Big Band

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The big band genre at JMA documents groups that work primarily with traditional big band arrangements, while our progressive big band genre is reserved for the more experimental bands. Nonetheless, this genre covers a wide variety of styles and musical eras and stretches from Fletcher Henderson in the 20s to to Brian Setzer in the 21st Century.

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Showing only albums and live's | Based on members ratings & JMA custom algorithm

STAN KENTON Adventures in Jazz Album Cover Adventures in Jazz
STAN KENTON
4.99 | 3 ratings
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STAN KENTON Kenton in HI-FI Album Cover Kenton in HI-FI
STAN KENTON
4.98 | 3 ratings
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STAN KENTON Standards in Silhouette Album Cover Standards in Silhouette
STAN KENTON
5.00 | 2 ratings
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STAN KENTON Stan Kenton Conducts the Jazz Compositions of Dee Barton Album Cover Stan Kenton Conducts the Jazz Compositions of Dee Barton
STAN KENTON
4.95 | 2 ratings
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BUDDY RICH Time Out Album Cover Time Out
BUDDY RICH
4.95 | 2 ratings
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BUDDY RICH Big Swing Face Album Cover Big Swing Face
BUDDY RICH
4.95 | 2 ratings
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DUKE PEARSON Introducing Duke Pearson's Big Band Album Cover Introducing Duke Pearson's Big Band
DUKE PEARSON
4.90 | 2 ratings
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DUKE PEARSON Sweet Honey Bee Album Cover Sweet Honey Bee
DUKE PEARSON
5.00 | 1 ratings
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STAN KENTON Live From the Las Vegas Tropicana Album Cover Live From the Las Vegas Tropicana
STAN KENTON
5.00 | 1 ratings
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BUDDY RICH Stick It Album Cover Stick It
BUDDY RICH
5.00 | 1 ratings
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BUDDY RICH Swingin' New Big Band Album Cover Swingin' New Big Band
BUDDY RICH
5.00 | 1 ratings
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JOE LOVANO Symphonica Album Cover Symphonica
JOE LOVANO
5.00 | 1 ratings
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This list is in progress since the site is new. We invite all logged in members to use the "quick rating" widget (stars bellow album covers) or post full reviews to increase the weight of your rating in the global average value (see FAQ for more details). Enjoy JMA!

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big band Music Reviews

DIZZY GILLESPIE At Newport (50th anniversary edition)

Boxset / Compilation · 2007 · Big Band
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The 50th Anniversary edition of “Dizzy Gillespie at Newport” is another one of those CD re-issues that adds enough new material to make it a significant improvement over the original. The original version of “At Newport” did not include the songs that Gillespie’s band performed with Mary Lou Williams that day, those songs instead showed up on a split EP with Count Basie. This 50th Anniversary edition brings all the songs together and you can now hear the entire show, although the songs are not in the right order as they happened that day.

This CD opens up with the six tunes that comprised the original LP and contain some of the hottest playing you will ever hear from Dizzy and his band, or anyone else for that matter. Unlike the swing based bands of Ellington, Basie and others, Dizzy’s band was the be-bop big band; their tempos were fast, their unison lines a blur of speed and their solos displayed a new formidable modern technique. The opening tune “Dizzy’s Blues” busts out of the gate with Dizzy leading the charge with an incredible fiery hot solo relentlessly pushing the beat forward. Wynton Kelly’s jagged piano backup adds to the beautiful chaos. Dizzy tended to gear his shows towards the general public, not just die hard jazz fans, so there is always an upbeat easy going crowd pleasing nature to his shows, along with a good dose of humor. Whether or not Gillespie’s humor gets to be too silly or over done sometimes is a matter of taste.

The rest of the five tunes from the original LP are all good with “School Days” being a sure crowd pleaser with Dizzy doing silly school boy raps over a jump blues/rock-n-roll beat. “Manteca” is intense Latin jazz and “Cool Breeze” brings back the fast energy of the opener. The following tunes on this CD feature the cuts with Mary Lou Williams that were originally released as a separate EP back in the 50s. Apparently these were actually the opening tunes at the concert and present a totally different side of the band. William’s set opens with her ambitious three part “Zodiac Suite” which has the band digging into difficult and exotic 3rd stream type arrangements. This era of early big band experimentation produced some very interesting, almost naïve at times, creations and William’s odd “Suite” is no exception. The rest of this CD is made up of two more well known Latin flavored numbers.

What a great idea to bring the two original separate records of this concert together onto one CD. You get some excellent variety on here with the high brow and ambitious “Zodiac Suite” contrasting with the good times rockin energy of the other cuts. Besides Dizzy, some other great soloists on here include Al Grey on trombone, Pee Wee Moore and Benny Golson on sax, and Lee Morgan on trumpet.

On an interesting side note, Gillespie's 57 appearance at Newport came one year after Ellington’s big band smash success at the festival in 1956. No doubt Ellington’s success was an influence on Gillespie’s presentation as there are some interesting similarities including a three part suite followed by some crowd pleasing bluesy early rock-n-roll back beat.

DUKE ELLINGTON Ellington At Newport Complete

Live album · 1999 · Big Band
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If there is one album where you definitely want to get the complete CD re-issue, “Ellington at Newport” is the one. The difference between this 1999 CD and the original LP from the late 50s is all the difference in the world. The story about this famous 1956 concert and its original recording mishaps has been told many times, so I will make this brief. Ellington’s performance at Newport in 56 was a smash success that turned around his lagging career and inspired so much enthusiasm that the concert almost ended in a riot of sorts. Eager to get a recording of this concert out to the public, Ellington discovered that the concert recording was marred by sloppy playing, and even worse, key solos had been played into the wrong microphones and barely recorded at all. Quickly Ellington pulled together another rehearsal and had the entire concert re-recorded fresh in the studio, except for the one piece that had gotten the crowd to its feet, “Diminuendo and Crescendo in Blue”. That one piece had featured a lengthy solo by Paul Gonsalves that Ellington wanted to preserve as is, even though you could barely hear Gonsalves at times because he was pointed towards the wrong mic.

When “Ellington at Newport” hit the shelves in 57, everyone assumed that was an actual recording of the Duke’s big comeback and the story could have ended there, but many decades later, someone miraculously discovered the tapes picked up by the “wrong microphone” (it was for a taping to be played over seas), all of a sudden the original concert was back again. To say this was one of the biggest musicological finds of the 20th century is practically an understatement. Next came the painstaking task of matching the various tapes together, but new developments in digital technology finally allowed the entire concert to be released in fairly good sounding stereo.

So in 1999 the complete “Ellington at Newport” was released with the entire 56 concert intact, as well as Ellington’s studio remake of the concert that had been the original album. Its fun to compare the two versions, the studio recording is tighter and more polished, but the live recording has so much energy and raw enthusiasm. Some sloppiness in the live recording is pretty bad, such as Johnny Hodges mangled opening note glide on “I Got it Bad”, but overall, I find the live recordings to have more life than the studio ones.

A special brand new three part Newport Suite was supposed to be Ellington’s show stopper at this performance, but despite some great music, it didn’t really grab the audience. Desperate to connect with the crowd and sensing he might not get another shot at a comeback, the Duke started pulling out some old favorites and when the band hit a lengthy blues groove that was the interlude between “Diminuendo in Blue” and “Crescendo in Blue”, the audience went crazy. During this lengthy workout, saxophonist Paul Gonsalves laid down an old-school bluesy solo that became one of the most famous solos in jazz history. Its not a particularly flashy solo, in fact Gonsalves solos during the Newport Suite are much better, but the band hit a groove that really grabbed the crowd. Much of the credit for this should go to new drummer Sam Woodyard and his feel for the new rock-n-roll back beat, and therein lay the key to Duke’s success that evening. It wasn’t about flashy music or powerhouse solos, it was about an irresistible beat and a band that fell into a communal groove with the audience with everyone slapping that backbeat together, shouting out encouragement and dancing in the aisle.

At the end of “Blue” you can hear the pandemonium, the audience is yelling at the stage while Ellington and the promoter are arguing about how to handle the crowd. The Duke wants to keep the encores coming, but the promoter wants to wrap things up. Four encores are eventually played and in between each one you can hear some very heated exchanges, its all very fascinating. Its hard to be objective when rating this album, sure there is some great music on here, particularly the three part suite, but more importantly, this is one of the most famous concerts in jazz history and the fact that it was considered lost for so long makes it no less than a miracle.

DUKE ELLINGTON Three Mid-Fifties Classic Albums and More: Historically Speaking - The Duke / Duke Ellington Presents / Ellington 55

Boxset / Compilation · 2008 · Big Band
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“Duke Ellington - Three Mid-Fifties Classic Albums” is a title that makes it quite clear what you get on this CD compilation. The albums “Duke Ellington 55”, “Historically Speaking, the Duke” and “Duke Ellington Presents” are all presented along with ten more bonus tracks recorded about the same time as the “Ellington 55” cuts. “55” consists of material recorded in 53 and was the Duke’s last album for Capitol before they let him go, the other two albums are with the smaller Bethlehem label and were recorded a few years later in early 56. The mid 50s are considered a down time for Ellington and his band as their popularity waned and Ellington was producing very little new material and mostly re-recording past favorites. Still, the band is in fine form and there is some excellent material to be found on here.

“55” is probably the weakest of the three albums with its older style production and preponderance of over played dance tunes made popular by the likes of Glen Miller etc. The two Bethlehem albums feature a much stronger rhythm section production which is driven by the modern back-beat influenced drummer Sam Woodyard. Sam was an important new addition to the band and his strong rhythms propelled the band’s big comeback at Newport soon after these Bethlehem albums were released. The Bethlehem sides are also helped by the return of Johnny Hodges to the band, whose virtuoso saxophone playing always lifts the band to another level.

Some of the standout tracks on here include rip snorting versions of “The Jeep is Jumpin”, “Rockin in Rhythm”, “Cotton Tail” and “Stomp Look and Listen”. Ellington gets into his more modern and abstract sounds on “Lonesome Lullaby” and “Upper Manhattan Medical Group”. The weakest cuts are the bonus tracks from the 53 sessions, they aren’t terrible, buts its easy to see why they weren’t included on an album the first time around, I think lackluster is the term.

Since much of these three albums were made up of past hits, owning all three gives you quite an overview of some of Ellington’s more popular material, all played with energy, enthusiasm and much creativity. The critics were down on these albums at the time of their release for their lack of new material, but the passing of time has made that less relevant today.

DUKE ELLINGTON Duke Ellington Presents... (aka Duke Ellington Moods)

Album · 1956 · Big Band
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“Duke Ellington Presents” was one of Duke’s last mid-50s recordings to be put out before his big comeback at the Newport Jazz Festival in 1956. The mid-50s are considered a bit of a down time for Ellington as he was no longer writing new material and was being encouraged by labels to record his older hits in the new hi-fidelity LP format. Although critics are not particularly fond of these records, Ellington’s fans are often happy to hear different versions of popular favorites. The premise behind “Presents” was that each of these songs was to be a showcase for a particular soloist, hence the title. What made this album unique was that most of these tunes were not part of the usual Ellington repertoire, but were instead songs made popular by others, thus the attraction to Ellington fans who wanted to hear Duke’s take on well known classics such as “My Funny Valentine”, “Laura”, “Summertime” and others.

Another unique aspect of this album is that most of these cuts are ballads, making it must have for fans of Duke’s more mellow side. Each tune gives plenty of room for the appointed soloist to show off their lyrical abilities and personality. Most of these are good, but top honors for the ballad numbers goes to Russell Procope’s almost classical sounding alto sax on a beautifully subtle “Indian Summer”, also nice are Harry Carney on “Frustration” and Johnny Hodges on “Daydream”.

Despite the preponderance of ballad numbers, not everything is laid back on here. “Blues” is a great groove number that allows almost everyone a chance to solo, but possibly one of the most intense numbers I’ve ever heard from Ellington is the high speed take on “Cottontail”. The band fires off rapid riffs with lightning precision while Paul Gonsalves delivers a funky rhythmic solo. Put this one in the car and turn it up loud next time you need to make some good time. Overall this may not be one of Ellington’s most original LPs, but his fans don’t seem to mind, particularly fans of his ballad style. Most of these performances are excellent.

DUKE ELLINGTON The Duke: Historically Speaking (aka The Big Band Sound Of Duke Ellington aka Stomp, Look And Listen aka Duke Ellington Classics)

Album · 1956 · Big Band
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The mid-50s is generally considered a low point in the career of Duke Ellington and his band. Critics were critical of the fact that Duke was not creating much new material, but instead was re-recording many of his hits from the past. This probably wasn’t all Duke’s fault as record companies at this time were big on re-recording older popular music with the new high fidelity sound in hopes getting a few more consumer dollars out of some old favorites. In February 1956 Duke entered the Bethlehem label studios and cut enough material to make two records; “Duke Ellington Presents” and “Historically Speaking, the Duke”. Although these records may not have been the most forward thinking project Ellington could have come up with at the time, removed from that time period and taken on their own merit, these records hold up well as excellent recordings of Duke’s band in full swing.

The supposed gimmick behind “Historically Speaking” was that Duke was going to re-record these numbers in modern high fidelity sound, but with the original arrangements intact. As the record unfolds though, there are definitely some changes and modernizations here and there and not all of the arrangements are faithful to the originals, which is probably no big deal either way. One of the most interesting aspects of this record is that the tunes are presented in chronological order which allows you to follow Duke’s musical development from sophisticated blues in the late 20s to increasingly abstract melodies and arrangements in the mid 50s.

All of the tunes on here are excellent with “The Jeep is Jumpin” getting top honors for pure groove and a great funky melody. For uptempo numbers, the band rocks out on “Ko-Ko“ and “Stomp Look and Listen“. “Jack the Bear” has a clever arrangement that has the band hitting gradually building crescendos on the down beat. This effect will definitely grab your attention the first time you hear it. Closing numbers “Lonesome Lullaby” and “Upper Manhattan Medical Group” show Duke’s band at their most sophisticated with abstract scores that rival a concert-hall orchestra. To hear the band’s ensemble work at its best, listen to the rapid fire syncopated horn riffs that back the soloists on “Stomp Look and Listen”. All of the band is excellent on here, but possible top honors go to Johnny Hodges virtuoso alto sax and Jimmy Hamilton’s snake-charmer clarinet, which at times floats on top of the bands muscular punch.

To recapitulate, this record may have seemed like a step backwards in the mid 50s when everyone was leaning towards the big changes right around the corner in the 60s, but removed from those times and taken on its own merits today, this is simply an excellent recording of one of jazz’s finest ensembles ever, maybe not at their peak, but still better than most.

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