Classic Jazz At The Philharmonic Jam Sessions (1950-1957) – Mosaic Records

by | Feb 23, 2023 | Jazz CD Reviews | 0 comments

Rapturous jazz excitement…

Classic Jazz At The Philharmonic Jam Sessions (1950-1957) – Mosaic Records #MD 10-275 – 10 CD – ***** (Limited edition of 5000 box sets)

(Artists include: Hank Jones, Oscar Peterson, John Lewis – piano; Harry Edison, Charlie Shavers, Roy Eldridge, Dizzy Gillespie – trumpets; Bill Harris, J.J. Johnson – trombones; Benny Carter, Flip Phillips, Lester Young, Willie Smith, Ben Webster, Sonny Stitt, Illinois Jacquet, Stan Getz, Coleman Hawkins – saxophones;  Herb Ellis, Barney Kessel – guitars; Ray Brown, Percy Heath – bass;  J.C. Heard, Louie Bellson, Jo Jones, Connie Kay, Buddy Rich – drums; Lionel Hampton – vibes; Ella Fitzgerald – vocals)

To call Norman Granz (b. 1918- d. 2001) , simply a jazz impresario, would be a major understatement. In addition to becoming the most influential jazz promoter, Granz founded several labels, including Verve Records, as well pulling the post World War II music listening audience towards jazz. Before rock and roll captured young peoples’ fancy in the late 1950s, Norman Granz produced touring concerts of the most influential jazz artists of the day in true  “jam sessions” that were precursors to audience mania that carried over to rock and roll a decade later.

Granz started his grand tours (titled Jazz at the Philharmonic due to the fact that they began at the Philharmonic Auditorium in Los Angeles) in 1942. The early years of concerts was covered on the 10 CD box set (Complete Jazz at the Philharmonic on Verve, 1944-1949, released in 1998).

Mosaic Records, the boutique label most valued by jazz collectors, has just released a 10 CD box set limited to 5000 copies, of the most coveted period of JATP, 1950-1957. This set features sound restoration and mastering using 24 BIT technology (by Andreas Meyer and Nancy Conforti at Swan Studios. ) It brings  groupings of non-regular working groups, who only through the influence of Norman Granz, could be brought together. One of the major factors that brought “the best of the best” together was Norman’s emphasis on social justice. He demanded that his artists be housed together, that audiences be non-segregated, and that they be paid fairly.

They were given free rein to pick their own material, with no restrictions. Their sessions were performed (for maybe the only time in their careers) in front of large audiences. Formerly they played only in small jazz clubs. Now at large venues, like Carnegie Hall, the Hollywood Bowl, and the Opera House in Chicago, they could be exposed to large audiences, many who had never been exposed to jazz before.

Take a gander at the artist list above, and you will marvel at who shared the stage for the only time in their lifetimes. Still at the prime of their careers, imagine at seeing (this is only one line-up of many…) Roy Eldridge, Dizzy Gillespie, Illinois Jacquet, Flip Phillips, Lester Young(!), Oscar Peterson, Herb Ellis, Ray Brown, and Buddy Rich. For jazz fans then (and possibly more so today) this was a once in a lifetime opportunity.

The riches of this box set include drum duels between Gene Krupa and Buddy Rich, extended saxophone jams with Lester Young, Benny Carter, Ben Webster, all on the stage together, either on sublime ballads, or free to explore friendly horn battles. 

What was unique for the artists, all veterans of the club scene, was the rare chance to work an adoring audience into a frenzy with escalating tempos. Jazz critics of the day were perplexed with audience reaction, not being used to rabid, ecstatic reaction from jazz audiences. Theater owners were floored as well. Not till young rock attendees a decade later, were crowds as rowdy.

Underrated jazz “gunslinger” saxophonists such as Flip Phillips, and Illinois Jacquet were willing and able to flip the switch and go off on a tear to escalate the crowd, and their fellow band mates. As the frosting on the cake, Granz exposed the country to the jazz vocal genius of Ella Fitzgerald in the JATP tours.

Song selection on this classic box set are largely well known, giving the artists, who did not regularly play together, the chance to easily improvise on the changes. Whether it was on ballads like “Summertime,” “I Can’t Get Started,” “All of Me,” or burners like “Flying Home,” “Billie’s Bounce,” or “Jumpin’ at the Woodside,” these ace veterans gave their audiences an auditory jazz experience that we can envy today. Norman Granz’ genius has never been replicated since in bringing together jazz geniuses in large settings in classy theaters.

Jazz fans would be wise to pick up this historic jazz box set pronto before it sells out of its limited 5000 copy issue. It includes an extensive 32 page booklet with commentary and archival photos that adds to its value.

—Jeff Krow

More information available through Mosaic Records:

Album Cover for Jazz At The Philharmonic, 1950-1957


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