Albam From The Archives

One Monday night in the ‘70s, I found myself seated at a table in the Village Vanguard with Manny Albam, listening to the Thad Jones-Mel Lewis Jazz Orchestra. During a break, I said to him, “I wonder why you haven’t written something for this band.”

“So do I,” he said.

To my knowledge, Albam never did write for the Jones-Lewis band. I wish that he had. He created wonderful music for lots of other people, though. It has always puzzled me that he wasn’t better known outside of the tight jazz circles of New York and Los Angeles. Nine years following his death, he remains one of the most respected composer-arranger craftsmen of the last half of the 20th century. If you’re not familiar with Albam, his classic The Blues is Everybody’s Business (1957) is a fine place to start.

On tonight’s installment of Jazz From the Archives on Newark, New Jersey’s WBGO-FM, Bill Kirchner will play some of the great variety of music Albam made in his last decade. The program will be streamed live on the web. Here’s Bill’s preview:

Manny Albam (1922-2001) was one of NYC’s busiest recording composer-arrangers in the 1950s and ’60s. After focusing on education for two decades, he experienced something of a career renaissance in the ’90s.

We’ll hear Albam’s 1990s writing in a variety of settings: with pianist Hank Jones and the Meridian String Quartet; the SDR Big Band in Stuttgart, Germany; saxophonist Joe Lovano’s “Celebrating Sinatra” with chamber orchestra; singer Nancy Marano and the Netherlands Metropole Orchestra; and a special tribute to his close friend and fellow composer-arranger Bob Brookmeyer.

The show will air this Sunday, April 17, from 11 p.m. to midnight, Eastern Daylight Time.

NOTE: If you live outside the New York City metropolitan area, WBGO also broadcasts on the Internet at

In the meantime, or any time, this video will show you Manny Albam conducting a piece he arranged for pianist Billy Taylor, who talks about their collaboration.

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  1. says

    Manny was a great guy, and a fine musician. I played on a few of his jingle dates, and on one album. He liked the way Gus Johnson and I played together with Mulligan, and tried to establish us as a record date rhythm team, but it was too late… the heyday of New York recording had passed, and the synthesizer houses took over.
    Manny became an educator, and helped a generation of young arrangers and composers develop their talent.

  2. says

    Thank you once again for getting my day started, every day, with something interesting.
    However I must object to your comment today ‘ It has always puzzled me that he wasn’t better known outside of the tight jazz circles of New York and Los Angeles.’

    I think Manny Albam was much appreciated here in the UK among the jazz fraternity and, with his involvement in over 200 jazz albums (from Lord On-line), he wasn’t un-noticed elsewhere!
    A TV broadcast featuring Manny conducting his music with the Royal Philharmonic, with Bud Shank as a guest, turns up occasionally – and was issued as a Mole Jazz CD.
    Did he not also conduct the Metropole Orchestra in Holland?
    As a student I wore out that Jazz Workshop album and our version of that ‘Black Bottom’ arrangement was the theme for our Jazz Club Float in the Annual Charity event……

    • Doug Ramsey says

      I accept Mr. Sapsed’s upbraiding and concede that folks in the UK and downtown Europe have often given greater recognition to our artists than we have.

  3. Denis Ouellet says

    Always love Mr Albam’s writing. I remember the time my father gave me the
    album Wrapped Tight by Coleman Hawkins. A beautiful birthday gift. Couldn’t get enough of it.

    It sounded so good

    Thank you.

    • Doug Ramsey says

      I had forgotten that Manny wrote most, maybe all, of the arrangements for that splendid Hawkins album. If your Monday is getting off to a sluggish start, click on the link in Mr. Ouellet’s comment. “Marcheta” is bound to help brighten the day.

      • Denis Ouellet says

        Yes Doug, from Stanley Dance’s liner notes. Six arrangements written by Manny for that album which had ten titles. Still have the LP in my hands.

        • Doug Ramsey says

          It turns out that Wrapped Tight is available on CD as a moderately pricey import. If you’re wondering why Impulse! albums have to be reissued abroad, so am I.

          • Chuck Mitchell says

            Just checked iTunes, and “Wrapped Tight” is indeed available digitally. Not an optimal presentation, perhaps (fortunately, the vinyl is still on my shelf), but better than nothing.

            The pickings are slimmer for Manny’s own albums. “Drum Suite” is there, “West Side Story,” and something called “Sketches Of Jazz” which pairs two albums made for the old Solid State label (onetime home to Thad & Mel): “Sound Of The City” and (I think) “Brass On Fire.”

            iTunes, and eMusic in particular, are more solidly stocked with rare items than one might think, but you have to do some digging, and the search engines, while generally reliable, sometimes don’t yield the most satisfying results. If you do a search on Manny Albam, iTunes does come up with “Wrapped Tight” so that’s not bad.

            As for the physical reissues, it’s more miss and less hit then ever in the U.S. And though the independent records stores still fight the good fight in cities large and small, the Internet is still the best place to go hunting for rare and missing items.

  4. Phil Wood says

    I wonder how many times I played ‘The Blues Is Everybody’s Business’ on my old stereo. I would sit in wonder at the exquisite thematic repetitions. I thought this Manny Albam guy was a freaking genius. Then all my vinyl disappeared in a divorce. Later, much later, I wrote him a letter @ NYU asking him where I could buy the album. Never heard back. I recently bought the same title remastered on CD, and still think he’s a freaking genius. Thanks, Doug, for telling stuff I never knew.

  5. says

    Another Albam fan here! Excellent video, first of all.

    I found it very interesting because one the projects that never happened due to Eddie Costa’s untimely death was a piano + orchestra album arranged by Albam (I understand he and Costa were good friends); it would have been produced by the recently departed Jack Lewis.

    Regarding Albam’s recordings, at least some of them have been reissued on CD in the EU.

  6. says

    Manny Albam visited Cologne in the early 1990’s, conducting the WDR big band. — I had the chance to talk to him and praised his beautiful jazz version of West Side Story, 1958. I asked him about it, and if he would like to perform it ‘live’ some day.

    He told me that he would have to transcribe it from the recording if he would consider a concert performance. Me: “But why?” Manny: “Someone had stolen the case with all the sheets and the original score. It’s all gone.”

    His album Double Exposure, late 1950’s/ early 1960’s (?) is one of the most thrilling adventures in big band jazz. It *has* to be played in stereo because each arrangement is actually a collage, a composite of two different melodies, based more or less on the same chord structure. –A challenging listening experience, masterfully conceived by Mr. Albam, and swingingly executed by a fantastic line-up of which I only know the players from the sequel “More Double Exposure”:

    Doc Severinsen, tp; Urbie Green, tb; Romeo Penque, Al Klink, Walter Levinsky, Phil Bodner, Danny Bank, rds; Eddie Costa, p,vb; Bary Galbraith, g; George Duvivier, b; Osie Johnson, d; Manny Albam, arr.

  7. Jeffrey Sultanof says

    Happily, the music to “The Blues is Everybody’s Business” exists for the most part at the Institute of Jazz Studies, and Jazzlines Publications intends to publish it, along with several other Albam concert pieces and big band arrangements. They’ve already released “Charlie’s Other Aunt” that he wrote for Charlie Barnet, and several arrangements Manny wrote for the Terry Gibbs Dream Band.

    Alas, the arrangements for the “Jazz Workshop” album on RCA seem to be gone, although they may yet turn up.

    Manny was a sweetheart who always participated in the Alec Wilder memorial concerts in New York. He gladly arranged “I’ll Be Around” as a finale for the instrumentalists who participated in the concert that year.

    I’ve written a bio for the Albam website overseen by his daughter.