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Thursday, March 23, 2023

Swing Song Book - Les Brown


Lullaby Of Birdland

Swing Song Book
Les Brown and His Band Of Renown
Cover Photo: Garrett-Howard
Coral Records CRL 757300

Trumpets - Wes Hensel, Dick Collins, Jerry Kadowitz, Clinton McMaden, Frank Beach
Trombones - Dick Kenney, Roy Main, J. Hill, Clyde Brown
Reeds - Matt Utal, Ralph La Polla, Bill Usselton, Abe Aaron, Butch Stone
Rhythm - Donn Trenner, piano; Jules Berteaux, bass; Howard Roberts or Tony Rizzi or Allan Reuss, guitar; Jack Sperling, drums
Soloist - Dick Collins, trumpet; Dick Kenney, trombone; Donn Trenner, piano; Matt Utal, flute and alto sax; Bill Usselton, tenor sax; Jack Sperling, drums
Arrangers - Jim Hill: Swing Book Blues, Early Autumn, Moten-Swing, Just In Time, "A" Train, I'm Beginning To See The Light, Pick Yourself Up - Wes Hensel: How High The Moon, King Porter Stomp, Lullaby Of Birdland, I Want To Be Happy - Billy May: Lean Baby

From the inside cover: Introduction

Les Brown is still swingin'! One of the few existing reminders of the golden era for big bands – 1933 - 1947 – the Les Brown orchestra could well evoke memories of stage shows seen and enjoyed, or dances attended, when the bands were shouting along Broadway and all the miniature Broadways throughout the country.

Those were exciting days; unforgettable to people charmed  by the big band sound. And it hasn't been quite the same since. Only Brown, Basie, Herman and Kenton survive to recall the glory moment that spanned a decade.

Like the best bands of the Swing Era, the Brown crew is thoroughly professional in performance of a variety of material, and displays esprit de corps and vigor, so flagrantly absent in big band ranks in recent years. What is most important, however, the band has a voice it can call its own.

More of a dance band than anything else, the Brown Band of Renown has never been snared but is very function. Les' emphasis on musical  values about all else has made each edition of his orchestra something more – more exciting, more modern, more precise than the last one.

There isa band that adjusts to trends rather than fads. Les has always shown a surprising wakefulness to the needs of the listening and dancing public. He hasn't , however, been a slave to his public.

Throughout the long life of this organization, LEs has plotted each more carefully, taking into consideration the pulse of the tines as well as the decidedly musical platform on which he feels his band must function. The result: a most compatible alliance of the musical and commercial in his presentations, offensive to no one, yet exhilarating to many with decidedly "musical" tastes.

Les allows for no indolence in his band. New scores are constantly freshening the hands library and challenging the players. New arranging ideas are often introduced; older charts are updated to fit the modern perspective of this ever-evolving organization. What is more, all modification are assimilated into the basic style/personality of the band. In this way, the unit remains up to the minute, while redefining itself through change.

Theme And Variations

The first band under Les Brown's leadership was composed of enthusiastic college musicians, endplate on and around the Duke University campus. Called "The Blue Dives" in deference to the school, the band was the rage of the area, in constant demand for all kinds of functions.

Success breeds confidence. "The Blue Devils" became quite a cocky bunch. Brown decided to try to make a go of his band in New York City.

When the band came to New York in the summer of 1936, its brand of musical intensity held little fascination for the public. By the time fall rolled around, the fellows in the band were quite discouraged and the decision was made to return to school.

Having graduated, Les had no recourse but to stay on in New York. He took stock of the situation. There was much to be evaluated and assimilated for the next time, there certainly would be a next time. Brown had to be band leader. Discouragement made this need just a little more intense.

On the strength of his arranging talent, Les soon found work town. Scoring on a free-lance basis for the Isham Jones, Don Bettor, Larry Clinton and Ruby Newman bands kept him going. Exposure to bands, ranging from the best to the worst, in ballrooms, theaters and clubs in the New York area helped nurture a fuller understanding of the demands of the field.

In the summer of 1938, the first edition of the Band of Renown was organized for an engagement at New York's Hotel Edison. Because he was well-liked and respected in the trade, Les found it possible to obtain many of the best available men in town. This, in itself, is somewhat unusual, for the first jobs for new bands generally pay very little. Keeping cost at a minimum – Les wrote most of the arrangements– the band successfully got through the summer.

The first step up for the Brown band came in late 1938.Booked into Mike Todd's Theatre Cafe in Chicago, Les and his mender received warmly. Business was good ingot better; the customer were captivated by Les' brand of music. To a public that was dancing, a most accessible beat, couched in a style strikingly similar to that of the Jimmie Lunceford crew, was an appealing prescription.The Brown band played an extended engagement at the Todd nitery.

Certain critics felt that the similarity between the Brown and Lunceford styles was a limitation, that the emphasis on the Lunceford rhythmic identity – the two beat – would lead Brown to a dead en.For all that, the dancer were pleased, an the Brown name became more and more familiar round the country. The Log Cabin in Armonk, New York – a cradle for bands in the late Thirties and early Forties; The Blackhawk in Chicago the Palladium in Hollywood; the Cafe Rouge of the thenHotel Pennsylvania (now Statler); and the Astor Roof in New York City are just a few of the spots where the brown band appeared in its first years of existence.

In the early Forties, with the aide of Ben Homer, the first arranger that Les has hired on a full-time basis, the band took on an identity. Leaning to rich voicings and interesting usage of the sections of the orchestra, Homer embellished upon the band's Lunceford style, and in doing so, pointed the way to a larger degree of critical and audience acceptance for the organization.

Homer found his adaptations of folk and classical themes to swing contours the most popular of all his arrangements, Bizet Has His Day, Mexican Hat Dance and Anvil Chorus became the most requested numbers in the library, and the records on the tunes sold well. By individualizing a concept explored by the Glenn Miller, Jimmie Lunceford, Jan Savitt and Larry Clinton bands, Homer brought attention to himself and his vehicle, the Les Brown Band.

The precision with which Homer's fine scores were played caused comments in the trade. Obviously, Les realized the vale of rehearsal, and time was allocated for it even though the band was constantly on the move.

"He's always been a perfectionist," wrote George Simon in Metronome Magazine – Dec. 1946, "When he was still an unknown he used to get very excited because the musicians in Jimmy Dorsey's band didn't give the proper value to quarter notes... Sloppiness in bands irks him!"

As the band became more and more of a factor in the early war years, enthusiasm within the organization grew, and the artful preciseness that had been worked so hard for became a continuing reality.

Swinging arrangements kept pouring into the band's library in the middle years of the Forties. High On A Windy Trumpet and Lover's Leap by trumpeter Bob Higgins and a more modern version of the Brown theme, Leapfrog, were some of the more memorable contributions of the period.

For all the respect and admiration that musicians and critics had for Les' swinging policy, it is the boublic na d the pubic only, that keeps a band in the black. And with the emergence of vocalist Doris Day in the latter war years, the Band of Renown reached one of its peaks of commercial strength.

Through a featured vocalist with the band for a few years, Miss Day did not take fire and made a hit with the public until recording Sentimental Journey with Les. With the release of the record, she became a star. Her meteoric rise in Hollywood after leaving Brown is, as the typical press agent would say, history.

In the mid and late Forites, Frank Comstock, first a member of the Brown trombone section – he joined the band in 1943 – became an important arranging light in the Brown orbit. Continuing the tradition of Ben Homer, he stressed color in his writing. By using a variety of instrument combinations in the creation of memorable voicings, leaning to flowing "four beat" swing more than his predecessor, Comstock put his mark on the band for nearly a decade.

Other arrangers have played important roles in lending renown to the band of Les Brown during the last decade. Skip Martin, for one, if only for his arrangement of I've Got My Love To Keep Me Warm, deserves plaudits. "The sheer danceability of this arrangement is extraordinary," said British musician- critic Steve Race in the London Melody Maker. "Everything about it affects the feet... It's a model of dance band arranging."

Says Brown: "Like the band of the Swing Era, we are concerned with the dancers... and the listeners. I've Got My Love To Keep My Warm had appeal for both factions. That's the reason it became so popular."

Taking into consideration all of th people drawn to a  band, Les has been flexible in his choice of material. "We play everything from concert music to novelties," Brown told me. "But we never make musical sacrifices. Retaining our identity is most important."

Honor and love, that old common denominator, have had a place in the Brown scheme of things throughout the band's history.

Joltin' Joe DiMaggio, one of Les' first big record sellers had a taste of humor; and the tunes that Butch Stone, that ever-young comedy vocalist and mainstay of the outfit, has been doing over the years are fun – fun in the "hip" sense of the word.

Selection of the most substantial of romantic material and sensitive treatment of it by the orchestra and its vocalists have brought the band closer to the public.

In the late Forties, the big bans fell from favor, Many of them disbanded. Economically, bands became more and more difficult to support as fans swung their allegiance either ti singer or small jazz combos.

The Band Of Renown, however, went right on. Always filled with excellent instrumentalists, capable on many musical levels, the band was lucky enough to  be selected by Bob Hope to work with him. First, the band appeared on Hope's radio shows, and later, on his TV shows as well. Won occasion, the unit accompanies the comedian on his jaunts to entertain American troops thought the world.

This affiliation with Hope, already a decade old, looks like a lasting one. There is great mutual respect between Brown and Hope. The stability of the relationship, in turn has allowed Les to hold his men (something he probably would have done anyway) to be independent to a certain extent, to play enen more of the music he feels in important, and above all, to stay close to his home in California six months of the year.

Today, the band is only slight different than it was ten years ago. There are still familiar faces that the devoted fan will recognize. A few of the key men have gone out on their own – i.s. Dave Pell – and still others have moved over to other bands – i.e. Ray Sims to Harry James. As always, the morale in the band is excellent; the conditions, on both musical and personal levels, good as ever.

As George Simon noted in his article: "Les Brown is one of the really great, if not the greatest leader in the world to work for!" The men from other editions of the Band Of Renown – drummer Dick Shanahan, tenorists, Ted Nash, Wolf Tannerbaum and Dave Pell; trumpeters Billy Butterfield, Don Jacoby, Jimmy Zito and Randy Brooks; and pianist Geoff Clarkson and trombonist Sy Zentner, among others, can testify to this truth.. And it must be pointed out that association with Les did much to forward their careers. He gave them a chance to show what they could do, to develop both as band members and soloists.

In the last decade, the tradition of earlier Brown bands has been carried on. Well drilled yet creative, the orchestra continues to impress. Bill Coss, editor of Metronome, summed up the band's position in one of the magazine recent yearbooks.

"Les Brown's seemed to be the last of the 'exciting' bands (as opposed to those few band which played little pop martial and those that played that material in an uncreative way)... Les alone seemed to combine the pure functionalism of the dance and with crisp, modern scores, stellar musicianship and a generally high level of soloists."

Swing Book Blues 
How High The Moon
Early Autumn
King Porter Stomp
Lullaby Of Birdland
Moten Swing
Just In Time
I Want To Be Happy
Take The "A" Train
I'm Beginning To See The Light
Pick Yourself Up
Lean Baby

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