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Monday, January 30, 2023

The Jazz Workshop - Billy Byers


Chinese Water Torture

The RCA Victor Jazz Workshop
Billy Byers
RCA Victor LPM-1269

Trumpet - Nick Travis & Bernie Glow
Trombone - Urbie Green, Fred Ohms & Chauncy Welch
Clarinet, Tenor & Baritone Sax - Al Cohn
Clarinet & Alto Sax - Phil Funk
Flute & Alto Sax - Jerry Sanfino
Bass - Milt Hinton
Drums - Osie Johnson
Piano & Celeste - Moe Wechsler
Vibes - Joe Venuto
Violin - Gene Orloff
Cello - Alan Schulman, Lucien Schmit & Bernie Greenhouse

From the back cover: In Greek mythology there was a remarkable marine deity in the service of Poseidon, the god of the sea. His name was Proteus, and when seized he would assume different shapes.

Billy Byers' music has nothing to do with Greek mythology, except to the extent that from Proteus' name the adjective "protean" was derived to denote anything or anybody very changeable or versatile, able to alter in shape, principle or style as desired; and by all odds Billy Byers, when seized, is as protean a cat as you will find in or out of jazz today.

If the exigency of the moment calls for a movie background score, don't forget that after he came out of the Army in 1945 Billy Byers was busy writing for the film studios for three years. If it's TV music that's needed, he can point to the several seasons he dedicated to the scoring of "Your Show Of Shows" and of numerous Spectaculars for Max Liebman. Or if big-band jazz orchestrations are required, he can duplicate his success with the bands of Benny Goodman and Charlie Ventura.

On the other hand, when the situation simply requires a capable trombonist, remember that this was how Billy  got his start, playing with the Hollywood Canteen Kids at the age of fifteen (he was born in Los Angeles in 1927); and much of his early experience was gained on the road with Georgie Auld and Buddy Rich. His playing and writing have contributed already to a number of successful RCA Victor jazz albums, among them LPM-1107 (Basses Loaded), LJM-1024 by Al Cohn, and LPM-1146 (the fabulous Lullaby Of Birdland set, including Billy's own big-band treatment of the tune).

Furthermore, in case you wondered whether a man burdened down with so many heavy responsibilities might be capable of going back home to reunite with the origins, let us recall, too, the evenings he spent getting his kicks in the Dixieland bands at Eddie Condon's and the Stuyvesant Casino.

As you are beginning to observe, Proteus had nothing on Mr. Byers.

When Jack Lewis assigned Billy an album in the RCA Victor Jazz Workshop series, it was to be expected that operating within this challenging framework Billy would again show his ability to assume various guises. Accordingly, he is presented here in three provocatively contrasted settings: one featuring four strings, another in which he's part of a trombone quartet along with trumpet, saxophone, bass and drums; and a third in which the instrumentation is more conventional – three horns and three rhythm.

Alone Together, Billy's arrangement of the 1932 Dietz-Schwartz hit, makes attractive use of Je Venuto's marimba and of the handsome blend of three cellos. The Tickler features the muted moods of Nick Travis' trumpet, Phil Funk's chalumeau-register clarinet and Billy's bone in some deft exchanges, with Moe Wechsler cushioning the gentle groove on celeste while Osie Johnson and Milt Hinton sustain the rhythm. The only forte passages, in the first half of the last chorus, are that much more effective by virtue of the contrast they provide. The next two items, Billy Bones and Chinese Water Torture (the latter named for the drip-drip effect of the groups of notes at intervals of a second) provide a dual surprise in that Al Cohn, best known as a stalwart of the tenor sax, is heard in solos on baritone sax and clarinet respectively. I See A Million People, which singer-pianist Ana Mae Carlisle wrote and introduced in 1941, is another fine vehicle for the string group and for Billy's ballad style. Back In Your Own Back Yard, a 1928 pop, is unpretentiously scored for three horns – Nick, altoist Phil, and Billy – who thereafter take off on their own.

The Funky Music Box is very short and succinct, with canonic touches and Moe Wechsler's celeste to bring the title to nostalgic life. The Great Rationalization is one of Billy's most melodic and swinging  originals with great, rational solos by Billy and Milt Hinton. Sunday is packed with surprises, from its Sunday-like string-suspended opening through its Saturday-night swinging midway to the pensive Monday-morning end. Misty Osie has a funky, two-beat, semi-Dixieland quality, with Milt's bass, Al's baritone and B.B.'s horn to the fore. Thou Swell, a hardy Rodgers and Hart relic from 1927, moves fast enough to allow plenty of solo latitude to Billy, Phil's alto, Nick's trumpet and Moe's piano.You're Mine You, a beautiful Johnny Green composition, has the strings and Jerry Sanfino's flute backing Billy in a superb example of his ballad technique both as arranger and smooth-toned soloist.

At this writing Billy Byers is taking French leave from the U.S. scene, composing and arranging for Ray Ventura in Paris. After hearing his own first album I'm sure you will join me in hoping he'll soon become homesick – Leonard Feather

Alone Together
The Tickler
Billy Bones
Chinese Water Torture
I See A Million People
Back In Your Own Back Yard
The Funky Music Box
The Great Rationalization 
Misty Osie
Thou Swell
You're Mine You

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