Other Places: Friedwald On The VJO

Not long ago in a Recent Listening in Brief posting, I brushed by the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra’s new CD. Brevity by no means indicated a lack of enthusiasm for the latest recorded work of that remarkable institution. Will Friedwald, the jazz critic of The New York Sun, is another VJO enthusiast. He attended the band’s recent performance at New York’s 92nd Street Y in the summer concert series overseen by pianist Bill Charlap. Here is some of what he wrote about Thad Jones and Jim McNeely:

Fifty years ago, when Jones was playing in Count Basie’s trumpet section, he had a hard time getting the Count to play his music. When he did, Basie felt obliged to “dumb” Jones’s music down — he regarded it as too complex for mainstream audiences, especially for dancers, who essentially wanted everything in foot-patting foxtrot tempo. This, naturally, was a big part of what impelled Jones to launch his own big band (in collaboration with the drummer Mel Lewis).

If Jones’s charts seemed radical in their day, when they’re compared with the more deliberately complex and concert-styled works of Mr. McNeely, they now seem amazingly straightforward and swinging. Not that Jones’s charts were simplistic or lacking in intricacy; as Mr. Charlap pointed out, “Little Pixie” is, on the surface, a basic variation on “I Got Rhythm,” but it’s got as much going on as a Stravinsky ballet.

To read all of Friedwald’s column, go here.

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