Monday, June 27, 2016

On the House

Willis Conover shills for Miller beer on "The International Hour: American Jazz" in 1963. Conover was the CBS program's host. Unknown photographer

How many of us know what it means to labor in the vineyards for most (or all) of our lives, unacknowledged and uncredited? I don't know about you, but I sometimes feel that way. Not that I've accomplished anything terribly remarkable in my time on terra firma, but still it's nice to get a nod every now and again. 

Sorry to be a whiner, but this month's Gems offering was created by jazz guys who made a career out of the music without ever getting much in return. They all made a living (probably), and they got to do what they loved every day (or night). But nobody got rich and nobody got famous. They did get to make one record, though. That's something.

You've heard of Willis Conover, the legendary jazz host of Voice of America, emcee of the Newport Jazz Festival and interviewer. In 1951, several local musicians – drummer Joe Timer, tenor man Ben Lary and pianist Jack Holliday – approached Conover in Washington, D.C., (where he was based) and pitched the idea that the DJ front a jazz orchestra that they wanted to put together. Conover agreed, and the result was THE Orchestra, caps intended.

Trombonist Earl Swope
Assembled from D.C. musicians who had played in the bands of such luminaries as Boyd Raeburn, Woody Herman, Gene Krupa, Tommy Dorsey, Charlie Barnet and many more, the 15-piece band boasted solid musicianship, excellent arrangements and a wealth of good (if unknown) soloists. 

Players whose names you might recognize include the Swope brothers, Robbie and Earl, on trombones, baritonist Jack Nimetz and trumpet player Marky Markowitz. Bill Potts, Timer and others did the arrangements. Conover acted as the band's emcee, manager and publicist.

So here's an excellent big band, late out of the gate, that worked around the D.C. area, made this record and then passed unacknowledged into history. There are, fortunately, several amateur live recordings as well, one with Dizzy and another that featured Charlie Parker, that were eventually issued on Elektra (both excellent). But that's it.

So Gems is doing its bit to get the word out about these gents. The music on this album (a generous 45 minutes worth) is thoughtful, well-played and swinging. The record itself came our way in box of contents at an auction, a collection that also included some nice Woody Herman, Claude Thornhill and Nat Pierce's big band at the Savoy. But this one was the gem in the lot. I hope you think so, too. As always, dubbed right from the vinyl with hardy any cleaning necessary.

Willis Conover's House of Sounds
THE Orchestra, Brunswick BL 54003

Bob Carey, Ed Leddy, Marky Markowitz, Charlie Walp, tp; Dan Spiker, Earl Swope, Rob Swope, tbn; Jim Riley, as; Ben Lary, Jim Parker, Angelo Tompros, ts; Jack Nimitz, bar; Jack Holliday, p; Merton Oliver, b; Joe Timer (Theimer), d, cond. 
New York, NY; December 30, 1955

1. I've Got You Under My Skin 
2. One For Kenny (Joe Timer)
3. The Song Is You 
4. Pill Box (Bill Potts)
5. Light Green (Bill Potts)
6. Flamingo
7. Something to Remember You by/Taking a Change on Love/Blue Room
8. Sheriff Crane (Jack Holliday)
9. Playground (Bill Potts)
10. Tiger
11. Moonlight in Vermont
12. Willis (Bill Potts)

Find it here: