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Some Newer Guys I Listen To

I have been writing a lot about the Big Band & Swing eras and, consequently, featuring a lot of performers who did their best work many, many years ago. I have been pushing Hoagy Carmichael‘s Stardust, Swing bands like those led by Larry Elgart and Walt Levinsky. I do love the old stuff, and play a lot of Dizzy, Brubeck, Benny Goodman and Satchmo.

But I have been asked a few times, recently, if I don’t listen to any “new stuff,” anybody young who is writing arranging and recording now. I do. I definitely do. So, over the next few days, or weeks, I am going to try to feature some of the newer stuff I like to listen to. In no particular order of preference, just beginning with what is closest at hand today, I like:

LEE RITENOUR

I have been listening to Jazz guitarist Lee Ritenour for several years. I first knew about him as one of the founding members, along with pianist Bob James, bassist Nathan East and drummer Harvey Mason, of the top Jazz group Fourplay. But, in truth, I had been hearing Ritenour play long before I knew his name. he worked as a key session guitarist with talents as diverse as Pink Floyd, Steely Dan (on Aja, which has been a recent topic), Dizzy Gillespie, B.B. King, Peggy lee, and Herbie Hancock. How good do you have to be on the guitar to be requested by B.B. King?

Lee Ritenour

Lee Ritenour

I have several Fourplay CDs, my favorite being Between the Sheets. Of Lee’s solo CDs, I like This Is Love, from which the song Ooh-Yeah has continued to get major play on jazz radio.

My favorite Ritenour effort, however, is his collaboration with Dave Grusin on the CD Two Worlds. These two have done a good bit of work together, producing several albums. Two Worlds is a thing apart because of the musical selections AND the involvement other talented collaborators, like soprano Renee Fleming, violinist Gil Shaham and cellist Julian Lloyd Webber. The album opens with J.S. Bach’s Concerto in A Minor for Four Keyboards and Strings:

Concerto in A Minor

Dave Grusin

Dave Grusin

Track 3 – Sonatina is, according to the Album Notes, “an homage to the genius of Andres Segovia (1893-1987) the Spanish guitarist whose artistry was almost single-handedly responsible for the 20th Century revival of the guitar as a ‘classical’ instrument.” Segovia’s legacy is well-served here. Listen up:

Sonatina

Track 11 _ Siciliana has cellist Julian Lloyd Webber joining ‘our boys’ for another Bach piece, as transcribed by Dave Grusin. This is nice:

Siciliana

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Jazz Clarinetist Walt Levinsky

You may not know him, but you have heard him.

Walt Levinsky (b. April 18, 1929 / d. Dec. 14, 1999) was a terrifically talented musician whose genius escaped the glare and hubbub of the “fame machine” by his own choice. A standout talent on the clarinet, alto saxophone &  flute, Walt was dubbed “the most talented musician that ever came to this school,” by the Woodwind instructor at the Music Conservatory where he trained in Anville, PA. [wikipedia]

Even before becoming a full-time professional, Walt started right near the top, with the Les Elgart Orchestra. His first full-time position was replacing the  noted Buddy De Franco in the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra. He left Dorsey to enlist in the U.S. Air Force during The Korean War and played with the renowned Airmen of Note.

Walt with Airmen of Note

Walt settled in the New York City area in 1954, upon mustering out of the  Air Force. In 1956, Benny Goodman added Walt to his orchestra for a set of appearances at The Waldorf Astoria. Walt was the lead saxophone player but was also tapped by Goodman as his backup player on clarinet solos. If Benny couldn’t play, he trusted Walt to deliver the “Goodman sound.”  Walt toured, briefly, with Benny Goodman‘s orchestra but he hated all the flying. Strange for an Air Force guy, huh?

Eschewing the life “on-the-road,” Walt began a life-long involvement as a session musician on the highest of high-end recordings. He worked with pretty much all of the best: Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett, Sarah Vaughan, Lena Horne, often contributing arrangements in addition to his playing.

Walt was always in demand by the best in the industry for recordings and major appearances.  He is credited over-and-over on recordings by the best of the reed-men like Stan Getz and Gerry Mulligan. From his work with Stan Getz and Joao Gilberto, Walt became a fixture on recordings in the Bossa Nova and Samba styles. A master of his instrument as well as all styles of music, he played on a number of Cal Tjader‘s tracks and ventured into Acid and Fusion Jazz.

Levinsky joined the NBC staff orchestra and in 1962 became a member of Skitch Henderson‘s Tonight Show Band. Enjoying the regular work so close to home, with talented musicians, Walt stayed with the band when Doc Severinson took over as leader, and appears on most of Severinson’s recordings. In the 60s, Walt left NBC join MBA Music, a producer of theme show music and commercial jingles. This gave him an opportunity to really utilitze his composing and arranging talents. Among his many compositions for television is the theme music for The CBS Evening News with Dan Rather.

Perhaps the highest professional accolade any clarinetist could ever earn came to Walt Levinsky in 1962. Artie Shaw, the noted perfectionist, was recreating his all-star 1938 Orchestra and needed someone to be Artie Shaw. Artie went straight to Walt Levinsky and there are some who say that Walt played Artie better than Artie did.

Although Walt played in some 5,000 recording sessions, he only produced one album as the headliner: Walt Levinsky and his Great American Swing Band (featuring Lynn Roberts). On the Kenzo Records label, it is a terrific CD and it really swings. The production values are top-notch and the band he has assembled is just terrific. Here are two tracks from the CD, which do not sound nearly as good on Youtube as they do on the original source material:

#1 – Let’s Dance + Bugle Call Rag

#2 – Wang Wang Blues

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