Dick Meldonian and Sonny Igoe


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Dick Meldonian
Saxophonist Dick Meldonian began his recording career in Charlie Barnet's band in 1950. He then moved on to Stan Kenton at the start of 1952. He remained with Kenton until the mid-1950s, when he left to record on 12-inch LPs with Pat Moran, Sam Most, Erroll Garner, Nat Pierce, Bill Russo, Marion Evans (he's on the Ted McNabb album) among others. Drummer Sonny Igoe began his recording career in 1948 with Buddy Stewart and then worked with Benny Goodman until 1950, when he joined Woody Herman. Igoe remained with Herman until 1953 when he worked wth Charlie Ventura. His mid-decade sideman albums included recordings with Chuck Wayne, Don Elliott, Joe Wilder, Phil Napoleon and others.

What they had in common was huge admiration for trumpeter and reed player Gene Roland, whose arrangements tended to be ferocious swingers. Meldonian first met Roland while in Barnet's band, and Igoe first encountered him while in Herman's band. Those in the know are probably aware that Roland's sax band preceded Herman's “Four Brothers" sound in 1947. Several years before Herman's recording of Four Brothers Roland had assembled a band with four light-playing tenor saxophones and a baritone sax.

In May 1981, Meldonian (above) and Igoe got together to record a big band album featuring Roland's arrangements. The album was recorded at Emerson High School in Emerson, N.J., where Igoe lived. The reed-dominant band featured Leo Ball, Spanky Davis, Chris Pasin and Phil Sunkel (tp,flhrn); Gene Hessler, Dale Kirkland and Jim Pugh (tb); Tony Salvatori (b-tb); Eddie Wasserman (as); Dick Meldonian (as,ts,sop); Gerry Cappucio and Gary Keller (ts); Dick Bagni (bar); George Syran (p); Jack Six (b) and Sonny Igoe (d).

As always, Roland's arrangements are top shelf. They have a taut Basie strut and punch to them, with sections making statements and being answered by other band sections. Roland certainly had plenty of practice. He arranged for Kenton steadily in the late 1940s and early '50s before shifting to Herman late in the decade and then worked again for Kenton starting in the early 1960s.

Roland also led a powerhouse New York rehearsal band in 1950 with an incredible personnel (not all at the same session) that became known as The Band That Never Was: Marty Bell, Don Ferrara, Don Joseph, Jon Nielson, Al Porcino, Sonny Rich, Red Rodney and Neil Friez (tp); Frank Orchard (v-tb); Eddie Bert, Porky Cohen, Jimmy Knepper and Paul Selden (tb); Joe Maini, Charlie Parker (as); Al Cohn, Don Lanphere, Tommy Makagon and Zoot Sims (ts); Bob Newman and Marty Flax (bar); Harry Biss (p); Sam Herman (g); Buddy Jones (b); Phil Arabia, Freddie Gruber and Don Manning (d) and Gene Roland (arr,cond).

Many of the Roland arrangements played by the Meldonian-Igoe band in '81 hadn't been recorded before. The songs are When You Done Went, Richard's Almanac, Abscam, Sax Fifth Avenue, Road Stop, Papa Come Home, Blues in One's Flat, Moon Dog and Voice of the Village.

This is another one of those albums that I wish led to the Meldonian and Igoe band to record Plays Ernie Wilkins, Plays Bill Holman, Plays Neal Hefti, Plays Chico O'Farrill and so on. Like the Band That Never Was, this was a killer orchestra.

Dick Meldonian is still with us. Sonny Igoe died in 2012 and Gene Roland died in 1982, a year after this album was recorded.

JazzWax clips: Here's Sax Fifth Ave.....

Here's Blues in One's Flat...

Here's the killer Dick Meldonian and Sonny Igoe Band in action in Emerson, N.J., playing Jumpin' the Blues Away in Nov. 2003...

Here's Just in Time...

And here's Love for Sale, arranged originally by Pete Myers for Buddy Rich's 1960s band...

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This story appears courtesy of JazzWax by Marc Myers.
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