!...
A special JazzWax thanks to David Langner.