A night of jazz with "George Who?"


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You may not know him by name, but changes are great you've heard this saxophonist's performances over the past five decades on countless hit pop, rock 'n' roll or jazz recordings, movie and TV soundtracks.*

Studio musicians and even big-band section players often toil in anonymity, unlike the exposure that can come from small group jazz performances. If you do know George Young by name, so much the better.

Tenor saxophonist Lew Del Gatto has known Young—and worked with him—for more than 40 years. They shared many a stage or recording studio in various horn sections, most notably in NBC's “Saturday Night Live" band. Lew played in the band for a quarter-century—and George was there from 1991-1996.

Del Gatto brought Young to Naples FL as the featured guest on Wednesday, February 15 with the Naples Philharmonic Jazz Orchestra. On this evening, the oddly named sextet also included trumpeter Dan Miller, pianist Jerry Stawski, bassist Kevin Mauldin, drummer Mike Harvey and trombonist Herb Bruce. (Bruce subbed for violinist Glenn Basham, a NPJO regular who had another gig).

Early in the concert, Del Gatto credited Young for making him the player he is today. “He's the guy who kicked my butt to play jazz," Del Gatto said.

Other than a romp through “Cherokee" and a tender Young-plus-rhythm section exploration of the 1941 Duke Ellington-Billy Strayhorn composition “Day Dream," the evening featured a wide range of Young's diverse compositions.
  • Young wrote the burner “Mother Stanley" for tenor saxophonist Stanley Turrentine, with whom he shared a New York City dentist.
  • His ballad “Amore" was a contrast to his more experimental and up-tempo pieces.
  • The name of the tune “George Who?" underscores the notion that everybody's heard him but few know him by name. This piece, featuring Young on tenor and soprano saxophones and Del Gatto on tenor, was written to the chord changes on “Sweet Georgia Brown."
  • “Flippin'" is so-named because the tune's extended groove “flips" to something different three times, from straight-ahead jazz to bebop to a traditional swing feel.
  • The closer was also unusual. “Azules Grande" translates to 'big blues.' The name was most appropriate for this high-energy 40-bar blues, not built on the traditional 12-bar blues progression.
Young's compositions are complex at times. The band dug right into them, offering robust and complementary solos that made this an exceptional night of music for the Artis Naples jazz series. Attendees packed the 375-seat venue for two separate 75-minute shows.

*see a sampling of those credits below

Philadelphia native George Young, 79, has recorded in jazz with his own bands, as well as as with Louie Bellson, Tony Bennett, George Benson, Steve Gadd, Dizzy Gillespie, Benny Goodman, Dave Holland, Earl Klugh and Toots Thielemans, among others.

His pop credentials include Tony Bennett, James Brown, Mariah Carey, Eric Clapton, Celine Dione, Mick Jagger, John Lennon, Madonna, Liza Minnelli, Luciano Pavarotti, Paul Simon and Frank Sinatra.

Besides “Saturday Night Live," his TV credits include “Miller's Crossing," “My Name is Earl" and “The Simpsons," His many movie soundtrack credits include “A Chorus Line," “All That Jazz," “Ferris Bueller's Day Off," “Ghostbusters," “Meet Joe Black," “Naked Gun 2 1/2," “Sleepless in Seattle," “Tootsie" and “When Harry Met Sally."

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This story appears courtesy of Ken Franckling's Jazz Notes.
Copyright © 2021. All rights reserved.

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