The U.S. had Glenn Miller and Stan Kenton. The U.K. had Ted Heath. Born in 1902, the trombonist played in jazz bands from the 1920s through the mid-1940s, when he formed his own big band on D-Day. Inspired by Miller's Army Air Force Band, with its precision and dramatic moodiness, Heath grew in popularity after the war, performing every Sunday at London's Palladium. [Pictured above: Ted Heath in the late '40s]
Then came Heath's 1956 tour of the U.S. that kicked his reputation up several notches. Negotiating a groundbreaking deal with the American Federation of Musicians, Heath was able to perform with Nat King Cole, June Christy and the Four Freshmanplaying 43 concerts in 30 cities in 31 days. Though Heath never became a household name in the U.S., he recorded ferociously in London up until his death at age 67 in 1969.
For much of 1948when bebop's popularity was reachng its zenithAmerican musicians were prohibited by their union from recording. That year, Heath commissioned Tadd Dameron to write arrangements for his proficient and brassy band. Dameron scored a batch for Heathincluding his own Ladybird, Per Husby's Lyonia, Hoagy Carmichael's The Nearness of You, Roy Krall's Euphoria and his own So Easy.
These five arrangements wound up on an album recorded in London in 1949 and released there on an early British 10-inch LP. To create a concert atmosphere, Heath's themeListen to My Musicopened and closed the album. [Pictured above: Tadd Dameron]
The arrangements here are noble and cleverly comfortable in the bop vernacular. They also are fairly difficult, with sections constantly moving in and out and intersecting every now and then with the song's melody. Interestingly, So Easy is virtually the same arrangement that Dameron wrote for Artie Shaw's 1949 bandbut taken at a faster and more engaging clip.
This album shows off the Heath orchestra's crisp style and its ability to play big-band bop. Britain was devistated economically after World War II and it would take unitl the 1960s before U.K. hounseholds began to recover financially. Throughout the '50s, Heath kept the the British in good spirits, proving that the country's answer to the Miller and Kenton bands could keep up.
JazzWax tracks: You'll find Ted Heath Plays Tadd Dameronhere. JazzWax treat: There's a YouTube link that will let you listen to all 12 tracks of Ted Heath's Kern for Moderns, which is unavailable in the U.S. as a download. Go here.