Bill Kirchner, a musician who is also an educator, writer, editor and producer, knew Willis Conover. Like at least ninety-nine percent of jazz musicians, he is a fan of Johnny Mandel, one of whose arrangements recorded by Conover’s big band more than fifty years ago is responsible for setting off this chain of reminiscences about Willis. Bill writes:
Nice memories of Willis. I had fun hanging out with him in DC years ago.
There is a stunning, groundbreaking chart by Johnny (at age 21!) on that album of “The Song Is You” in ballad tempo, originally written in 1947 for, of all people, Buddy Rich. It is one of the first instances I know of in jazz scoring of genuine counterpoint. I tried to include it in the Smithsonian Big Band Renaissance box, but couldn’t get the rights from Universal.
Big Band Renaissance, produced by Bill Kirchner in the nineites, and its predecessor boxed set, Big Band Jazz produced by Gunther Schuller and the late Martin Williams in the eighties, are invaluable historical collections. They were released by The Smithsonian Collection of Recordings but were allowed to go out of print long ago. The copies still available are precious items.