Monday, August 31, 2015

John Fedchock's New York Big Band - "Like It Is"

© -  Steven A. Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.




"Cheerful syncopation, served with spit-and-polish precision."
— The New York Times


"John Fedchock's New York Big Band commands your attention and holds it."
— DownBeat
"An unabashed celebration of the large band format."
— The Chicago Tribune
"Tantalizing big-band Jazz, served New York-style."
— Cadence


“Big band music has made some dramatic changes over the years, and even though many embrace this evolution, there seem to be plenty of folks who'd prefer everything just remain like it was. But truth be told, some of the best things in music have come from combining the "like it was" with the "like it is", melding the greatness of the past with a fresh perspective using today's ears, approaching each piece like a drawing of familiar images sketched in an abstract form. ….


Over these past many years, I like to think the band has evolved in many ways. Those changes may not have been dramatic, but I do believe we've always done what we could to honor both the "like it was" and the "like it is". I hope you enjoy this recording. We had a great time making it for you.”
- John Fedchock


Ann Braithwaite and her fine team at Braithwaite & Katz do a lot of nice things for Jazz, not the least of which is to own and operate a media relations firm that distributes sample music and detailed press information on behalf of Jazz artists who are releasing new CDs.


Every so often I try to return the favor by posting her narratives to JazzProfiles.


Such is the case with the following annotation which Ann sent out to accompany the August 7, 2015 release of Like It Is,  trombonist John Fedcock’s New York Big Band’s latest CD on the MAMA Foundation [MAA 1048].


You can be find out more about John and his big band at www.johnfedcock.com and sample the tracks from his new CD at www.summitrecords.com.


Order information is available through most online retailers.


If you are into big band Jazz, give yourself a treat as John’s latest effort is a corker. He is a major force in Jazz orchestration today and an arranger and composer who interposes elements of his own innovations into the Jazz tradition thereby keeping it alive and robust while at the same time helping to move it forward. Somewhere the spirits of Fletcher Henderson, Don Redman and Benny Carter are sure to be smiling and no doubt wishing him well.


© -  Ann Braithwaite, copyright protected; all rights reserved.


The John Fedchock New York Big Band's Like It Is - to be released by MAMA Records on August 7, 2015 - is the fifth album for the 16-piece ensemble and Fedchock's eighth as leader. This pristinely recorded studio session showcases Fedchock's compelling compositions and arrangements as well as the band's exceptional musicianship. The group, which has been together for over two decades and recorded four previous releases on Reservoir, sets the standard for modern, post-swing large ensembles and has brought Fedchock to the GRAMMY finals for his notable arranging skills. Like It Is features five Fedchock originals and five arrangements of jazz and American classics.


Having first made a name for himself in the 1980s as chief arranger for the legendary Woody Herman, Fedchock has continued to develop his writing style over his 35-year career, and this recording shows his inventive flair in meshing the old with the new. His comments regarding the evolution of the genre explain the album's title: "Even though many embrace the big band's evolution, there seem to be plenty of folks who'd prefer everything just remain like it was. But truth be told, some of the best things in music have come from combining the 'like it was' with the 'like it is', melding the greatness of the past with a fresh perspective using today's ears." He backs up his words with what might be his most ambitious work to date, expertly melding fresh new colors with iconic traditional elements and skillfully interweaving those sounds to underscore the progressive solo voices within the band.


There are plenty of chances to hear the band's profusion of solo talent. Eleven different soloists grace this recording, and all are New York City stalwarts. Saxophonists Mark Vinci, Charles Pillow, Rich Perry, Walt Weiskopf, Gary Smulyan and Scott Robinson; trumpeters Scott Wendholt and Barry Ries, pianist Allen Farnham, bassist Dick Sarpola and drummer Dave Ratajczak all contribute contrasting solo statements perfectly complementing the music. Bobby Sanabria's Latin percussion joins the band on three tracks, lending a strong dose of excitement.


Fedchock's multifaceted trombone playing is also showcased on six tracks, all displaying a different side of his abilities. From speedy and aggressive runs on "You And The Night And The Music" and "Ten Thirty 30," to medium-tempo post-bop forays on "Just Sayin'" and "Hair Of The Dog," to more mellow and soulful statements on the ballad "Never Let Me Go" and in his Cuban bolero original "Havana," Fedchock thoroughly covers the stylistic gamut. Through it all, flawless technique, a melodic approach, and a warm, lush tone remain the trademarks of his improvisational style. Coming on the heels of his critically acclaimed 2015 Summit Records quartet release Fluidity, about which Kirk Silsbee of DownBeat magazine wrote, "one wonders how the trombonist would have sounded next to Clifford Brown.” Fedchock confirms his status as an A-list horn stylist.


The material Fedchock chose to arrange on Like It Is represents a special balance of familiar themes and fresh, original works. The opening track, "You And The Night And The Music" embodies Fedchock's thought process in blending past and present. "My goal was to mask the original structure of the age-old classic while keeping things familiar enough to flex into a more standard context for the soloists/' the bandleader explains. Other classics that receive Fedchock's updated look include Cedar Walton's "Ojos de Rojo" as a full-fledged Latin flag-waver, a tongue-in-cheek version of the Gaines/Ellington classic "Just Squeeze Me" and a pair of lush ballads from the American Songbook: "Never Let Me Go" and "For Heaven's Sake."
Also included in this outing are five Fedchock originals.


The title track harkens back to the sound of 1960s boogaloo and funky cha-cha but is approached from a modernist's perspective, and the quirky blues, "Hair Of The Dog" creates a somewhat programmatic journey. "Havana" transports the listener to a warm Cuban evening; the jaunty "Just Sayin'" shows off an impressive brass section; and "Ten Thirty 30," commissioned for the Clifford Brown Symposium, displays thematic material drawn exclusively from Brown's music and solos updated into a compelling closer. The title comes from the simple abbreviation of Clifford's October 30,1930 birthdate.


Born in Cleveland, Ohio, Fedchock began his career in 1980 as a jazz trombonist with the legendary Woody Herman Orchestra, serving as featured soloist, musical director and chief arranger for Herman's last two Grammy nominated albums. Herman said of Fedchock, "He's my right hand man. Everything I ask of John he accomplishes, and I ask a lot. He's a major talent." Fedchock has also toured with Gerry Mulligan, T.S. Monk, Louie Bellson, and the Carnegie Hall Jazz Band, and has performed as a featured soloist, composer and conductor around the world.


With the release of Like It Is, the next chapter has been written for the John Fedchock New York Big Band. As with his previous recordings, this project showcases Fedchock as an artist who will continue to have a hand in guiding and shaping the direction of big band music for years to come.


The following video features John’s exquisite orchestral shadings on the ballad For Heaven’s Sake featuring Barry Ries on flugelhorn.




Sunday, August 30, 2015

Blues for Pablo

© -  Steven A. Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.


Say the name “Pablo” in the context of 20th century Arts and Letters and the name “Pablo Picasso” springs to mind. It did for me as you will no doubt see when you view the video montage that closes this piece.


But as Stephanie Stein Crease explains in the following excerpt from her definitive Gil Evans: Out of the Cool - His Life in Music, Gil Evans had a different “Pablo” in his thoughts when he composed Blues for Pablo, the theme for the music that accompanies the video.  


"Blues for Pablo," written in tribute to a fallen fighter in the Spanish Civil War, successfully uses alternating themes and rhythmic feels — in this case, Spanish bolero and swing — a practice that would become more common in jazz as the 1950s progressed. The composition juxtaposes a Spanish-inflected minor theme and an extended major blues, swinging loosely from a half-time feel to straight 4/4 and back. The opening theme, complete with tremolo, derives from the opening measures of [Manuel de] Falla's Three-Cornered Hat (this theme also appears, somewhat altered, in the ending of Evans's arrangement of "La Paloma"). A Mexican folk song inspired the other main theme. To Gil's astonishment, the musicians found the quirky rhythm difficult for improvisation. "Now, the kind of rhythmic changes that tune went through are very common in jazz. But at that time, I remember bringing in a number in 3/4 and someone said, 'I couldn't improvise in three'—my goodness!" [The quotation is drawn from Gil’s interviews with Stephanie].


To the best of my knowledge, Blues for Pablo first appeared on Miles Ahead which was also released as Miles Davis + 19 [Columbia CL 1041; CK 40784], although with the work of Ryan Truesdell which seems to continue to “unearth” troves of Gil Evans’ earlier manuscripts, who knows, there may still be an earlier version hidden away out there. Blues for Pablo encapsulates much of what I find intriguing about Gil Evans’ writing, especially the melancholy feelings it seems to evoke.


Gil discusses his penchant for pensive sadness and other aspects of his arranging style in the following excerpts from a 1986 interview that aired on Ben Sidran’s NPR radio program [Ben’s interview with Gil along with 42 others are available both in book form an on CD as Talking Jazz: An Oral History]:


“[I joined Claude Thornhill’s band in 1946]. It was a wonderful workshop for me.
It had three trumpets and two trombones and two french horns and two altos, two tenors, baritone and a separate flute section, right? Three flute players, didn't play anything but flutes. And a tuba. So it was a big nut for him, and he finally had to give it up.


Ben: Was it Claude's idea to include the french horns and the tuba, initially?


Gil: The french horns were his idea, yeah. But the tuba, I got that in there. And the flutes. But the french horns he had quite a while. He had them before the war, too, you know.


But the band sounded like horns anyway, even before he got them. It was one of the first bands that played without a vibrato, you know. Because the vibrato had been "in" all the time in jazz, ever since, well, Louis Armstrong, you know, that vibrato. But then Claude's band played with no vibrato and that’s what made it compatible with bebop. Because the bebop players were playing with no vibrato. And they were interested in the impressionistic harmony [French composers Debussy, Ravel, et al], you know, that I had used with Claude. The minor ninths and all that.


That's how we got together, really. That's the reason we got together. Because of the fact that there was no vibrato plus the harmonic development. Because up until that time, with the swing bands, mostly the harmony had been from Fletcher Henderson, really. Where you harmonize everything with the major sixth chords and passing tones with a diminished chord, you know. So that was how things changed with bebop.


Ben: Also, the addition of the french horns and the tuba got the arrangements out of the more traditional "sections" — brass section, woodwind section — and made it more of a continuous palette for you.


Gil: Well, when Miles and I got together to do the Capitol record [Birth of the Cool] we just had to figure out how few instruments, and which ones, we could use to cover the harmonic needs of Claude Thornhill's band, you know. Naturally with a big band like that, you have a lot of doubles. But we just trimmed it down to the six horns. Six horns and three rhythm, and those six horns covered all the harmonic needs that we had. ...


We talked a lot about harmony. How to get a “sound” out of harmony. Because the harmony has a lot to do with what the music is going to “sound” like. The instruments have their “wave” form and all that, but the harmony means that you're putting together a group of instruments, and they're going to get their own independent waveform, right? You can't get it any other way except as an ensemble together. So Miles and I talked about that lots of times. And played chords on the piano. And that's how it happened.


Ben: The "sound" that you did come up with so perfectly suited Miles' sound that it almost seemed like one gesture.


Gil: That's right... 

Ben: You talk about the extension of the Thornhill sound. You once said about the Thornhill band that "the band was a reduction to inactivity, a stillness..."


Gil: Oh, it was. That's right.


Ben: And "the sound would hang like a cloud." Gil: That's right. Oh yeah. ...


Ben: When you finally went in to record Miles Ahead in 1957, again the arrangements were "seamless," and they were almost a translation of Miles' "sound" into orchestral terms. At the same time, I remember some little things that you did that were very distinctive. For example, at the end of the song "Miles Ahead," there's an ensemble trumpet figure that's used almost as an acoustic guitar, a Spanish guitar. There were a lot of things like that in your writing that were very unusual, very deceptive.


Gil: Right. People used to think there were strings in those albums. Even somebody as knowledgeable as Gordon Jenkins. Now you know he wrote for strings all the time. He called me up to tell me how he liked it, and he thought there were strings. And I thought, "Gee, that's funny. Imagine him thinking there are strings." Because he wrote for strings, wow, I've seen him. And he had such a feeling for those things. He'd have a big string section, and they'd all be playing an ensemble that he'd write for them with Louis Armstrong in mind, you know?


Ben: You said that in the interim, from 1949 to 1957, you were waiting for Miles...


Gil: I was waiting for Miles, basically, I was.


Ben: It's so romantic. It sounds like a love affair when you say that.


Gil: I know.


Ben: Much has been made in the past about how Duke Ellington would write for an individual, as opposed to just bringing different people to his notes. Is this in that tradition?


Gil: You know, I never knew Duke. But one day, he called me, you know. To tell me that I was his favorite jazz orchestrator. It was really nice. It really made me feel good. But we got some very bad reviews on that album too, you know. The Miles Ahead album, when it first came out. Wow. They called it the "anti-jazz" album. Stuff like that.


Ben: Well the Birth of the Cool sessions got the same sort of reaction too, didn't it? Critics said it was "devoid of emotion."


Gil: Yeah. We're all victims of the terrible habit of convenience, right? And when you are used to hearing a certain type of music or a certain “sound” of music, and it changes, and you are not with it, or don’t follow it any more, you’re home and you stop going out to clubs and all that … we all suffer from an overdose of convenience at the expense of passion, right?” …


Ben: … with your charts, I have to say, they don't sound dated. Whether we hear one that was done in the '40s or one that was done in the '80s, there's a continuity that relates more to the man than to the historical era.


Gil: Yeah. They're all melancholy. That's one of my characteristics.


Ben: Perhaps that's at the heart of your great compatibility with Miles. Miles is, the voice of melancholy.


Gil: That's how we got together, basically. Really. The "sound," you know. The "sound" is the thing that put us together immediately, and it's always been like that. It's still the same way today. Even if we don't see each other very often, we're still life-time friends. On account of the "sound."”


The following video features Henk Meutgeert’s treatment of Gil’s Blues for Pablo as performed in 2009 by the Jazz Orchestra of the Concertgebouw at The Bimhuis in Amsterdam, The Netherlands. Wim Both does the honors on trumpet. Henk reorchestrated Gil’s original arrangement because the JOC’s instrumentation was different than that used on the original 1957 Miles Ahead recording.


It is no less delightful.



Thursday, August 27, 2015

Art Van Damme - The Accordion in Jazz [From the Archives with Revisions]

© -Steven Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.


“Art Van Damme, in his prime years, played so many gigs in clubs, hotels and concert stages across the USA and Europe that it is said that he never needed to do any practice. He was constantly in action, developing and honing his skills and repertoire, pioneering the use of the accordion as a jazz lead instrument.

So influential was Art’s playing style that he has influenced most of the western world’s jazz accordionists. One musicologist made the following neat comment: ‘The hippest cat ever to swing an accordion, Art Van Damme dared go where no man had gone before: jazz accordion.’”
- Rob Howard


The accordion seemed to be everywhere present during our growing up years in an Italian-American household in ProvidenceRI.

The world-class accordionist Angelo DiPippo, a LaSalle HS graduate in the near-by Elmhurst section of Providence, often gave performances in various local venues.

Also available courtesy of my Dad’s record collection were the Capitol recordings that accordionist Ernie Felice made with Benny Goodman’s small groups.

And every so often, Art Van Damme would make an “appearance” at our house in the form of NBC radio programs, television shows hosted by Dave Garroway and Dinah Shore and long-playing records on the Columbia label.

The Columbia LP’s featured Art’s quintet which, because of his use of vibes and guitar and the way many of the groups arrangements were “voiced,” reminded me of pianist George Shearing’s combo.  A few of these albums also featured guest artists such as vocalist Jo Stafford or legendary Jazz guitarist, Johnny Smith.

Whatever the setting, Art’s music was always very melodic and featured arrangements that were very hip and swung like mad. Lasting little more than three minutes in most cases, each tune was a musical gem: the epitome of taste and perfection.

As was the case with Shearing’s quintet, nobody took long solos, but when Chuck Calzaretta played one on vibes, or Fred Rundquist took one on guitar or Art improvised on accordion, one knew immediately that they were good players who knew what they were doing on their respective instruments.

Because I was so accustomed to hearing accordion and, more importantly, to hearing it played well, I could never understand why the instrument became the object of so many jokes that unmercifully ridiculed it.

That is until I started gigging on a regular basis and ran into so many terrible accordionists which only served to make me appreciate the like of an Art Van Damme even more.

However, even among those who held most accordionists in contempt, the mere mention of Art’s name brought a grudging approval that he was “… a class act although I can’t stand the sound of the thing.”

Although you would be hard-pressed to find anything about him in any of the manuals about Jazz, in a conversation that I once had about him with pianist and composer Mel Powell at the California Institute of the Arts in Valencia, CA, Mel referred to Art as “one of the most-talented musicians I’ve ever heard – regardless of the instrument.”

Not surprisingly, there’s plenty of information about Art in publications, blogs and websites that cater to accordion. In such circles, he has rightfully assumed legendary status as one of the instrument’s greatest performers.

It was to one such publication that we went in search of the following overview of Art’s career. It also contains particular reference to many of Art’s recordings. A number of these are available should you wish to seek them out.

At the conclusion of Steven Solomon’s article on Art, you’ll find a video tribute to him as developed by the ace graphics teams at CerraJazz LTD. The audio track is Art’s quintet with guitarist Jimmy Smith performing “Gone With the Wind.”


© -Steven H. Solomon/Accord Magazine, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

ART VAN DAMME

Written by: Steven H. Solomon 
Publication: Accord 
MagazineUSA. Reprinted courtesy of owner/editor Faithe Deffner. Back copies available. 
Date written: Spring 1983

"At first glance, Art Van Damme seems like countless other successful West Coast residents. He is married, has three children and six grandchildren, and heads for the golf course every chance he gets. What makes his career unusual, however, is that he earns his living by playing the accordion.


Hold on a minute, you say. Since the accordion was invented about 150 years ago, thousands of musicians have put bread on the table by playing professionally. What is it that makes Van Damme so special?


It's simple. Van Damme is among an elite group of only about a half-dozen virtuosos who have been able to find just the right blend of technical and creative ability needed to be successful on the international level. This is what places Art Van Damme in a league all by himself.


Instead of playing just local clubs and whatever casual work is available, Van Damme routinely jets overseas for concert tours that draw thousands of fans. For those not lucky enough to get a seat at one of his sold out performances, he can be heard on European television and radio.


"Most of my work now is in doing concerts and clinics," Van Damme said recently when asked about his gigs. "This I enjoy more than doing club work, because the audience is more attentive and listens more intensely."


Van Damme prefers to be in front of the crowds, especially large ones, rather than while away his time in small clubs or in front of cameras and microphones. He believes that it all boils down to creativity.


"For recordings to be played on the radio, time is a very big factor. It is preferred that recordings be in the two or three minute category," Van Damme explained. "So when I do a concert I get a chance to stretch out, as they say. I get a chance to play quite at length."


To see a list of the countries Van Damme has visited with his accordion, you would think he was some kind of career diplomat making the rounds. He has toured in GermanySwedenDenmarkFinlandNorwayCanadaEnglandNew ZealandAustraliaFranceBelgium and Switzerland, in addition to his considerable work in the United States.


Asked about his appearances in 1982, Van Damme replied, "I did the Grand Prix in France, a concert seminar and a radio show in Geneva, two concerts in Colorado and a month long tour back in Sweden. This included concerts, television and another album called "And Live at Tivoli with Quintet". By the way, that was my 20th tour and trip to Europe!"


Not bad for someone who was nine years old before he heard an accordion for the first time, on his parent's Victrola. He asked for and received lessons on an instrument not nearly as flashy as the ones played by his idols Ray Brown, Buddy Rich and Benny Goodman.


At an age when most boys like to play nothing but ball, Van Damme liked to play nothing but the accordion, up to four or five hours a day. He landed his first paying job, a not-too-prestigious booking at his home town theatre (but nothing to be ashamed of either), when he was a seasoned 10 year old pro!


"When going to high school I started a trio with accordion, guitar and bass, and worked with this group in night clubs for a couple of years and then added a fourth man," Van Damme said. "We did many things with two accordions but I preferred the sound of accordion, vibes, bass and guitar, so I discontinued using the two accordions and added drums a short time later. I felt this was the sound to go with."


His group covered the Midwest for several years when they were booked into the Sherman Hotel in Chicago for what turned into a six month job. NBC must have recognized a sure thing when they heard it, because the quintet landed a contract for radio and TV that was to be the start of a long term relationship.


"Besides doing our own shows, we worked with many top name entertainers of the time on programs like the Dave Garroway Show, Ransom Sherman Show, Bob and Day Show to name but a few," Van Damme said.


"And besides doing solo spots, we did a lot of background playing for top singers and instrumentalists such as Ella Fitzgerald, Peggy Lee, Dizzy Gillespie and Buddy DeFranco."


It was during this time that Van Damme had a record contract with Capitol Records, releasing "Cocktail Capers" and "More Cocktail Capers". Columbia Records signed Van Damme from 1952 to 1965, releasing no less than a dozen albums, among which were "The Van Damme Sound", "Martini Time" and "The Art of Van Damme".


"I left NBC in Chicago in 1960 after working for them for 15 years," Van Damme said. "Live TV and radio had been on the downgrade or downward trend. Sure, I've done TV and radio shows since then, but only on a guest artist appearance basis."


Van Damme opened a music studio and store in suburban Chicago after he left NBC, and appeared with the quintet as guests on the Today Show, Tonight Show, Mike Douglas Show and Lawrence Welk Show. It was at this point that Van Damme realised he no longer wanted the headaches of leading a band.


"I personally don't care to have the responsibility of having a regular group anymore. Original men from the quintet are all still situated in Chicago and I do work with them on occasions when in that territory," Van Damme said. "But as of now, I am not carrying a regular quintet. My work takes me all over and I use local men who I am familiar with."


In 1965 Van Damme signed with MPS Records of Germany and has recorded 16 albums during that time. He has been voted top jazz accordionist for ten consecutive years in the annual Downbeat poll and for four consecutive years in the annual Contemporary Keyboard poll. His radio and TV appearances, seminars, tours and clinics in the United States and Europe since then number in the hundreds.


What this rich background means is that Van Damme is today considered a top jazz accordionist. Some of his feelings on the subject provides much food for thought. For example, he thinks the accordion is not the ideal jazz instrument.


"The fact that we have two separate keyboards, as such, controlled by one force, is a problem. I refer to the bellows, which is the source for both sides, and should be used in the same vein as a trumpet player or sax man as a breathing device," Van Damme explained. "A pianist is free to use either hand as he pleases, but not the accordionist. This naturally only scratches the surface, but I feel this is a basic problem in playing jazz."


Van Damme is equally outspoken when it comes to assessing his field. He is not afraid to name names. "(Leon) Sash, Mat Mathews, Pete Jolly, (Ernie) Felice, (Tommy) Gumina, they are all good friends of mine I'm happy to say and each in his own style is great. They all have something to say on their instruments, helping to take the polka sound out of the accordion," Van Damme said. 

"Unfortunately, there are not too many really good jazz accordionists, but I do feel we are progressing." 


For the future, Van Damme seems likely to be just as busy as ever. He recently completed a pilot for a one hour live radio show with quintet and Roberta Sherwood on vocals that he expects to be syndicated. Plans call for a guest vocalist each week.


"After 38 years I'm going back to radio, which shows that if you live long enough, anything can happen," Van Damme said."


Monday, August 24, 2015

Buddy DeFranco Interview with Steve Voce [From the Archives]

© -  Steven A. Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.


“Woody [Herman] has no encouraging words about the status or future of the clarinet in jazz. He says there are no new players who have impressed him.

‘I had the good fortune last summer of doing a Canadian tour with Buddy DeFranco and his quartet. He's still the only guy who's coming up with anything new as far as that instrument is concerned. It's a very difficult instrument to play well. It's not the sort of thing you can just pick up and start making your own thoughts on, and I think that's one reason there aren't too many kids interested. And then, too, it lost its place as a voice in jazz because it's connected in most younger people's minds with Dixieland.’”
- Doug Ramsey, Jazz Matters: Reflections on the Music and Some of Its Makers

“Admired for his mastery of the clarinet in his early career as a swing band musician, DeFranco came to full prominence in the late 1940s and early '50s. Although the clarinet had been a stellar swing-era instrument in the hands of bandleaders such as Benny Goodman, Artie Shaw and Woody Herman, it did not initially find a visible role when bebop arrived in the '40s.

"I was the first clarinetist to play bebop on the instrument," DeFranco told the Columbus (Ohio) Dispatch in 1993. "It turns out that was the beginning of a dry spell for the clarinet in jazz. It was a very difficult instrument on which to play bop."

The New Grove Dictionary of Jazz described the task in even broader strokes, noting that the clarinet is "incompatible with bebop."

But DeFranco disagreed. ‘I wouldn't say incompatible,’ he told the Dispatch. ‘It's simply harder to play bop on clarinet than any other instrument.’

DeFranco nonetheless took on the challenge. By the late '40s he had thoroughly established himself as the principal bebop clarinetist. And he would remain so for decades, exploring and mastering other new jazz ideas as they arrived. His influence persisted on generations of clarinetists, reaching across a diverse array of players, from Jimmy Giuffre to Eddie Daniels, Ken Peplowski, Anat Cohen and dozens of others.”
- Don Heckman, writing in The Los Angeles Times

“DeFranco was the first to apply the vocabulary of bebop to the clarinet, which nevertheless remains a neglected instrument in modern jazz. He developed a smooth, flawless technique on a horn far less forgiving of embouchure and fingering errors than the saxophone. DeFranco can play quite lyrically, but many critics contend that his virtuosity comes at the expense of emotional intensity and expressiveness.”
- Len Lyons and Don Perlo, Jazz Portraits: The Lives and Music of the Jazz Masters

“Nobody has seriously challenged DeFranco's status as the greatest post-swing clarinettist, although the instrument's desertion by reed players has tended to disenfranchise its few exponents (and Tony Scott might have a say in the argument too). DeFranco's incredibly smooth phrasing and seemingly effortless command are unfailingly impressive on all his records. But the challenge of translating this virtuosity into a relevant post-bop environment hasn't been easy, and he has relatively few records to account for literally decades of fine work. He's also had to contend with the usual dismissals of coldness, lack of feeling etc.”
- Richard Cook and Brian Morton, The Penguin Guide to Jazz, 6th Ed.

Buddy DeFranco passed away on Christmas Eve [December 24, 2014] in Panama City, Florida. He was 91 years old.

Steve Voce, one of the premier writers on the subject of Jazz and its makers conducted the following interview with Buddy DeFranco in Nice in July 1981. It subsequently appeared in JazzJournal in 1982. You can locate more information about JazzJournal by going here.

The editorial staff at JazzProfiles wanted to remember Buddy DeFranco on these pages by reprinting the text of Steve’s visit with him. Steve Voce has very kindly granted our request to do so.

Among its many sterling qualities, Steve’s interview contains Buddy’s detailed explanation of why it is so difficult to play bebop on the clarinet; a subject that I’ve long wondered about.


© -  Steven Voce/JazzJournal; used with the author’s permission; copyright protected; all rights reserved.

Buddy De Franco has the melancholy distinction of sharing the title of most overlooked jazz great with such as Lucky Thompson and Oscar Pettiford. Persistently neglected by jazz writers, it is fortunate indeed that jazz listeners turn the same kind of deaf ear to the critics that the critics have pointed at De Franco.

Boniface Ferdinand Leonardo De Franco was born in Camden, New Jersey on
February 17, 1923. His father was a piano tuner.

"No one taught me to play jazz clarinet, but I was taught `legitimate'  (I hate that term, but we're stuck with it). I began studying with a teacher in Philadelphia when I was about nine. I went to a music school that had a free programme for poor kids. We were very poor in those days, and my teacher taught me for three years and never took any money. Then, when I began to make some money, three dollars, whatever, he charged me a dollar a lesson.

When I was 14, I heard my dad playing records by the Hot Club Of France Quintet and by Art Tatum, and I was completely overwhelmed by the music, and from that time jazz became the most important thing to me. Then I began to listen to Jimmy Lunceford, Chick Webb, Benny Goodman and Artie Shaw. The first jazz clarinettist I ever worked with was Johnny Mince in theDorsey band, and he really caught my ear.

I was enthralled with Benny, and he really made me take the decision to be a jazz player. Then I heard Artie Shaw and over a period of years began to develop more of an appreciation for Artie. I thought he was more modern, more harmonically developed than Benny, although Benny had more swing.

My teacher worked in the pit orchestra at the Earl Theatre in Philadelphia. When I was 14 there was a nation-wide Tommy Dorsey contest to find the best young amateur swing player. It was sponsored by a cigarette company and broadcast nationally and each week they would pick one player from each city. I entered and made the finals, where there were four kids left. My teacher, who was a very clever guy, told me `you're gonna win, because you're gonna wear short pants' (which I
hated) `and you're gonna play Honeysuckle Rose, and at the end you'll hold up the clarinet with one hand and you'll hold out the other hand so that the people will see you're playing the clarinet with only one hand, and hang on one note, see. That'll get 'em. Nobody'll follow that.' And I did. That's how I won.

I heard a disc of that performance and it was lousy, really horrible. But I won by default. This little kid, wearing shorts and playing clarinet with one hand, the other kids never had a chance.

After my performance Tommy Dorsey said `Stick around, you'll play in my
band some day.' Years later when I joined his band he said `I told you you would.'

He was a frightening guy to work for, very strict and allowing no room at all for error. If you displeased him too many times you just got fired. He wanted set solos on certain songs that were hit records. For instance, Opus One was the first solo I recorded with the band in California and he said `You'll keep that solo.' Well, I didn't like it, so I changed it a couple of times. He came to me and, preceding it with a favourite phrase of his which I won't repeat, he said `'I told you not to change that solo.' I said `But it's not creative to play the same solo every night.' He snarled `Well, you want to be Count Basie or Art Tatum or someone, go and be creative in someone else's time. You're finished!' I was, he fired me. But I went back later, joined again.

He had fines for everything. If you weren't there half an hour before the show it was a 10 dollar fine. If you missed the show it was a 25 dollar tine. At one time he didn't like too much giggling on the stand or smiling, so he had a no laughing or smiling on the stage law for about two months. If you smiled on the stage you got fined five dollars. Boomie Richmond and I would get giddy - it's hard to hide laughing, and the rule made you want to do it, but we didn't get caught.

When Dodo Marmarosa was pianist with the band we roomed together. There
was a time when we were in Louisville and the train that the band was supposed to be catching left at 8 am. We had left a wake-up call and set an alarm for 6.30. I heard the alarm and shut it off and went back to sleep. We either got the wake-up call and I didn't hear it or we didn't get one, I'm not sure. We woke up about 10 or 11 and missed the train from Louisville to St Louis, a trip of about 800 miles. So we had to try to find a way to get to St Louis in time for the job, where we had two concerts to do. We called the Greyhound and all the different bus companies, we called all the train stations, but we couldn't get anything. We couldn't even get there by commercial airlines, and they weren't great in the forties anyhow. The only thing we could do was to call the Civil Air Patrol. They got us a pilot, so we decided to rent this plane, which was about 350 dollars in those days. We had about a hundred dollars between us, so we talked the pilot into taking that on the basis of getting the other 250 when we got to St Louis. We loaded the bags into the little plane, and he started at about one in the afternoon. We felt we could make it on time, so off we went, flying all afternoon. As it got to be evening he turned to us in the cab and said `I don't know how to tell you guys this, but we're lost.' We couldn't understand that, because you just had to follow the Mississippi River right up, and there's St Louis, but he managed it. Then he said `And I hate to tell you this, but we're running out of fuel', adding `I'm gonna dip down and lower the altitude and see if you can see a sign of something, anything we might recognise, a landmark or something.' Dodo said `Why don't you stop and I'll ask a cop?'.


We finally wound up in Springfield, Illinois, which is 110 miles from St Louis, at seven in the evening. When we discovered where we were, the pilot got tough and wouldn't let us have our bags until he got his 250 dollars, and they had two security guards at the airport who backed him up. We had to go into this small airport at Springfield and call the band manager, Louis Zito, in St Louis. This was at about 8.30 or 9.00 pm. They already did their first concert without us and were getting ready for the second. We finally got hold of Louis and we wanted to talk him into wiring us money. I said `Louis, we gotta have 300 dollars to bail ourselves out.' Louis said, and I remember his words exactly, `Get on the train going the other way, because if you come in this direction, it's death. Tommy's furious. He's so angry that he left the stage and went to his dressing room and nobody can talk to him, and Ziggy is leading the band. So don't come.' We pleaded and pleaded and finally talked him into wiring the money. We had to wait there an hour and a half or so, to get the wire, change it into cash and pay this guy his 250 dollars to get our bags and find a train to St Louis.

We got into St Louis at about one o'clock in the morning. They had some sort of transportation strike, so there was nothing available to get us to the hotel where the band was staying, so we hitched a ride with a truck driver. He took us to the hotel, and when we got there there were no rooms. There was a train the band had to catch at nine o'clock the next morning. We hadn't seen anyone in the band, so the hotel guy let us sleep in the mezzanine on a couch. We took turns sleeping because we were frightened of missing the train again. We'd wake each other up and take turns to go to the restroom and splash cold water on our faces to stay awake another hour. Finally we headed to the station at eight o'clock and we saw Louis Zito.

He said `I don't know what's gonna happen with the Old Man, because he was beside himself. You'll probably get fired, four days in the electric chair, or whatever. But, since you're here, you might as well come along.'

We passed a little bar on the way to the station and went in and had maybe five beers in the space of five minutes. Ridiculous! And neither of us was really a drinker at all. We got on the train which, needless to say, was very crowded with soldiers and people, so we had to sit in the aisle on our luggage and try to sleep against the side of the seat. We both got sick from the beer, but then later in the afternoon we felt that we had to eat, so we made our way to the dining car where we managed to grab two seats. We ordered some food and I looked across the aisle and there was Tommy sitting there, hadn't seen us yet. Finally he got up from his seat and suddenly he saw us. It seemed like a full two minutes we watched him, and he went through all the phases of emotion in that time. I grabbed a ketchup bottle, because `Step outside' was one of his frequent ideas. The veins stood out on his forehead, his face got red, he was flexing his muscles, grunting and groaning, and he came over and glared at us for a long while. Then he suddenly started to laugh. `You guys are ridiculous,' he said. `You remind me of me when I was a kid. I can't get mad at you. You tried to get there, you hired a plane. Stick around, I'll give you both a raise.'

We never expected that in a million years, but that was Dorsey, you never knew from one hour to the next what his attitude was going to be.Charlie Shavers was in the band. He was a great musician, but he was also a sleeper. So much so that people thought he was a junkie, but he wasn't. He had a legitimate sleeping sickness, and once in a while Tommy would have to squirt him with a water pistol on stage to wake him. He could go to sleep sitting next to Louis Bellson's drum solo. In fact Louis used to hit him with a stick to wake him up occasionally. Eight bars before he was due to solo Louis would give him a whack. I heard that Tommy wired his chair to the mains once. Another time they were in a recording studio when Charlie fell asleep and started snoring. Tommy had all the mikes turned on and the recording machines started. Then he asked Charlie some terrible, rotten, ridiculous raunchy questions, and Charlie answered with a snore. It was one of the funniest tapes I ever heard. I'd love a copy of that.


Once in a theatre, when Tommy squirted Charlie with the water pistol to wake him up, Charlie came back with his own water pistol and squirted Tommy. Then Tommy got giddy, once in a while he'd get giddy instead of angry, and started squirting the whole band. This was on stage, don't forget. So then the whole band went out and bought water pistols and we had a water fight on stage, which is absurd when you think about it. The audience had no idea what was going on or why. Then it got to be a contest in a way. Tommy went out to look for the best water pistol, and finally came back with a huge thing that looked like a tommy gun.

In those days you had to give eight weeks' notice if you wanted to leave. I gave him notice in California because I had promises of lots of jobs. Andre Previn had movie work and he wanted me to teach Keenan Wynn to play the clarinet for a film, and I ran into a contractor out there who had lots of work for me if I left. I felt I could make a good living out there.

Imagine my chagrin when the weeks went by and I didn't get any work. Andre didn't know why, but the film work fell through and with the contractor it was `Buddy who ...?'. I think I worked one Sunday afternoon job with Corky Corcoran in a nine-month period. Then Tommy called. And his favourite line was a variation on `You got enough wrinkles in your belly? You want to come back?' I did come back and I later learned from Ziggy Elman that Tommy had engineered the whole thing. He blackballed me in California so I'd have to rejoin him.

I was with Tommy three times in a period of five or six years, and between one of those times I worked with Boyd Raeburn's band. It was a marvellous band with great players in it. In fact I met Pete Candoli the other day and we were reminiscing about our time with the band.

My first records under my own name weren't released at the time. I had a band for Capitol with Lee Konitz and Bernie Glow in the line-up. We did George Russell's A Bird in Igor's Yard, but Capitol refused to release it. I got a letter from one of their top executives saying get in the studio immediately with a small group like George Shearing's and let's make money. Well, four or five years ago they did release that record and it just happens to be a milestone in the jazz picture. I've often thought I'd like to record that piece again, too.

We also recorded my arrangement of This Time The Dream's On Me, which was by accident. It was part of what I regarded as the band's dance library, and not suitable for recording. But we needed the number. Gerry Mulligan was scheduled to write one chart for the session. He wasn't feeling too well and he came to the date and handed me the score, it was too late. So I dug out The Dream's On Me.

The first big band I had travelling on the road recorded for MGM. That was before the quartets and Buddy's Blues and those things. We had Charlie Walp, Bernie Glow, Gene Quill and Buddy Arnold.

I don't remember being intimidated musically by many musicians but certainly Art Tatum, Charlie Parker and Oscar Peterson where three. In fact Oscar sat in with Terry Gibbs and me at Fat Tuesday's in New York recently, and Terry mentioned the fast tempos that Oscar and I had used in earlier years, and of course Terry's no slouch! But in those days we played with Ray Brown, Louis Bellson or Buddy Rich with Oscar, and if you were going to jump in there, you'd better have some technique or you'd be totally lost in the shuffle. So I'd make darned sure I was on my toes.

It was the same in that session for Norman Granz with Art Tatum. It was frightening in a way. I felt that I didn't do as good a job as I wanted to, because there were so many pressures during the session. We were both very ill, for instance. Art wasn't feeling at all well, and it wasn't long after that he died. I had a terrible virus, Which is why I am seen sitting down on the cover picture, because I couldn't stand up to play. I did it because I figured it would be my only chance to play with Art, and now I'm very glad I did. We enjoyed it anyway. That's the funny thing about music, it helps you feel better. I know that many times when I'm not well and I begin playing I forget that I'm ill.


I played many sessions in New York with Charlie Parker, and again up in Connecticut and along the East Coast. One summer I had an engagement on 52nd Street at the Spotlight or the Three Deuces, I forget which. We always worked those two clubs and Charlie was at the other club. He liked my rhythm section. At that time I had Bud Powell, Tommy Potter or Curly Russell and Max Roach. So he brought his alto in and played with my group. He was the most fascinating player of all time. I don't think there's anyone playing modern jazz that hasn't been influenced by him. We're all offshoots of Bird and 75 per cent of the young players today aren't aware of it.

Playing bebop on the clarinet seemed to come easily to me. Playing with Bird as many times as I did and also gravitating towards pianists - I always listened to what pianists were doing harmonically - let me know what to do. The only deliberate changes I made were with the mouthpiece and reed. The clarinet is of course much harder to play than the saxophone. The instrument is built to overblow in twelfths, whereas a sax is an octave instrument. If you push the octave key on the sax you get one octave higher, so therefore the fingerings are identical for both registers.

With the clarinet you have three separate fingerings, three separate registers and three separate timbres. The overtones are totally different as a result of that, plus the fact that you have a smaller mouthpiece and smaller reed, so you have to make a considerable adjustment to get the strength and force that you need. The clarinet is not as flexible as an alto, so you must make it flexible in order to play jazz. Then you have the problem of covering the holes on the clarinet. You must cover those holes with your fingers, and a fraction of an inch off will mean that the note won't come out or that it'll squeak. On the sax the pads do the covering. You can hit your finger on any part of the pad top and it'll cover the note for you. So the clarinet is absolutely more difficult, like playing jazz on a bassoon or something.

The quartet I had with Art Blakey came about at Birdland. I was hired to play there with a house rhythm section. It left for some reason or other and they got the new house section of Art, Kenny Drew and either Curly Russell or Tommy Potter - I get those two confused, but we did work with both. After the first night it jelled so well that Art and I decided to make it a career and go out together. We got hold of Eugene Wright and he came along with us on bass and Kenny on piano and we went out on the road. Stayed out for three years, and it was tremendous. It was a really
hot group. The funny thing is it was billed as the Buddy de Franco Quartet, but during the last few years people have come up to me and said they remember me when I was with Art Blakey's group.

I was never in Art's group. Years later in the sixties I played bass clarinet on just one recording session in California and since Art was in town we called him in. It was one of the few times I ever got five stars for an album. It was Leonard Feather's idea for me to play bass clarinet. He suggested that it might draw more attention to me as a creative jazz player. I don't have to tell you that the criticism for years has been that I was not creative or that I was cold or that I played too many notes. Even the brochure from the last North Sea Festival said `Buddy de Franco has faded into obscurity for many years.' That's typical of critics. Somehow I was never the critics' choice, except for Leonard.

The record made some musicians and critics listen, but commercially it died, it was terrible. I used the bass clarinet in clubs. I'd carry this confounded instrument from place to place and worry about the reeds and things. I'd get up and have people staring at me - like it was the Nuremburg trials or something. So I finally gave it up in despair, although I'm proud of that album.

Art had a big influence on me when I toured with him and the quartet, as indeed did Basie a few years later. I had been working around New York at the end of the forties and I was being booked by Willard Alexander. He discovered Basie and was largely responsible for Basie's big band through the years. I'd known him for many years, and when he was putting together a small group for Basie in 1950 he thought of me. Willard had the idea to put us together for two reasons. Firstly he knew we would be compatible, and secondly Count and I were friends, and he happened to like my playing. Willard thought it would be a good springboard for me, because my career was just floundering at the time. I was well known but not doing a lot, because with all the adverse criticism of my playing some promoters would read it and decide, well who needs him?

Anyway it was a fine octet with Clark Terry, Charlie Rouse who was later replaced by Wardell Gray, Serge Chaloff and Count's rhythm section. I learned a hell of a lot about dynamics from Basie. He can assemble any group of competent musicians, and within one hour they will sound like the Count Basie Band. It's all from him and Freddie Green. Until I worked for him I hadn't realised how dynamic he is. He doesn't say very much, doesn't play much, but it's all at the heart of everything. Amazing.

Willard was the guy who got me the job of leading the Glenn Miller Orchestra. There again it was a wise move. He also told me another time not to get a big band because he could book me with a small group. That's one time I didn't listen to him when I really should have.

Oddly enough Basie and I were never in the Metronome All Stars together,
although we both made several appearances. My first was when I substituted for Benny Goodman. Goodman had won and I was second. He couldn't make it so I came in. Tommy Dorsey, Bill Harris, Johnny Hodges, Duke, Billy Strayhorn, Harry Carney, Cootie and Rex, Sonny Berman, Pete Candoli, Flip, Chubby, Billy Bauer, Red Norvo - that was a heavy band.

Duke was supposed to write an arrangement, but instead he composed Metronome All Out on the spot. He just told the saxes and brass what to play and the rhythm what the chord changes were and it made a really great arrangement. For Look Out, which was the other title, Tommy [Dorsey] had got a llttle sketch from Sy Oliver, and when it came to the place where it said `jazz trombone' he insisted on Bill taking it. `With a player like Bill Harris around I'm not going to embarrass myself,' he said. That was something for Tommy, because he was not considered the most humble person. But he was still the finest trombone player that I can remember hearing, technically speaking. He had a way with a melody, a marvellous approach to playing melody. The second time, I worked with Bill Harris, Nat Cole, Dizzy and the Stan Kenton band a year later in 1947. We did those in California. Pete Rugolo wrote Metronome Riff and Flip Phillips did Leap Here (the record sleeve gives Nat Cole as composer of Leap Here - SV).

Billie Holiday came to Europe in 1954 and I came with her. She was fighting her problems and had a considerate husband who was trying his best to keep her in line. He did a good job, but every once in a while Billie's friends would find her and she'd go off. She got a very bad review on our opening night in Stockholm, and then the following night she'd straightened up and was marvellous. It was very hard for her. She was tantamount to Bird, having a terrible emotional struggle with dope and other problems. Once again I was glad I made that tour, because it was once in a lifetime. I can say that I worked with Billie Holiday who to me was one of the most creative of all singers and she, like Bird, came through remarkably well in spite of all her problems. For instance, Bird played great in spite of the fact that he was hung up, and unfortunately he never really played at his best on a record. I've heard him unbelievably dazzling, but of course circumstances on record dates were against him. Either he didn't have his own horn because he'd sold it, or some unscrupulous record exec would give him a fix to do a session and he'd be half stoned.

Talking of recordings, I'm always very proud of `The Cross Country Suite' that Nelson Riddle wrote for me. It was never issued in England. Nelson and I had been in Tommy Dorsey's band together, where Nelson was a trombonist. But eventually he began writing virtually full time for the band. He followed Bill Finegan, whom he idolised. Bill and Eddie Sauter were the daddies of modern band orchestration.

Nelson and I roomed together and became great friends. He had a great deal to contribute and of course still does. He's one of the most prolific writers. I've always loved the way he could write behind vocalists and instrumentalists. He always knew exactly what to do.I had begun doing these music clinics for LeBlanc in the fifties - now I do them for Yamaha - and I wanted some music to play there. I felt it should be a combination of big band, of jazz and orchestral, so I got hold of Nelson in California in 1958 and asked him to write for me. He was working for Nat Cole at the time and was really very busy, but he accepted the assignment, and I'm glad he did, because `The Cross Country Suite' turned out to be one of the best things he ever wrote and it won him a Grammy award. There were 11 compositions in it, and each was composed for a certain area in the United States. It was my plan to play the appropriate composition wherever I happened to be doing a clinic. It turned out so well that it was one of the most rewarding albums for me, too, and I hope sometime we'll be able to play it again. It didn't sell well, unfortunately, but that's a typical story, as you know.It was premiered with a Nat Cole show that he did at the Hollywood Bowl. Nelson had written all the charts for the show and Nat had us in for the suite and it was a tremendous success with the audience. The reaction was so good that we were sure the reviews would be good too, but I should have known. They were so bad they were less than negative. One reviewer said it was Nelson Riddle's pathetic attempt at a Ferde Grofe composition played by a clarinettist. An obvious put-away.

Another controversial thing was the albums I made with accordionists. I'm not so much fond of the accordion as of the player. The instrument is like a clarinet or a violin to me, perhaps not my favourite instruments, but dependent on the player. For example take the harmonica. You hear Toots Thielemans play it and you change your mind about harmonica. When I first heard Art Van Damme and Ernie Felice and guys like that, Joe Mooney and so on, I was impressed. Then I heard Tommy Gumina in California more or less by accident and I began working with him. It was just amazing how he played. He also developed his own accordion. He totally changed the left system of the instrument.

Tommy was one of the most proficient in terms of polytonal jazz and when I go through schools in the US we find that many band directors are using the recordings I did with Tommy as an example of modern polytonal harmonic development in jazz. I was very pleased with those albums and also the later one with the Canadian accordionist Gordy Fleming. There's always something new to develop with such a combination of instruments.

My own playing is developing all the time. It's endless. It's the strangest thing about playing extemporaneous music that it seems like the more you accomplish the more you realise there's so much you haven't done. That's not false modesty, it's just a fact of life. The old adage is you get old too fast and smart too late, and it's very true! When you're young and you play pretty good you think it's great, and if somebody compliments you your ego's apt to get way out of bounds. That's as far as you go until you begin to realise there's a big world out there in terms of music and development. Then you also realise that if you do progress the way you should, then you leave something for the next guy.

I took over from Benny in a sense. I brain-picked Benny, Artie Shaw and Charlie Parker, and then did something on the clarinet that happened to be me. Nowadays, when you hear me playing my style is different from the others and recognisably me: That's how it should be.The next clarinet players will do the same thing, maybe incorporate some of my playing. So you never stop trying to develop. Never."'