THE DYNAMIC SOUND PATTERS
OF THE ROD LEVITT ORCHESTRA
ROD LEVITT AND HIS ORCHESTRA
Rolf Ericsson (tp) Rod Levitt (tb) Buzz Renn (cl, as) George Marge (ts, cl, piccolo) Gene Allen (brs, b-cl)
Sy Johnson (p) John Beal (b) Ronnie Bedford (drs)
All selections composed by ROD LEVITT. Published by Jazz Standard Music (BMI)
Plaza Sound Studios, NYC; July 1963
Holler (9:06) RM(S9)-471
Ah! Spain (4:31) -
Jelly Man (4:55) -
Upper Bay (8:49) -
El General (4:26) -
His Master’s Voice (8:06) -
The dynamic patterns of the very big-sounding eight piece group heard here manage, among other things, to demonstrate a most significant and often overlooked truth that the combination of skill and enthusiasm remains just about unbeatable in jazz.
Rod Levitt, although he has worked with Dizzy Gillespie, is not a man whose name is particularly known to the jazz public. The same is true, for the most part, of his associates here, with the possible and partial exception of the Swedish-born trumpeter, Rolf Ericson, who has been part of several of the best big bands most recently including that of Duke Ellington. These are all musicians who spend the greater part of their professional time in the studios and on ‘commercial’ gigs which is to say basically non-creative, steady-employment work). But, as their work here quickly demonstrates, they all can play with imagination and fire. In addition, all of them have a real zest for the particular project they are involved with with here that would be hard to equal. The task of interpreting the writing of the leader is one they originally took on because it appealed to them and intrigued them. They have stayed with it because they have continued to feel a rare degree of enthusiasm for Levitt’s bright and brisk and unhackneyed music.
This is at times a working group, but more often it is a “rehearsal band”. That is a term that has pretty much disappeared from the musical vocabulary in recent years, which is a real loss. Such bands would gather together on their own time, and play for hours, exploring the ideas of a young arranger or seeking to develop individual and ensemble techniques. It was a form of workshop that probably sometimes just gave a few musicians some place to go on idle afternoons, but that on many occasions proved quite valuable. At its best, such a setting can come up with music as exciting and original as that of Rod Levitt. This is jazz that avoids both the tired old cliches and the self-consciously avantgarde, that combines the discipline and full sound of a big band with the solo freedom of a small unit, producing something very much worth paying attention to …
Levitt, who created (and titled) all six selections, has some comments of his won on the various compositions. Holler, he notes, “was suggested by the ‘holler’ in the repertoire of the late blues singer Big Bill Broonzy. It features sic soloists in different tempos and mods.” Ah! Spain takes its title from the standard expression of nostalgia for a fondly-remembered foreign country. Rod it turns out, never has been to Spain, but this number makes it clear that he wishes he had, while also underlining the fact that “the modal character of Spanish music, with its soulful brooding, suggests a satisfying rapport with jazz.” Jelly Man is described by the composer as painting a portrait of an imaginary clown, with George Marge’s opening and closing twelve-tone English horn solos providing a frame for the picture.
Opening Side 2 is Upper Bay (meaning the top floor of an Air Force barracks – in this case an Air Force Band barracks), which tells a quite specific story: “a drummer is practicing, trombone and clarinet are running through a dreary melody, some of the men are sleeping, and noisy card game is in progress. There is much mutual objection to competing noise, several individuals have their say in the ensuing argument, and as the tension grows the voices become more dissonant. After a while, things drift back to normal.” Regarding El General, which features Gene Allen’s baritone sax, Levitt notes that ”in Latin American countries, how ever , the youngsters dram of being a general in the army, a safer occupation” finally, there is His Master’s Voice, “a tribute to one of the great jazz instruments of all time, the Duke Ellington Orchestra. The piece is in three sections, marked stomp, ballad and shout; Rolf Ericson, currently a member of the Ellington orchestra, is featured in the last section.”
DAVID K. MARTIN
ROD LEVITT was born in Portland Oregon, on September 16, 1929, and began studying trombone when he was ten. While studying composition at the University of Washington, he played in a Quincy Jones group that include vocalist Ernest Anderson. Later, with an Air Force band in Texas, came his first real opportunity to arrange: for marching bands, dance bands and jazz combos. In 1955, Levitt came to New York, where a chance meeting with Quincy Jones while walking on 52nd Street led to an invitation to join Dizzy Gillespie’s big band for its tour of the Middle East and South America.
For the past several years, while holding down a steady job in the Radio City Music Hall orchestra. Rod has managed to be very active on the recording scene, playing on sessions with Quincy, Dizzy, Gil Evans, Dinah Washington, Sarah Vaughan, Mel Thome, Kai Winding and others.
He organized an Octet in 1960, using Music Hall personnel, as a workshop for his writing , and has kept such a group together ever since. The lineup has remained constant during the past year, “mainly,” Levitt says, “because the music presents a challenge to all the players.” Originally strictly a rehearsal band, they have more recently played a number of college concerts, and had a most successful concert at Judson Hall in New York in the Spring of 1963. In addition, Rod as been writing for a most varied umber of performers; the Quincy Jones band, the Al Mitchell-Billy Gray group, the bands of Larry Elgart and Peter Duchin; plus the orchestration of an entire revue for Imogene Coca, various night club acts, and the scoring of films and TV commercials.
NOTE: RM(S9)-471 “The Dynamic Sound Patterns of Rod Levitt” Produced and recorded by Ray Fowler.
Notes written by David K. Martin. Album designed by Ken Deardoff and back-liner photo by Ken Deardoff.
RIVERSIDE RECORDS, Inc.
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