Saturday, April 26, 2014

Double Trouble: Alan Grant, George Klabin and Thad Jones-Mel Lewis'First Gig

© Gary Carner. Copyright Protected. All rights reserved.

Since the 2012 publication of Pepper Adams' Joy Road, the first of three books I'm doing on Pepper Adams, a controversy over what constitutes the first performance by the Thad Jones-Mel Lewis Orchestra has remained. My information was based on Pepper's itinerary, interviews with musicians in the band and also what I could infer from the CD "Opening Night." At the very least I wanted to know if Pepper Adams or Marv Holladay was playing baritone, since both are listed on the cover as participating musicians. Thanks to new information from my recent interview with engineer George Klabin, plus the efforts of saxophonists Frank Basile and David Demsey, I'm able to report some changes to the historical record.

First a little background. In 2000, DJ and impresario Alan Grant released a CD called "Opening Night" that purported to be music from the incredibly important first appearance of the Thad Jones-Mel Lewis Orchestra at the Village Vanguard on 7 February 1966. But others, such as saxophonists Jerry Dodgion and Bill Kirchner, contested that what Grant suggests (and partly what I wrote in my book) about the gig is not entirely true. Dodgion was in the band from its inception and Kirchner has been researching a book about Thad Jones with fellow saxophonist Kenny Berger. Detroit journalist Mark Stryker, too, in his research for his forthcoming book on Detroit jazz, also takes issue with Grant and some of my assumptions. Like Dodgion and Kirchner, he disputes that all the tunes on Grant's CD are from 7 February and says there are two separate dates. The reason for the discrepancy mostly stems from them having heard recordings of the band made at the Vanguard that exist at the Thad Jones Archive at William Paterson University. 

In Joy Road (pages 150-52) I discuss the situation as I saw it just prior to publication in 2012. At that time I hadn't known about the two CDs at the Archive but only had the Alan Grant CD. Based upon the excellent recording quality of Grant's CD, the fact that Grant had a show on WABC-FM that routinely broadcasted live performances in New York City clubs, and that Grant was also actively promoting at that time on his show Pepper, Thad and Mel, I felt that the music likely emanated from ABC Radio. It turns out, however, that a nineteen-year-old self-taught engineer, George Klabin, who at the time (1965-69) had an evening jazz radio show on WKCR, recorded Thad and Mel's performance at the Vanguard. 

I interviewed George Klabin on 23 April 2014 to find out more about the recording's pedigree and to once and for all try to solve the riddles that remain about this great music. Klabin now lives in Los Angeles and runs Resonance Records ( His company specializes in releasing historically important jazz recordings, many that Klabin recorded live in clubs and for which he still retains legal ownership. Klabin developed a reputation around New York in the mid-60s for recording jazz musicians well and affordably. He would lug his own equipment into nightclubs, record musicians, then play some of it on his radio show. Klabin promoted these recordings to his listeners as music they'd never hear anywhere else. One of the first things he recorded was Keith Jarrett and Charlie Haden for George Avakian that became an important early Jarrett demo. Another is a Bill Evans date. See the label's site for a roster of recordings.

Alan Grant and George Klabin were DJ colleagues in New York City. One day in early 1966 Grant called Klabin. He told him there was a new all-star big band that was playing their first gig at the Village Vanguard. Grant needed a recording. Would Klabin do it? Sure. Klabin brought six mics and was given two cocktail tables near the pole where Pepper Adams sat (at the far stage-left side of the club) to set up his Crown two-track stereo 7.5 ips recorder. He mixed everything live in his headphones. After the gig, he gave Alan Grant a copy and that was it. I doubt Klabin played any of the music on his own radio show. Klabin did confess that he was "completely blown away" by the band. He knew right away that this was a band unlike any other. 

A few weeks later Grant asked Klabin to return to the Vanguard on 21 March to record the band a second time. For that gig Klabin used 10 mics. Klabin said the band sounded even better. More polished, for one thing. For both gigs Klabin ended up with several hours of music.

Fast forward 34 years. To make a fast buck Alan Grant decides to bootleg a bunch of tunes from these two nights. Although Klabin owns the rights, Grant never got permission from Klabin to release it, never credited Klabin as the engineer and never paid the musicians. Essentially, Grant did an end run and went to BMG/New Zealand to print 2,500 copies. Jason Blackhouse (from Auckland), not Klabin, is credited as the engineer and liner note verbiage throughout only trumpets the 7 February recording date. As David Demsey, director of the Thad Jones Archive has pointed out, the implication is that Blackhouse was the engineer on hand at the Vanguard. Moreover, misleading listeners into believing that all the material derives from the first gig was equally duplicitous.

When Klabin learned about the release he was furious. He hired a detective to find Grant, who was living in Florida. Klabin telephoned Grant and said bluntly, "What's going on here? How can you do this without giving anyone credit?" Grant replied contritely, "I know, it wasn't a good idea." Klabin left it at that.

Grant's bootleg is long sold out but a copy exists at William Paterson. Two CDs worth of Klabin's original tapes, presumably given to Thad Jones by Alan Grant, have been transferred from reel-to-reel and are there as well. A third reel may be missing, says Klabin, but he believes he still might have even more material. Fortunately, personnel for each night is specified on Klabin's tape boxes. 

Thanks to the work of David Demsey, who meticulously compared all the recordings, here's what's on the two Klabin CDs versus Grant's bootleg (see parenthetical comments):

7 February 1966
CD #1:
1. All My Yesterdays (unissued)
2. All My Yesterdays (released by Grant)
3. Back Bone (unissued)
4. Big Dipper (unissued)
5. Big Dipper (unissued)
6. Mean What You Say (released by Grant)
7. Mornin' Reverend (released by Grant
8. The Little Pixie (released by Grant)
9. Willow Weep for Me (released by Grant)

21 March 1966

10. Once Around (released by Grant)

CD #2:
1. A--That's Freedom (unissued)
2. All My Yesterdays (unissued)
3. Back Bone (unissued)
4. Big Dipper (unissued)
5. Don't Ever Leave Me (released by Grant)
6. The Little Pixie (unissued)
7. Lover Man (released by Grant)
8. Low Down (unissued)
9. Mornin' Reverend (unissued)
10. Willow Weep for Me (unissued)

What else does Klabin have and did a third reel he recorded get lost? What's the derivation of three tunes from Grant's CD--Big Dipper, Polka Dots and Moonbeams, and Low Down--that Demsey asserts is neither on Grant's or Klabin's CDs? What's the complete personnel of each date? Klabin has promised to clear up the remaining mysteries. Fortunately, since our interview he's already had the time to look at his tape boxes from 7 February and 21 March to at least confirm that Marv Holladay, not Pepper Adams, was on the 7 February date. Conversely, Pepper appears on the 21 March date in place of Holladay. 

I'll write about any new discoveries in a future blog post, then list the new entry at "Joy Road (Discography) Updates" ( at According to Jerry Dodgion, Klabin has wanted to produce these important recordings since Grant's release to correct the historical record and get the music out the right way. Hopefully Klabin will release his definitive version soon, in its original running order, especially with Thad's announcements, and maybe even with Alant Grant as emcee? For Klabin, these brilliant Thad Jones-Mel Lewis Orchestra performances remain the greatest recordings he's ever made.