Mar 1, 2016

The new release “All My Yesterdays” from the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Orchestra is a surprising revelation and stellar addition to Resonance Records' series of previously unissued recordings from jazz legends. It's manna to the ears for fans of large ensemble jazz music. Fifty years of tradition for the orchestra and its successor, the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra, is viewed from its inception with these recordings from the first Village Vanguard performances of the group in 1966.

Music that has remained unissued for a long time has often remained as such for reasons of uneven performances or sound quality. These recordings may suffer from inadequate miking so that certain instruments are unequally balanced or lost in the mix, flat sound and other problems. While completists may be drawn to anything available by certain artists in an effort to absorb every note a Charlie Parker, Miles Davis or Bill Evans recorded over their career, the appeal of many unissued recordings is often limited to those with a visceral hunger for a thorough reflection of specific artist's music. Happily, “All My Yesterdays” stands out as an example of solid performances with generally excellent sound quality and miking. Only some of the tracks on these two compact discs were previously issued, and then only as a bootleg. Thus this release is the first authorized by the estates of the orchestra's leaders and by the Village Vanguard.  

When the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Orchestra appeared at New York's legendary Village Vanguard in February of 1966, it was the beginning of a fifty year tradition that has extended to this day through the evolution of the band from its initial leadership collaboration to Mel Lewis and the  Jazz Orchestra after Jones left for Denmark in 1978 and as the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra after Lewis's passing in 1990. Trumpeter Thad Jones had worked for a decade in the Count Basie Band while drummer Mel Lewis was a driving force in bands of Stan Kenton, Terry Gibbs and Bill Holman. Jones decided to use his compositions and arrangements in a jazz orchestra setting and got together with Lewis to form a modern band. They rehearsed during late 1965 and were ready to perform at the Village Vanguard on a cold February night.

There was also interest in recording the performance to provide demo tapes for record labels. Enter George Klabin – in 1966 the 19 year old head of the jazz department at Columbia University’s radio station WKCR-FM. His colleague, announcer Alan Grant, asked him to record the initial performance of the orchestra and thus Klabin set up his tape recorder and small mixing board on a cocktail table near the stage and placed his six microphones as advantageously as he thought possible for the band's debut. On a subsequent engagement in March (Disc II), Klabin used ten microphones. The recordings enabled the band to secure a contract with Sonny Lester's Solid State label (later a part of Blue Note records). This two CD set has been remastered from the original two-track tapes and comes with a 92 page booklet containing photos and interviews with surviving musicians from these recordings. The entire package has been assembled with loving care and attention to detail. It is a stunning production, documenting the genesis of an institution, both technically sound and musically exhilarating.  

Thad Jones and Mel Lewis had recruited a dream lineup of talented musicians including Thad's brother, pianist Hank Jones, saxophonists Pepper Adams, Jerome Richardson, Joe Farrell, Jerry Dodgion and Eddie Daniels, trombonists Bob Brookmeyer, Garnett Brown and trumpeters Snooky Young, Jimmy Owens and Jimmy Nottingham. The band's immense talent and palpable energy coupled with Jones's exciting charts elicit performances that are brimming with stimulating music spurred by Jones's vocal exhortations and the enthusiasm of the audience, all of which are audibly apparent and add to the sense of being in the packed house at the Village Vanguard those nights.
Disc I is comprised of music from the initial engagement on February 7, 1966 and includes five Thad Jones numbers, opening with the exuberant “Backbone”. It is immediately apparent this is feel good music that is innovative and frame for stimulating ensemble and solo work. This number and “The Little Pixie” are lengthy outings at over thirteen minutes each with plenty of opportunity for soloing from band members. “All My Yesterdays” is a lovely ballad giving solo space to Hank Jones, Joe Farrell and Jimmy Owens while the band lends exquisite contrast. “Big Dipper” is an irresistible, bluesy cooker with Jerome Richardson, Jimmy Nottingham and bassist Richard Davis getting solo opportunity; and “Mornin' Reverend” has gospel tinges and is solo vehicle for Eddie Daniels.    

Disc II from the March 21 engagement has Pepper Adams replacing “Doc” Holladay on baritone sax, Tom McIntosh replacing Bob Brookmeyer at the trombone and Danny Stiles in place of Snooky Young playing trumpet. Otherwise the organization remains the same and in similarly exuberant form. Again the program is dominated by Thad Jones compositions although a few additional composers are reflected in “Lover Man”, “Willow Weep For Me”, “Polka Dots and Moonbeams” and “Ah, That's Freedom”.

The opening track, “Low Down” is a nice solo vehicle for Thad Jones with its finely orchestrated ensemble playing and voicing, The excellent tenor player Joe Farrell moves from ballad to surging exploration on his reading of “Lover Man” - a piece that nicely encapsulates the essence of big band or orchestral jazz with its combination of solo instruments and that punch of thrillingly tight horn sections. Hank Jones's “Ah, That's Freedom” gives the composer and trombonist McIntosh solo space, while Thad Jones's “Don't Ever Leave Me” has essences of the bossa nova wave then sweeping the country in its relaxed samba beat while trumpeter Danny Stiles and Joe Farrell at the flute supply the soloing for this number.  

“Mean What You Say” is perhaps one of Thad Jones's most recognizable compositions and here the two Detroit Jones brothers in the orchestra (third brother, Elvin, was a member of John Coltrane's classic quartet) and Eddie Daniels get the spotlight. Mel Lewis provides a steady beat that works into its own crescendo amidst the spirited ensemble playing. “Once Around” has Pepper Adams cleaning house at the baritone, Richard Davis running a marathon at the bass and another vivid display of Mel Lewis's command of the drum set. A thirteen minute reprise of “Back Bone” makes a final swinging splash with Jerome Richardson, Tom McIntosh and Mel Lewis throwing sparks amidst that sweet sound of a finely-tuned band running on all eighteen cylinders.

George Klabin suggests, "Put on a pair of good stereo headphones and immerse yourself in the atmosphere of those two nights. You will hear all the subtleties: Thad's shouts, the room sound, the musicians' camaraderie, encouraging each other and most of all the pure joy! Now you can be there, too."  

Thad Jones(trumpet, flugelhorn, arranger, conductor), Hank Jones(piano), Sam Herman(guitar, percussion), Richard Davis(bass), Mel Lewis(drums)
Jerome Richardson(alto saxophone, clarinet, flute), Jerry Dodgion(alto saxophone, clarinet, flute), Joe Farrell(tenor saxophone, clarinet, flute),
Eddie Daniels(tenor saxophone, clarinet), Marv “Doc” Holladay(baritone saxophone)
Jimmy Nottingham, Snooky Young, Jimmy Owens, Bill Berry
Bob Brookmeyer, Garnett Brown, Cliff Heather, Jack Rain

Disc 2 RECORDED MARCH 21, 1966
Thad Jones(trumpet, flugelhorn, arranger, conductor), Hank Jones(piano), Sam Herman(guitar), Richard Davis(bass), Mel Lewis(drums)
Jerome Richardson(alto saxophone, clarinet, flute), Jerry Dodgion(alto saxophone, clarinet, flute), Joe Farrell(tenor saxophone, clarinet, flute),
Eddie Daniels(tenor saxophone, clarinet), Pepper Adams(baritone saxophone)
Jimmy Nottingham, Bill Berry, Jimmy Owens, Danny Stiles
Jack Rains, Garnett Brown, Cliff Heather, Tom McIntosh

Track Listing
Disc One - Recorded Feb. 7, 1966
Back Bone
All My Yesterdays
Big Dipper
Mornin' Reverend
The Little Pixie
Big Dipper (alt take)

Disc Two - Recorded March 21, 1966
Low Down
Lover Man
Ah, That's Freedom
Don't Ever Leave Me
Willow Weep For Me
Mean What You Say
Once Around
Polka Dots & Moonbeams
Mornin' Reverend
All My Yesterdays
Back Bone