Thad Jones (1923-1986)

Santa BarbaraVacationing in Santa Barbara, Ojai and environs does not preclude observing Thad Jones’s 90th birthday. There’s no better way to do that than with Thad conducting the Thad Jones-Mel Lewis Jazz Orchestra’s extraordinary version of Jerome Richardson’s “The Groove Merchant.” This is from a European tour probably in the fall of 1969—not ’68, as YouTube indicates.

The reed section: Joe Henderson, Jerry Dodgion, Jerome Richardson, Eddie Daniels, Pepper Adams.
Trumpets: Snooky Young, Danny Moore, Al Porcino, Richard Williams.
Trombones: Eddie Bert, Astley Fennell, Jimmy Knepper, Cliff Heather.
Rhythm: Mel Lewis, drums; Roland Hanna, piano; Richard Davis, bass.
Conductor: Thad Jones.

Be alert for the shot of Snooky at 2:35, enjoying Hanna’s three-minute piano introduction. Who wouldn’t? This got enormous response when I posted it three years ago. Let’s see if it still works.

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  1. says

    Yup, the link still works, and so does the chart…great fun. (There’s a CD from that tour’s concert in Basle, Switzerland on TCB 02042)

    The personnel list reminds me of something that’s been bugging me for years. “Astley Fennell”, in the trombone section, shows up on the Newport Youth Band in ’59 and ’60, on an Archie Shepp recording, a Howard McGhee session and a very few others.

    1). Should the name be “Ashley” rather than Astley? I’ve seen both (and the TCB release even says “Fannell”).
    2). What ever happened to him? I find no references after about the mid-’70s. Did he pass away? Go into the world of academe? Any ideas, anyone?

    • Harry Monty says


      I saw the band at Ronnie Scott’s Club in London in August 1969 and according to my notes the trombonist’s name was Ashley Fennell.

    • Peter H. Larsen says

      This TV clip is actually from Copenhagen. The taping was done with an invited audience in one of Danish Broadcastoing Corporation’s own studios. Date: Sept. 3 , 1969. I was there.

      • says

        AHA! This must be the same Peter H. Larsen who produced that very lovely (and very rare) Duke Ellington/Jimmy Blanton tribute CD by Mulgrew Miller and Niels-Henning Orsted Pedersen. It was also recorded at Danish Broadcasting studio in Copenhagen in a deal with/for B&O.

        • Peter H. Larsen says

          Yep, that’s me. Now semi-retired I worked for DBC for fifteen years as head of jazz dept. and manager of the Danish Radio Big Band.

  2. Bill Benjamin says

    Oh, it still works. This band will forever be THE one for me. All of Thad’s great charts and the baddest asses on the planet to play them.

  3. says

    THANKS for remembering and reposting this fabulous clip. During the years I lived with Jerome (in Calif; he had left the band), he played this tune every chance he got and it was alway an infectious audience pleaser. Years before, I spent many a Monday night sitting at Roland’s left hand or alternately on the other side at the end of the trombone section where I could have a front view watching Thad conduct. The band (even with changing personnel) always got happy when this chart was called. After ‘work’ we’d head to breakfast or maybe up to Jimmy Ryan’s…those were the days.

    This past January on the jazz cruise Byron Stripling and I reminisced about the Basie Band when led by Thad, and their trips to CA when we’d be cooking up 2 AM chicken dinners at my house after the gig.
    I miss my friends but am ever grateful for the time spent and happy I can still enjoy the music they made.
    Thanks to Rifftides, others will remember – or discover – and enjoy.

  4. Bill Benjamin says

    One other note. Al Porcino is playing lead, and Snooky is in the solo trumpet chair. Two great lead players in the same trumpet section. A nice problem to have.

    • Jack Greenberg says

      Snooky is playing lead. Al and Snooky have very different sounds. You can hear the difference in their sounds at the end when Snooky nails a high “G” and has to take a breath and comes back in just before the cutoff, while Al nails a high “F” about two seconds after the last chord sounds and totally coveers the band.

  5. Terence Smith says

    Thanks for this wonderful video/audio. Thad Jones is so into conducting that it seems like the band is playing him.

    I shall further celebrate Thad Jones’s 90th by returning to Thelonious Monk’s “Five by Monk by Five” album. Where Thad’s cornet sounds like the only possible brass vehicle for “Jackie-ing” and several other imperishable Monk originals.

    • Terence Smith says

      PS: When Washington Post reporter Tony Gieske once asked Thelonious Monk about Miles Davis, Monk said,

      ” I think Thad Jones is a much better trumpet player ( than Miles).”

      And Monk said this on Sept 13, 1959. Which coincidentally was right after Thad Jones’s cornet sound and identification with the Monk themes was so perfect on “Jackie-ing,” “Ask Me Now,” “Played Twice,” and “I Mean You.” I listened to the “Five by Monk by Five” album again after I watched/heard the video posted above. Every track a gem. And the tempo of “Straight No Chaser” so perfect.

      Happy Birthday, Thad Jones.

  6. dick vartanian says

    I had never heard this track. What a great band !! This is top of the heap stuff. I remember Jerome Richardson and Jerry Dodgion very well from the early days in SF

  7. says

    A little research online – including Lord OnlIne – shows Astley Fennell as probably the legitimate name , with occasional recordings up to 1975 in the New York area but no easily accessible data showing that name in gigs or elsewhere or any mention since that time.

  8. says

    Ah, to watch and hear this great band again. During the days when I was dating Bob Brookmeyer, I was usually forced to stand for the entire evening in the packed-out Village Vanguard when the band, with just a few different players than those seen here, held court every Monday night. All their recordings are treasures in my collection, and will remain so for all time. Thanks for posting, Doug.

  9. Peter Bergmann says

    A fantastic band. Unforgettable. I caught them at the end of 1969 in Frankfurt.
    Freddie Hubbard, Jeremy Steig and Jack McDuff were on the same ticket and soloed with the band on several numbers.
    A wonderful concert and a great reminiscence.

  10. Jim Brown says

    Thad was truly a monster, and this band he co-led with Mel was the last of the truly GREAT bands. I got to hear them nearly a dozen or so evenings in Chicago (these were not an occasion where you heard a set and went home), in the 70s, and recorded them several times. Everything about the band was wonderful — Thad’s writing, his conducting, the great players (any band with Pepper Adams in it is special), the other writers, and Mel. This afternoon, one of jocks at KCSM played Bill Holman’s great chart on “You Go To My Head” from “Big Band In A Jazz Orbit,” c.a. 1960, with Mel playing drums. Mel was a monster too, and, as he did SO many times over the years on countless recordings, he kicked my afternoon into high gear.

  11. Jon Foley says

    As Terence Smith alludes to above, Thad was one of the very few bandleaders who knew how to *conduct* a big band. Most leaders just stand there (or sit at the piano), maybe occasionally snapping their fingers. The only ones I’ve ever seen in person (and I’ve seen scores of them) who knew how to conduct were Thad, Herb Pomeroy and Toshiko Akiyoshi. I haven’t yet had the privilege to see Maria Schneider in person, but I understand she’s an excellent conductor, also.

    • Jim Brown says

      Yes, Thad was a great conductor, and the band never sounded nearly as good without him in front of it. But how could we possibly leave Basie and Duke off a very short list of great conductors?

      • Doug Ramsey says

        If Basie and Ellington qualify, then those two other masters of conducting minimalism surely do, too–Woody Herman and Bill Holman.

      • Jon Foley says

        Well, just compare any video of Basie or Duke leading their bands with a video of Toshiko (a few) or Herb (almost non-existent) *conducting* theirs; if a raised eyebrow or finger at the keyboard from Basie or Ellington qualify as conducting for you, I can’t argue with you. But I want someone out front, indicating with their whole body changes in tempo, dynamics, and “feeling.” The ones I mentioned, plus one I forgot – Bob Brookmeyer – qualify as conductors for me.

        • Jim Brown says

          Yes, the “arm-waving” definition of conducting is simply too narrow. The Basie band, the Ellington band, the Kenton band, and the Thad/Mel never sounded anywhere near as good when anyone but the guy with his name on the door (Thad, in the latter example) led it. .Likewise, Brookmeyer, Gil Evans, and Mulligan got performances than others from the same stash of first rate musicians.Some did it with arm waving, some had other ways.

  12. says

    …and on the other hand, does a really good, experienced band which knows the charts even need a director?

    I think the best way to appreciate a leader is to catch her/him live. So, I’ve gotta add Rob McConnell to the good conductor list in the minimalism category with Woody and Holman. But, as a host for his performances, speaking to the audience, Rob was at the top of the pile…a very funny man, with a more broadside- than rapier-wit.

    I’d add McConnell’s Boss Brass to the list of great latter-day jazz orchestras. And I’ve heard (in person) Duke, Basie, Jones/Lewis, Lewis-and-Vanguard JO, Woody, Mulligan, Toshiko Akiyoshi, Maynard, Schneider, Buddy Rich, Phil Nimmons, Danish Radio JO, NDR JO, Claude Bolling, and many others.

    We have a front-rank orchestra in Toronto again, John MacLeod’s sorta-continuation of the Boss Brass. (Most of its members have played with Rob). They’ve just finished a second CD.

    I do wish I’d heard the Clarke/Boland band live…

    • Jon Foley says

      “…and on the other hand, does a really good, experienced band which knows the charts even need a director?”

      To just play the charts competently – no. But to play them as brilliantly as they possibly can be played – Oh, yes!

  13. Red Sullivan says

    Just to add two more of the greatest of the greatest of the modern period bands to these lists: Duke Pearson’s magnificent band and that Terry Gibbs “Dream Band” (and Tubby Hayes led, uncontestibly, the greatest-ever non-American band – hear the 100 Proof album. JESUS!!).

  14. Ken Dryden says

    I always enjoy the Thad Jones-Mel Lewis Orchestra. I recently acquired copies of 1969 broadcasts in Rotterdam and Cologne.