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Saturday, March 25, 2023

Oscar Pettiford Orchestra In Hi-Fi


Little Niles

Oscar Pettiford Orchestra In Hi-Fi
The Oscar Pettiford Orchestra
Produced by Creed Taylor
Cover Deign by Fran Scott
Cover Photography by Myron Miller, Howell Coman's Studio
ABC-Paramount ABCS-227

From the back cover: Ten years ago – this winter – I rode back from Stockton, California after a one nigher with Dizzy Gillette.

An auto ride then, or now, with The Man is an experience – and this particular one was at 5 A.M. on a cold night. There was a radio in the car and as we switched from station to station Dizzy gave an impromptu commentary on music. "Funny thing about that Hawaiian music, those people never got anywhere," he said as se caught a few bars of a steel guitar.  "They don't get our sound," he commented as we picked up on a late night jazz show on which a big band version of one of the Gillespie featured numbers was being played.

Then we caught a Duke Ellington record with Oscar Pettiford on it.

"Listen to him," said Dizzy. "There's a lot of good bass players all over the country, but there's only two real geniuses of the bass – Charlie Mingus and Oscar Pettiford."

There's no reason to alter that statement today, even if Paul Chambers is knocking on the door. As of now, Mingus and Pettiford represent the greatest maturity the bass has, both as solo instrument and as a rhythm instrument. Both men are voices with an unmistakable individuality. Both are capable of playing entrancing solos while still anchoring the rhythm section.

Perriford has been more successful, perhaps, than any bass soloist since Jimmy Blanton. He has the dominating personality that such an instrument demands if it is to be heard with the background of a big band. With a small group there is, by the very nature of things, more of a chance for a bassist to be heard. But with a big band it's something else again.

However, it is interesting to remember that although Pettiford has been – and successfully – a big band bassist and  a soloist in such a context, it was with little group and with an entirely different instrument altogether that he made his first impact as a jazz voice. Oscar's small group records with the cello electrified the jazz world. Nobody has done anything past them, yet, nor seems likely to, on that instrument. The cello with its lighter and sharper tone cuts through as a solo instrument much better than even the amplified bass does, and that may be the reason that Oscar's cello records were so successful. As a result of them – whether they know it or not – dozens of bass players were able to obtain an audience for their solos. People had finally dug that there was more than rhythm to two be had from the large stringed instruments.

Now, Oscar has returned to the big band scene. This is in perfect keeping with the pattern of pace setters and experimenters in all the arts. Today the big band is at its lowest ebb in a decade. The board offers very little encouragement; the cost of living is such that big bands are a case of diminishing returns, a very uneconomical proposition. The ballrooms don't draw, there are no theaters to play any longer and there are fewer and fewer jazz clubs big enough to book a 17-piece band.

Any yet – and yet. In almost every major city there's a big rehearsal band and in some cities there are more than one. (In San Francisco, for instance, three are two: Rudy Salvini and Buddy Hyles.) This means that the musicians themselves feel the need. the drive, to play big band jazz. They are driven to it. The sound is not complete without it.And because of this attitude (and it's a growing one), there's the suspicion that something new is about to happen, some new group will find the right formula and create enough interest to start the whole thing going again.

This may  be Oscar Pettiford.

This LP, for instance, brings out for show the tenor saxophone solo abilities of Jerome Richardson, a former resident of the San Francisco – Oakland area and a converted alto saxophonist. Tenor now seems to have been the instrument Richardson really should concentrate on and his solos here are, I think, a pretty good indication off that. Again, inline with the continuing Pettiford policy of giving space to younger voices, there's a remarkable trombone solo in the specially flood style of Al Grey, Formerly with Lionel Hampton and Dizzy Gillespie and now with Basie. There's also the beautifully formed and carefully etched solo work of Art Farmer, one of the most consistently interesting of the young trouper, and the kinetic excitement of GiGi-Gryce's alto.

The seven tracks in this LP are consistently good big band jazz. There is a deepened variety of coloration, as in a finely patterned Madder print; there is interesting tonal contrast between he sections – the brasses and the reeds. And in particular )the quality of the soloists is accepted as superior), there is a beautifully functional rhythm section which is just like the turbine of a steamer that goes smoothly on, no matter what. I was particularly struck on repeated hiring of this LOP by the arresting and surprising use of the back beat by Gus Johnson on the opening and closing selections. I don't know what he did, actually, to make the sound – it used to be done by hitting the stand of the high hat or the side of the snare with the left stick – but is is most effective and I am delighted to see its return as an effect to be used by drummers.

There's one other thing which should d be mentioned. I Remember Clifford," which is Benny Golden's tune written by him early in 1957 when he was with Dizzy Gillepsie's band, is a most remarkable tribute to the memory of the late Clifford Brown, a most remarkable trumpeter. Golden says it was the most difficult thing he ever wrote (and he is the young man who has written the classic "Stablemates"). To me it is one of the most effective jazz compositions of all time and a tune that I am sure is going to  be a standard part of the repertory of jazz groups large and small from now on.

So, there you have it – the second volume of the Oscar Pettiford big band. This is the finest big band LP you will hear. And listening to it ou will know how very far modern big band jazz is going. – Ralph J. Gleason - Editor, Jam Session (Putnam's) "The Rhythm Section," San Francisco Chronicle 

Now See How You Are
Aw! Come On
I Remember Clifford
Little Niles

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