Saturday, May 10, 2014

Thad or Not Thad?: That Is the Question

© Gary Carner. Copyright Protected. All rights reserved.

Writing about the Thad Jones-Mel Lewis Orchestra recently has gotten me thinking about the arrangers other than Thad who wrote for the band during Pepper Adams' tenure (1966-1977). My curiosity was piqued by the interview I did a few weeks ago with Jerry Dodgion. He told me that Joe Farrell didn't begin work on his arrangement of Lover Man--written as a tenor saxophone feature for him with the band--until after the orchestra played its first gig at the Village Vanguard on 7 February 1966.

Other than Farrell, the earliest arrangers for Thad-Mel (other than Thad) were Bob Brookmeyer, Tom McIntosh and Garnett Brown. Bob Friedman and Bob Brookmeyer also wrote some of the vocal charts for the first Joe Williams date on Solid State. In the 1970s Frank Foster, Jerry Dodgion and Cecil Bridgewater wrote for the band. You can read about Bridgewater's work in Pepper Adams' Joy Road (page 303).

Here's a roster of arrangements that Thad-Mel bandmembers wrote for the band to perform during Pepper's tenure. Let me know if I missed any:

ABC Blues    Bob Brookmeyer
Ambiance    Jery Dodgion
Bachafillen      Garnett Brown
Balanced Scales = Justice    Tom McIntosh
Cecilia Is Love    Frank Foster
Giant Steps   Frank Foster
Little B's Poem   Cecil Bridgewater
Love and Harmony  Cecil Bridgewater
Lover Man   Joe Farrell
Now That She's Away   Frank Foster
The Oregon Grinder   Jerry Dodgion
Samba con Getchu  Bob Brookmeyer
Sophisticated Lady   Garnett Brown   
St. Louis Blues   Bob Brookmeyer
Willow Weep for Me    Bob Brookmeyer
Willow Tree  Bob Brookmeyer

Apart from charts specifically written for the band, Thad Jones recorded a Gary McFarland chart (Toledo by Candlelight) and performed the Neal Hefti arrangement of Pensive Miss (or did Thad redo it?) 

That reminds me of tunes Thad arranged and adapted for the big band but didn't write, such as A--That's Freedom (Hank Jones), The Jive Samba (Nat Adderley), The Groove Merchant (Jerome Richardson), Intimacy of the Blues (Billy Strayhorn), Imagine (John Lennon), Don't You Worry 'Bout a Thing and Living for the City (Stevie Wonder), Ambiance (Marian McPartland), And I Love You So (Don McLean), I Love You  (Cole Porter), The Theme from "Hawaii" (David and Bernstein), For the Love of Money (Gamble and Huff) and dare I say possibly A Child Is Born (Roland Hanna)? I'd like to hear more from the readership on this one! Additionally, there's forty or so vocal features, such as Come Sunday (Duke Ellington), Jump for Joy (Duke Ellington) and Roll 'em Pete (Pete Johnson) as heard on live broadcasts, on the first Joe Williams recording and the Ruth Brown date.

Does anyone know the derivation of these tunes that Thad-Mel performed? Who arranged them?: Two Ways On, Trying Times, Ceora (Lee Morgan's tune?), After Paris and But a Feeling. I noticed these titles in my Pepper book.

Did Thad write everything specifically for the band or did some of his arrangements carry over from charts written earlier? I exchanged another set of emails about this with saxophonist David Demsey, Curator of the Thad Jones Archive at William Paterson University. Demsey kindly shared with me his notes he used for a recent talk he did about Thad Jones at the Institute of Jazz Studies at Rutgers University. Although I wasn't in attendance, Demsey gave I'm sure a fascinating presentation about the full breadth of Thad's work: from his Detroit roots before he joined Count Basie in 1954 to his work overseas after the Thad-Mel divorce when he "left Mel Lewis with the kids." Demsey's notes include some terrific insights about Thad's small group work and what Jones appropriated from it for his big band charts.

Demsey also discussed "The Big Seven," those charts that Thad had written prior to the formation of Thad-Mel. Those tunes--All My Yesterdays, A--That's Freedom, Backbone, Big Dipper, Low Down, Little Pixie and The Second Race--are presumably the collection of charts that Count Basie commissioned Thad to write in 1964 for an all-Thad Basie LP. That LP was never recorded because Basie rejected Thad's work in its entirety. Can anyone confirm this, these tunes and the general circumstances? As the Chinese say, "In crisis comes opportunity." Basie allowed Thad to use the arrangements, Thad-Mel was formed and the rest is history.

By the end of the first month's worth of Thad-Mel gigs at the Vanguard, Tiptoe, Three and One, Once Around, Lover Man, Don't Ever Leave Me, Mean What You Say and Mornin' Reverend had been added to the book. Mornin' Reverend and Mean What You Say, however, were rehearsed in time for opening night at the Vanguard (7 February). Can we deduce that the following ten tunes--the seven Basie rejects, two news things that Thad wrote for the band, and one Brookmeyer chart--comprised the very beginning Thad Jones-Mel Lewis book? These would be the charts that were refined and polished over a 10-week period begining on Thanksgiving Day Weekend, 1965 at A&R Recording Studios and culminating on opening night at the Vanguard. Tapes of these rehearsals have not been found:

All My Yesterdays
A--That's Freedom
Big Dipper
The Little Pixie
Low Down
Mean What You Say
Mornin' Reverend
The Second Race
Willow Weep for Me

All ten were written and arranged by Thad Jones with the obvious exception of Willow Weep for Me (arranged by Bob Brookmeyer) and A--That's Freedom (arranged by Thad Jones, written by Hank Jones).

As an aside, David Demsey shared with me the following:

"I wanted to be sure you knew that Rob DuBoff of eJazzLines discovered no less than 13 Thad charts, written in and around 1963 for Harry James. Turns out James was a big Basie fan and he put Thad on retainer for a chart per month, along with Neal Hefti and I believe Frank Foster. A lot of the newly found Thad charts were never recorded. Most notable historically are earlier versions of Three and One and Tiptoe -- both shorter and less composed out.  Three and One's melody in this version is assigned to guitar and piano. Quite amazing!"

This is the same period of time that Harry James offered Pepper Adams a $10,000 salary if he would join James' band and stay for a full year. At the time the James band was based in Las Vegas and Pepper was touring with Lionel Hampton's band, a situation Pepper disliked. $10,000 was a lot of money back then but Pepper turned down James' offer because he felt James' band was too commercial. I wonder if the Thad Jones/Harry James connection was something that James used to entice Pepper?


  1. Aaron Lington wrote on Facebook: Gary, I believe missing from the first list of tunes you have in this post is the Jerry Dodgion tune "Thank You"

    1. Yes, thanks. Dodgion wrote it as a solo feature for Pepper. I neglected to look at the Thad/Mel Solo Features on before posting.

  2. Frank Basile wrote:

    All the live tapes I've heard of the band playing Pensive Miss are of the original Hefti arrangement.

  3. The "Big Seven" was actually "The Big Eight"--at least. After I did the booklet notes for the Jones-Lewis Mosaic box in 1994, I was informed by Glen Daum that "Mornin' Reverend" was also a Basie chart. If I recall correctly (it's been 20 years, after all), Glen said that Thad included a shaker part for Freddie Green.

  4. By the way, the Theme from Hawaii was written by Elmer Bernstein, whose score for the film was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Original Music Score. Mack David, Hal David's older brother, assisted as a lyricist on at least one song.

  5. Jerry Dodgion also wrote "half a chart" with a tag ending on "Body and Soul" for Thad to solo on. It remains in use to this day. The VJO recorded it in 2008 with Gary Smulyan soloing.

    1. PS: I just found a citation in Pepper Adams' Joy Road for Body and Soul. Thad-Mel performed it as early as c. April 30, 1977 at West Virginia University. But half a chart? Please explain!

  6. Jerry probably wrote it sometime in the mid-'70s. Thad (or whoever the soloist is) would play the melody and solo with the rhythm section, and then the band enters with written backgrounds and a final chorus.