Friday, September 15, 2006

Maynard Ferguson - A Message from Birdland (1959)

Roulette R 52027

1. Oleo
2. Starfile
3. The Mark Of Jazz
4. Night Life
5. Stella By Starlight
6. Lonely Time
7. Back In The Satellite Again

Liner Notes:

     In emphasizing, on our notes for the last Maynard Ferguson LP, the great success enjoyed b the band at dance dates, we were concerned mainly with pointing up an aspect of its activity relevant to that particular album (it was "Swingin' My Way Through College" on Roulette R 25058). Naturally it is impossible to draw any hard and firm line between what a jazz orchestra does for dancers and where it begins to cater primarily to the listeners. One thing is certain, however: the present set was recorded under conditions that made an emphasis on listening imperative.
     There is no dancing at Birdland. This no longer seems remarkable, though when the club opened in 1949 it was relatively unusual for any but a tiny 52nd Street joint to operate on this basis. Jazz to a large degree was still a utilitarian art, especially in its big-band manifestations. Today, of course, with concerts and festivals multiplying every season, bands like Maynard’s are capable of functioning with equal effectiveness whether the audience has come to squirm or to squat. And in this on-the-spot recording cut June 17, 1959 at “The Jazz Corner of the World”, the band demonstrates the ebullient and spirited quality of its performances in front of an enthusiastic, jazz-oriented audience.
     Personnel for this date was as follows: Maynard Ferguson, trumpet and valve trombone; Clyde Reasinger, Jerry Tyree, Don Ellis, trumpets; Don Sebesky, Slide Hampton, trombones; Jimmy Ford, alto sax, Carmen Leggio, Willie Maiden, tenor saxes; John Lanni, baritone sax; Joe Zawinul, piano; Jimmy Rowser, bass; Frankie Dunlop, drums.
     Frankie Dunlop’s eight-bar introduction kicks off “THE MARK OF JAZZ,” a Slide Hampton original. The tune is strongly reminiscent of some of the Charlie Parker compositions of his earlier (mid-1940s) recording era. Basically it’s a twelve-bar blues at the kind of tempo Bird used to cherish - pushing seventy measures a minute. The first solo, appropriately, is assigned to alto saxophone and it is perhaps at tempos like this that Jimmy Ford evokes the strongest memories of the man who was clearly his original idol. Slide’s own solo follows, staring with an entire chorus accompanied, a gambit used effectively a few minutes later to kick off Maynard’s solo. Just as the performance is reaching a climax, an effective mood switch brings in a passage of walking by Jimmy Rowser. Franke Dunlop’s fierce underlining and Maynard’s upper register punctuate the ensemble riffing before Frankie takes over the spotlight to bring the 6½ minute excursion to a dramatic end. “THE MARK OF JAZZ” was named for the popular Philadelphia jazz disc jockey, Sid Mark.
     “OLEO” is a Sonny Rollins composition, first recorded a few years ago by Miles Davis and Sonny. Slide Hampton wrote this arrangement, which with its fundamental I-Got-Rhythm-type changes affords plenty of chances for freehand sketching by several soloists. Jimmy Rowser’s walking provides a swinging partnership for Slide on the latter’s solo. The trumpet this time is not Maynard, but Jerry Tyree, a youngster whose tone, assurance and fluency have advanced remarkably during the past year. Next comes Joe Zawinul, a pianist who sat in with the band a few months ago, only a month or so after arriving from his native Austria. The whole band was gassed and since Maynard’s pianist, Bob Dogan, was due for Army induction, the young Viennese got the job shortly afterward. He shows a strong Powell-and-Silver influence, though he claims to be a mainstreamer at heart (his favorite tenor man, he says, is Ben Webster). Jimmy Ford and Maynard wail brilliantly before the final unison theme is played by Tyree, Hampton and Ford.
     “STARFIRE” was composed and arranged by Benny Golson, the preferred young writer of many contemporary jazzmen, best known for such originals as Whisper Not, I Remember Clifford and Stablemates. A simple and beautiful melody, it is performed in Maynard’s most soulful ballad mood. Notice how effectively the ban’s shading, its control of dynamics is handled here – a mood is achieved that used to be heard too rarely in this orchestra.
     “NIGHT LIFE” is another original written and scored by Golson. A medium-tempo minor key work, it has Maynard in a muted solo, Slide sliding and Zawinul also soloing, as well as some skillfully built ensembles constructed on the twelve-bar pattern.
     “LONELY TIME” is an original composition by Marty Paich, whose writing in recent years has earned him even more recognition than his piano playing in West Coast jazz circles. Written three years ago, it features the tenor saxophone of Willie Maiden.
     The same Mr. Maiden, a familiar contributor to both the book and the reed section of the Ferguson organization, contributes as composer-arranger on “BACK IN THE SATELLITE AGAIN,” a pun title worthy of Peter de Vries. The tempo being just what you would expect it to be, the band completes its orbit in two minutes and forty seconds with Jimmy Ford, Maynard and Frankie Dunlop prominent among the space travelers. “The band has played this quite a few times,” says Willie, “but the performance on this record is the best we ever did with it, I think.”
     “STELLA BY STARLIGHT” is an arrangement of the Victor Young standard that has been in the Ferguson books for a year or two. In the opening chorus Maynard plays the lead on trombone while Clyde Reasinger handles the lead trumpet. After the entry of the doubled tempo and Latin rhythm, the solos are assigned to Slide and Jimmy Ford. The device toward the end – frantic riffs followed by long pauses – is one of those odd, unexpected concepts typical of Slide, who wrote this chart. The last six notes, you may notice, cover a five-octave span. A wild effect, somewhat akin to six exclamation points!
     Shortly after this album was completed and scheduled for release, the new came through that in the 1959 International Critics Poll conduced by Down Beat, the Maynard Ferguson orchestra had won first place in the “New Star” big band division. Jazz polls admittedly are buy no means a meal ticket, nor are jazz critics the arbiters of success, yet it s gratifying to Maynard to feel that the work he and his men have put into the orchestra is beginning to earn substantial recognition. It’s another milestone along a road which, most of his friends and fans believe, will ultimately bring him firm and permanent acknowledgement in the annals of big band jazz. LEONARD FEATHER (Jazz Editor, Playboy Magazine)


six-by-six said...

Jerry Brabenec said...

Very excited to see this album posted! I think I heard it somewhere or maybe I just saw it in a record bin but never bought it. Anyway, I knew Joe Zawinul did this record with Maynard and I always thought Weather Report's "Birdland" must be a tribute to Joe's days with Maynard. Then Maynard had a pretty big hit with Zawinul's "Birdland" too.
I'd love to hear it if anybody has more information about this connection.

And to think I found this on your page AFTER I looked for the LP on Allmusic.COM and found nothing.

Thanks again!

- Jerry

vonjazz said...

This is a terrific MF side, one of his best. Very hip big band record.

However, I could not get the link to work. Help!

Thanks for a great site.


six-by-six said...

A Message From Birdland

Anonymous said...

Awwwww, Links are down :o(

Anonymous said...

Oooops, got ahead of myself. I see them now :o)