Since the early days of jazz, composers, arrangers, and players have sought out large ensembles for their potential for rich expression and vibrant musical color. Even in the heyday of small-group dominated bebop, Dizzy Gillespie formed a big band as soon as he was able. To this day, while few bands can hold together as touring units, some find regular work in public radio, especially in Europe, some hold weekly residencies in a few major cities and, more frequently, a number reassemble periodically for purposes of recording. Big Band charts from Marshal Gilkes, Gerald Wilson, Brian Lynch, Electric Squeezebox Orchestra, Ed Palermo, and Christian McBride in this hour of Jazz at 100 Today!
Marshall Gilkes & Gerald Wilson
For much of the last decade, trombonist Marshal Gilkes, while continuing to record with the Maria Schnieder Orchestra, was associated with the WDR Big Band, a public broadcasting ensemble based in Cologne, with whom he recorded two terrific sets in the past five years. In 2018 he released Always Forward of which AllAboutJazz’s Dan Bilawsky wrote, “In Gilkes’ cadenza-esque statements on Puddle Jumping, his flair for showmanship is the selling point. And, of course, his ability to bounce from pedal to melody with ease makes for quite a show as the song proper takes flight. But as good as the technical aspects may be here, the entire performance works because of the writing—tight and tasty, and played out to perfection by this crack crew.”
Composer and bandleader Gerald Wilson was a cornerstone of the jazz world for so long he was mentored by Jimmie Lunceford, and played and arranged for both Ellington and Basie. He died in 2014 at 96, but not before leaving one more gem behind, 2011’s Legacy. His thundering Variation On A Theme By Igor Stravinsky moves effortlessly from thrilling crescendos to intimate settings for solos.
Puddle Jumping. Marshall Gilkes and WDR Big Band
(Andy Haderer-tp/flh, Rob Bruynen-tp/flh, Lorenzo Ludemann-tp/flh, Ruud Breuls-tp/flh, John Marshall-tp/flh, Marshall Gilkes-tb, Ludwig Nuss-tb, Shannon Barnett-tb, Andy Hunter-tb, Mattis Cederberg-btb, Johan Hörlén-as/fl/cl, Karolina Strassmayer-as/fl/cl, Olivier Peters-ts/cl, Paul Hellerts/cl/bcl, Jens Neufang-bs/bcl, Simon Seidl-p, Paul Shigihara-g, John Goldsby-b, Hans Dekker-d). From Always Forward. Alternate Side Records. 2018.
Variation on a Theme by Igor Stravinsky. Gerald Wilson Orchestra
(Frank Greene-tp/flh, Sean Jones-tp/flh, Tony Lujan-tp/flh, Freddie Hendrix-tp/flh, Jeremy Pelt-tp/flh, Mike Rodgriguez-tp/flh, Dennis Wilson-tb, Luis Bonilla-tb, Alan Ferber-tb, Douglas Purviance-tb, Antonio Hart-as/fl, Dick Oatts-as/fl, Kamasi Washington-ts, Ron Blake-ts, Jay Brandford-bs, Gary Smulyan-bs, Renee Rosnes-p, Anthony Wilson-g, Peter Washington-b, Lewis Nash-d). From Legacy. Mack Avenue. 2011.
Brian Lynch, Electric Squeezebox Orchestra & Ed Palermo
In 2019, Brian Lynch, no stranger to large ensembles, put together a big band to record compositions he had written to honor American authors whose work on social justice were important to him for a disc entitled The Omni-American Book Club / My Journey Through Literature In Music. According to Jack Bowers at AllAboutJazz, “… each of Lynch’s songs was composed with a recipient or two in mind, writers with whom he feels a special kinship and admires for their outspoken allegiance to the concepts of universal brotherhood and equal rights under the law for everyone.”
A weekly residency at a bar in San Francisco’s North Beach neighborhood honed the Electric Squeezebox Orchestra into one of those rare jazz big bands that develop together over time. Under the nominal leadership of trumpeter Erik Jekobson, the ESO has released three discs in recent years. The second, The Falling Dream, from 2018, features compositions from five of the members, including the title tune from trumpeter Darren Johnson.
Ed Palermo also holds a big band together from year to year, recording, in addition to his own compositions, a totally idiosyncratic collection of arrangements of music that inspired him in his teens, including British progressive rock in his collection The Great Un-American Songbook. In 2017, he released Oh No! Not Jazz!! his third project interpreting the music of Frank Zappa. From one of Zappa’s more jazz-influenced works, Hot Rats, Palermo arranged a moody version of Little Umbrellas, featuring trombonist Charley Gordon.
Tribute To Blue (Mitchell) for Isabel Wilkerson and Ralph Ellison. Brian Lynch Big Band with Jim Snidero
(Brian Lynch-tp, Michael Dudley-tp, Jean Caze-tp, Jason Charos-tp, Alec Alred-tp, Dante Luciani-tb, Carter Key-tb, Steve Robinson-tb, John Kricker-btb, Jim Snidero-ts, Tom Kelley-as/ss/fl/cl, David Leon-as/fl/cl, Gary Keller-ts/ss/fl/cl, Chris Thompson-Taylor-ts/cl, Mike Brignola-bs/bcl, Alex Brown-p, Lowell Ringel-b, Boris Kozlov-b, Kyle Swan-d, Murph Aucamp-per, Little Johnny Rivero-per). From The Omni-American Book Club / My Journey Through Literature In Music. Hollistic MusicWorks. 2019.
The Falling Dream. Electric Squeezebox Orchestra
(Erik Jekabson-tp, Darren Johnston-tp, Doug Morton-tp, Henry Hung-tp, Rob Ewing-tb, Danny Lubin-Laden-tb, Patrick Malabuyo-tb, Richard Lee-tb, Sheldon Brown-as, Larry Delacruz-as, Michael Zilber-ts, Marcus Stephens-ts, Charlie Gurke-bs, Dan Zemelman-p, Tommy Folen-b, Hamir Atwal-d). From The Falling Dream. OA2 Records. 2018.
Little Umbrellas. The Ed Palermo Big Band
(Ronnie Buttacavoli-tp, John Hines-tp, Bonnie Buttacavoli-tp, Bonnie Hines-tp, Charles Gordon-tb, Joe Fiedler-tb, Matt Ingraham-btb, Cliff Lyons-as/cl, Phil Chester-as/fl/picc/ss, Bill Straub-ts/cl/ss, Ben Kono-ts/fl/ob, Barbara Cifelli-bs/cl/bcl, Bob Quaranta, Ted Kooshian-p, Bruce McDaniel-g, Katie Jacoby-vln, Paul Adamy-b, Ray Marchica-d). From Oh No! Not Jazz!! Cuneiform Records. 2017.
In the 2011 debut of the Christian McBride Big Band, McBride reprised Bluesin’ in Alphabet City, his first ever composition for big band, commissioned by Jazz at Lincoln Center sixteen years earlier. Of that disc, That Good Feeling, Dan Bilawsky wrote, “Over the course of eleven tracks, McBride manages to present music that’s respectful of big band traditions, while also showcasing his own unique compositional voice.”
In 2017, McBride brought a very similar band of first-call New York players together to record another stellar big band disc, Bringin’ It, which features trombonist Steve Davis’ swinging arrangement of his tune Optimism.
Bluesin’ in Alphabet City. Christian McBride Big Band
(Frank Greene-tp, Freddie Hendrix-tp, Nicholas Payton-tp, Nabate Isles-tp, Steve Davis-tb, Michael Dease-tb, James Burton-tb, Douglas Purviance-btb, Steve Wilson-as/fl, Todd Bashore-as/fl, Ron Blake-ts/ss/fl, Todd Williams-ts/fl, Carl Maraghi-bs/bcl, Xavier Davis-p, Christian McBride-b, Ulysses Owens, Jr-d). From The Good Feeling. Mack Avenue Records. 2011
Optimism. Christian McBride Big Band
(Frank Greene-tp, Freddie Hendrix-tp, Brandon Lee-tp, Nabate Isles-tp, Steve Davis-tb, Michael Dease-tb, James Burton-tb, Douglas Purviance-btb, Steve Wilson-as/ss/fl, Todd Bashore-as/fl/picc, Ron Blake-ts/fl, Dan Pratt-ts/fl, Carl Maraghi-bs/bcl, Xavier Davis-p, Christian McBride-b, Quincy Phillips-d). From Bringin’ It. Mack Avenue. 2017.
Paul Whiteman formed his orchestra in 1920 and the Fletcher Henderson Orchestra made its debut in 1924. Their legacy lives on. As long as jazz music is written and played – composers, arrangers and players will seek out opportunities to express themselves in large ensembles.
Bilawsky, Dan. (2018, November 10). All About Jazz. Marshall Gilkes & The WDR Big Band: Always Forward. https://www.allaboutjazz.com/always-forward-marshall-gilkes-alternate-side-records-review-by-dan-bilawsky.php
Rose, Raul D’Gama. 2011, July 16. AllAboutJazz. Gerald Wilson Orchestra: Legacy. https://www.allaboutjazz.com/legacy-gerald-wilson-mack-avenue-records-review-by-raul-dgama-rose.php
Bowers, Jack. (2019, November 20). AllAboutJazz. Brian Lynch Big Band: The Omni-American Book Club / My Journey Through Literature In Music. https://www.allaboutjazz.com/the-omni-american-book-club-my-journey-through-literature-in-music-brian-lynch-hollistic-musicworks
Bowers, Jack. (2018, April 2). AllAboutJazz. Electric Squeezebox Orchestra: The Falling Dream. https://www.allaboutjazz.com/the-falling-dream-electric-squeezebox-orchestra-oa2-records-review-by-jack-bowers.php
Bilawsky, Dan. (2011, September 18). AllAboutJazz. Christian McBride Big Band: The Good Feeling. https://www.allaboutjazz.com/the-good-feeling-christian-mcbride-mack-avenue-records-review-by-dan-bilawsky.php
Bilawsky, Dan. (2017, September 8). AllAboutJazz. Christian McBride Big Band: Bringin’ It. https://www.allaboutjazz.com/bringin-it-christian-mcbride-mack-avenue-records-review-by-dan-bilawsky.php
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