Sunday, September 23, 2007

Big Band Blues - Ranwood Records

Big Band Blues

2001 - Ranwood Records 8278-2

CD Listing
1. Avalon
2. Tin Roof Blues
3. Do You Know What It Means To Miss New Orleans
4. It Had To Be You
5. My Blue Heaven
6. Georgia On My Mind
7. Basin Street Blues
8. Marie
9. Just A Closer Walk With Thee
10. Home
11. Shine
12. You Brought A New Kind Of Love
13. Up A Lazy River
14. Summer Wind

Produced by Steve Buckigham
Liner notes by Peter Levinson

Pete Fountain - clarinet
John Bahler -- musical director
D'Vaughn Pershing - piano
Rich Havens - drums
Dan Hall - bass
David Hungate - rhythm guitar
Matt Muhoberac - electric guitar
Dave Johnson - lead trumpet
Michael Manthey - trumpet
Wes Marshall - trumpet
Jay Daversa - trumpet
Carl Hose - lead trombone
Charlie Rastorfer - trombone
Jim Miller - bass trombone
Archie Wheeler - lead alto sax, clarinet
Chris Deusinger - alto sax, clarinet
Ron HeLuie - tenor sax, clarinet
Jim Murphy - tenor sax, clarinet
Bill Reder - baritone sax, clarinet

Liner Notes:

It's long been said that a jazz musieen expresses his own personality on his instrument. If this is so, Pete Fountain has long exhibited the openness, warmth, and vitality that are so much a part of him on his clarinet. He is the last of an exemplary breed of New Orleans Clarinetists, following in the tradition of George Lewis and Irving Fazola. This all comes together in Big Band Blues, Fountain's first big band offering in three decades.

When Pete was initially approached by Larry Welk, CEO of the Welk Music Group, about recording again with a big band he assumed he would come out to Los Angeles and front a band made up of recording studio veterans. Welk had a better idea - why not record in Branson, Missouriwith the New Lawrence Welk Orchestra, which has been working steadily there for years? The results contained here certainly show that indeed there is an essential difference between a band that plays together on a regular basis as against one that is put together for a recording.

There was an obvious rapport established between the 16-piece band and soloist early on in the recording process. In addition, the joyous spirit that has long been an integral part of Pete Fountain's clarinet playing is still very much in evidence.

Most of the material in Big Band Blues was not new to Fountain. He had played much of it previously with the Tonight Show band (which still tours sporadically) under the direction of "Doc" Severinsen. Pete was such a favorite of Johnny Carson that he appeared on The Tonight Show, some 58 times.

The revered Tonight Show guitarist and arranger Bob Bain originally wrote these charts specifically for Pete to play on the show over a period of years, but they were "opened up" from the 2-1/2- minute versions that were originally allotted to him. Some of the tunes most synonymous with Pete Fountain during his career are on display: "Tin Roof Blues," "Do You Know What It Means to Miss New Orleans," "Basin Street Blues," "Up a Lazy River," and "Just a Closer Walk With Thee." Not only was Bain a longtime member of The Tonight Show band, but he also played in the Bob Crosby band, which included the celebrated "Bobcats" group within the band. This tenure served as a further inspiration to Bain in his writing.

Pete said of Bain's arrangements, "They gave me a lot of room to roam - a lot of room to swing. The band was tight. I've always enjoyed working off great piano players like Stan Wrightsman and Ray Sherman. D'Vaughn Pershing in the New Welk Band is another wonderful pianist."

Pete's clarinet style once again shows the influence of the driving swing of Benny Goodman as well as Irving Fazola's fat, liquid sound on the blues. Actually, Pete still plays the clarinet Faz gave him many years ago. "It still has the garlic in it," said Pete facetiously. The CD opens briskly with "Avalon," a tune long associated with Benny Goodman; Bain and Ray Sherman arranged the out chorus to duplicate the one on Benny's original recording. The next two tracks, "Tin Roof Blues" and "Do You Know What It Means to Miss New Orleans" display the exuberant New Orleans feeling Fountain brings to them. The former is perhaps the highlight of the CD with D'Vaughn Pershing's rollicking piano solo leading into an inspiring trumpet solo by Jay Deversa.

"It Had to Be You" is arranged in a rare up tempo vein. Again, the happiness so much a part of Fountain's playing is contagious as the saxophones and trumpets rise up wailing behind him, propelled by Rich Havens' powerful drumming. Right in the middle of "My Blue Heaven," a reference to the "Li'l Orphan Annie" theme creeps in played in the style of the original Lawrence Welk Band, which leads into the lively dixieland rideout.

"Georgia on My Mind" provides another example of the keen interplay between Fountain and Pershing. Dixieland fans will recognize the difference between Bain's arrangement of "Basin Street" and the more familiar treatment. The flavor of the tune is not lost, however, as it is played very much in the old "Bobcats" style. As Bain pointed out from his own experience, "Pete makes a rhythm section play," something very much in evidence here.

The "Marie" arrangement owes considerable to the famous Tommy Dorsey version, which Bob Bain often played when he was a member of the Dorsey band. Pete's clarinet takes the place of Dorsey's trombone. The well remembered Bunny Berigan trumpet solo is written for four trumpets for this rendition.

Pete's version of "Just a Closer Walk with Thee" helped make him a recording star on Coral Records. This familiar hymn also marks the first arrangement Bain wrote for Pete to play on The Tonight Show. Here is an example of how Pete often enjoys playing through an entire arrangement, rather than merely picking out solo opportunities.

"Home" is a song that has long been overlooked for recording. Pete brings back its essence with an exuberant yet plaintive solo. Bain once again reprised the sound of the Goodman saxophone section in arranging "Shine." Pete delivers one of his strongest and most passionate solos on this tune that has long been associated with Louis Armstrong. Following Pete's glorious solo on "You Brought a New Kind of Love," the arrangement ends with a familiar Count Basie riff.

Bain played guitar on the well remembered Nelson Riddle record of Summer Wind, with Frank Sinatra. He acknowledged that the sound of the saxophone section here closely follows the sound of the original. "I couldn't help but be inspired by what Nelson wrote," Bain recalled. Pete plays a series of staccato phrases on both "Up a Lazy River" and "Summer Wind" which adds a zesty flavor to close the CD.

John Bahler, the leader of the New Lawrence Welk Orchestra, remarked, "In making this recording, the guys hit their peaks at the same time that Pete did. We just loved working withhim because he's not only the sweetest guy in the world but a consummate professional."

Steve Buckingham, the producer of Big Band Blues, obviously enjoyed working on the project. The versatile Buckingham has produced some twenty-nine #1 hit records in various genres. He acknowledged, "As we sat in the recording truck listening to each performance, one could hear how Pete and the band were inspiring each other."

By Peter J. Levinson, Author of Trumpet Blues: The Life of Harry James and the forthcoming September In the Rain: The Life of Nelson Riddle.

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