Correspondence: Bill Perkins And “Yesterdays”

Rifftides reader Don Frese writes:

I am now the proud owner of 9 of the 11 recordings of “Yesterdays,” the Bill Holman arrangement, by Stan Kenton featuring Bill Perkins (1924-2003) on tenor saxophone (I am missing one that was issued on a Penn State Jazz Club LP, and a recent Wolfgang’s Vault download of a French Lick Jazz Festival performance from 1958).

Bill PerkinsPerkins is simply remarkable, taking a different and interesting solo even on performances from consecutive nights (three completely different solos on April 23rd, 25th and 26th, 1956 concerts. I have heard many live recordings of famous studio cuts by big bands, and frequently they are mere paraphrases of what happened in the studio (some of Ellington’s from the 40-41 band have solos that are note for note from the studio recordings). But Perkins takes big chances every time out. My favorite was recorded on Stan’s European tour of ‘56 at Mannheim, Germany. He completely resists the temptation to repeat his earlier success, sometimes daringly so, and even manages to quote I’m Getting Sentimental Over You in the coda. What an extraordinary musician he was, and so terribly unsung.

(Photo of Perkins from the 1980s)

Of all the performances Mr. Frese has accumulated, the only Kenton recording of “Yesterdays” to be found on the web is the best known, from Kenton’s 1955 Contemporary Concepts album. Here it is, as illustrated and posted by Steve Cerra on his Jazz Profiles blog. The high-note lead trumpet toward the end is by Al Porcino.

Go here for a Rifftides appreciation of Bill Perkins.

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  1. dick vartanian says

    I had not heard this arrangement before. Absolutely brilliant !! No comment would be sufficient.

    • Doug Ramsey says

      Contemporary Concepts is one of Kenton’s best albums—some would say the best. Six of the arrangements are Holman’s, milestones in his long career.

  2. Fred Augerman says

    I always loved Mel Lewis’s take on Contemporary Concepts, as told to Kenton historian Michael Sparke.

    Stan had commissioned Bill Holman to write a series of extended compositions based on standard tunes. Really to rewrite them – and this was something different, it had never been done before.

    And Bill did one helluva job, this was what really made him somebody. And if you notice, Stan doesn’t play a drop of piano on it. He didn’t really want to do this album, because it was not typical Kenton music. He wasn’t sure.

    It swings in a different way though. It’s not the hard, forceful swing of Woody’s band, and it’s not the Basie 4/4 relaxed swing. This was bebop, but not like Dizzy’s bebop band, this was more sophisticated musically.

  3. Frank Roellinger says

    Thanks, Doug and Don. This is a marvelous performance. I am not familiar with a lot of Perkins’ work but I am fascinated by musicians who craft different solos for the same tune when they are required (or choose) to play on that tune over and over. One example of that is the “Stardust” solos recorded by Paul Desmond, at least ten of them, all different, yet each a compelling, musically logical statement. Another is Hank Mobley’s playing on “I Thought About You” recorded four times in early 1961 with Miles Davis, each different and each a musical gem.

    Since only one of the Holman performances is available, Don, how about putting some of the others on YouTube? Thanks.

  4. dick vartanian says

    Okay for 58 yr old charts. In 1945 I was in Camp Lee, Va. and learned a lot about arranging from a guy named Gil Evans and something about piano playing from him and Jimmy Rowles and Page Cavanaugh. We also had some arrangements of Pete Rugolo’s. I don’t know that I absorbed much, but they were memorable years I’ll never forget.

  5. Bill Holman says

    Some bandleaders required soloists to play solos as they were in the recorded versions. Perk was appalled that Woody wanted him to play Getz’s solo on “Early Autumn.” In the case of “Yesterdays,” Stan favored creativity while Woody, sensing that “Early Autumn” was becoming a hit, felt it should be like the record. For the most part, Woody loved jazz players playing jazz.