Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Orchestra – All My Yesterdays – Resonance (2 CDs)

Celebrating fifty years, and counting, of powerful Monday night big band jazz at the Village Vanguard…

Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Orchestra – All My Yesterdays – Resonance HCD 2023 – 2 CDs, 48:47, 77:11 (1966) ****1/2:

(CD 1- 2/7/66: Thad Jones- trumpet, Flugelhorn, arranger & conductor; Hank Jones- piano; Sam Herman – guitar, percussion; Richard Davis – bass; Mel Lewis – drums; Jerome Richardson – alto sax, clarinet, flute; Jerry Dodgion – alto sax, clarinet, flute; Joe Farrell – tenor sax, flute, clarinet; Eddie Daniels – tenor sax, clarinet; Marv “Doc” Holladay – baritone sax; Jimmy Nottingham, Snooky Young, Jimmy Owens, Bill Berry – trumpets; Bob Brookmeyer, Garnett Brown, Cliff Heather, Jack Rains – trombones)

(CD 2- 3/21/66: Thad Jones – trumpet, Flugelhorn, arranger & conductor; Hank Jones – piano; Sam Herman – guitar; Richard Davis – bass; Mel Lewis – drums; Jerome Richardson – alto sax, clarinet, flute; Jerry Dodgion – alto sax, clarinet, flute; Joe Farrell – tenor sax, clarinet, flute; Pepper Adams – baritone sax; Jimmy Nottingham, Bill Berry, Jimmy Owens, Danny Stiles – trumpets; Jack Rains, Garnett Brown, Cliff Heather, Tom McIntosh – trombones)

For jazz fans who can afford to live in New York City, the benefits are no doubt the most fabulous of any city in the world. The same can be said for jazz musicians. It is said that if you want to succeed as a jazz artist you have to taste at least a little bit of the Big Apple. Take the case of those that want to play big band charts, and yet still make a living as a leader and recording artist on a smaller stage. Since big bands (with the exception of Wynton Marsalis’ Lincoln Center Orchestra) can not afford to tour nationally on a regular basis, New York is the only city in the US to provide weeknight gigs, leaving the daytime to record.

The Village Vanguard has for 50 years provided a Monday night gig for the cream of the crop New York jazz artists to play the big band charts of Thad Jones, Bob Brookmeyer, Jim McNeely, and others. Starting on February 7, 1966 and continuing to the present day, on Monday evenings the intimate club is packed to the rafters with locals and visiting fans there to hear musicians (most are top recording artists) stretch out with their compatriots for the love of playing in a top-notch big band.

It all began with the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Orchestra on February 7, 1966. Thad Jones had been a mainstay of the Count Basie Orchestra for many years, playing trumpet and arranging many of the charts for Basie. After leaving Basie, Thad wanted the chance to flex his big band muscles. Partner Mel Lewis had held the drum chair for Stan Kenton and Bill Holman. They decided to debut a big band at the Village Vanguard on a Monday night, a time when many clubs would be dark and musicians would be available. As luck would have it, a young college student, George Klabin (now the owner of Resonance Records) was present to record the band. Armed with a two track stereo tape recorder, a mixing board, and six microphones, Klabin’s task was to record the eighteen piece band. Their hope was that a demo tape might lead to a recording contract for the orchestra. (It did do the trick as it led to a contract with Solid State Records later in 1966. The Solid State session recordings were documented on a long out-of-print Mosaic Records box set).

The buzz about the Jones/Lewis band was so positive that the Monday night gig continued for approximately 13 years. When band members were not available, ready substitutes were there to step in and sight-read the charts. Mel Lewis took over the leadership when Thad moved to Denmark and led the orchestra for another ten years. In addition to playing Thad’s book, the band dug into arrangements of Bob Brookmeyer and Jim McNeely. With Lewis’ passing the orchestra morphed into being renamed the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra in 1990. Monday night is still big band nirvana at the club and this past month they celebrated their 50th year in continuous existence. Their latest CD, OverTime/The Music of Bob Brookmeyer was nominated for a Grammy for Best Large Jazz Ensemble. (I have had the opportunity to hear the orchestra both at the Vanguard, and on tour in Los Angeles, and both times they were a knockout..)

Resonance Records has again risen to the occasion by releasing both the opening night highlights as well as a 77-minute recording from seven weeks later at the club. The acoustics are superb and a testament to the “on the fly” engineering skills of George Klabin. The March recording was done with ten mics. Both discs sound superb with the dynamic power of the orchestra on full display. The band’s members at that time are a who’s who of the best New York players. Where else could you hear Hank Jones comp behind  a sax section of Jerome Richardson, Jerry Dodgion, Joe Farrell, Pepper Adams, and Eddie Daniels; while experiencing the power of brass section of Snooky Young, Jimmy Owens, Bob Brookmeyer, and Garnett Brown.

What is especially interesting is experiencing the differences in presentation in just seven weeks. Opening night was a boisterous rowdy affair with Thad serving as ring leader with shouts of approval spurring on the group, while the subsequent set, less than two months later is a much more polished big band affair. Both are equally exciting but show different sides of the band. This is stunning music with visceral power, an historical testament to the best of big band jazz. Jimmy Nottingham cooks on “Big Dipper” and the double-trombone duets of Brookmeyer and Garnett Brown are memorable. Joe Farrell’s solo on “Lover Man” is especially moving, while hearing Thad Jones blow on his compositions is striking.

What seals the deal as a must-purchase recommendation is the 89-page booklet that accompanies the discs. It not only includes remembrances from living original band members Jerry Dodgion,Eddie Daniels, Marv Holladay, Jimmy Owens, Garnett Brown, Tom McIntosh, and Richard Davis, as well as essays from historians and present day members. Sprinkled throughout are archival photos. If you are a connoisseur of big band jazz, this is a must-have purchase available at a very reasonable price.

TrackList:
CD 1: Back Bone, All My Yesterdays, Big Dipper, Mornin’ Reverend, The Little Pixie, Big Dipper (alt. take)
CD 2: Low Down, Lover Man (Oh Where Can You Be?), Ah,That’s Freedom, Don’t Ever Leave Me, Willow Weep for Me, Mean What You Say, Once Around, Polka Dots and Moonbeams, Mornin’ Reverend, All My Yesterdays, Back Bone

—Jeff Krow

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