Saxophonist Hal McKusick is on some of the finest New York recording sessions of the '50s. His reputation for reading music perfectly the first time, no matter how complex, spread quickly among fellow musicians and those in charge of assembling them for recordings. Hal could always be counted on to swing, lead a big-band reed section and deliver smooth solos. It also helped that Hal was a supremely confident player, a virtuoso on virtually every reed and woodwind instrument, and as easy-going as a June breeze.
From a collector's standpoint, 1956 was a particularly golden year for Hal. We recently spoke on the phone about his recording work that year as a sideman and leader, and Hal was as amazed as I was by the sheer number. To give you a sense of his busy recording schedule in '56, here's a list of his 27 sessions that yearall of which are top-shelf recordings with many of the finest East Coast jazz studio and club musicians:
- We Could Make Such Beautiful MusicGeorge Williams and His Orchestra (January 11-13)
- The Hawk in Hi-FiColeman Hawkins (January 18)
- Plays Tiny Kahn and Johnny MandelElliott Lawrence (January 30-February 2)
- Drummer ManGene Krupa (February 12)
- Jazz WorkshopHal McKusick (March 3 and April 3-4)
- A Mellow Bit of RhythmAndy Kirk (March 4 and 12)
- The Drum SuiteManny Albam (March 5-7)
- Johnny Mathis (March)
- The Jazz WorkshopGeorge Russell (March 31, October 17 and December 21)
- A Bit of the BluesOsie Johnson (April 7)
- Larry Sonn and His All-Star BandLarry Sonn (April 10-11)
- Rhythm Was His BusinessGeorge Williams (April 23-28)
- The Mellow Moods of JazzPeanuts Hucko (May)
- Kansas City MemoriesNat Pierce (June)
- Manhattan Jazz Septet(June)
- To You From Teddi KingTeddi King (June 9)
- Swinging at the Steel PierElliott Lawrence (June 16-21)
- All About Urbie GreenUrbie Green (July 31-August 5 and 23)
- Gil's GuestsGil Melle (August 10 and 24)
- Erroll Garner With OrchestraErroll Garner (September 2)
- Swingin'Terry Gibbs (October 1, 2 and 8)
- Shepard's FlockTommy Shepard (October 1-3)
- In a Swingin' MoodAnn Gilbert and Elliott Lawrence (October)
- Jazz at the AcademyHal McKusick (November 3)
- Larry Sonn and His OrchestraLarry Sonn (November 20)
- The Swingin' Miss DDinah Washington (December 6)
- Hal McKusick QuintetHal McKusick (December 31)
JazzWax clip: Johnny Mathis' first session for Columbia was in 1956 and featured Bernie Glow (tp), Ben Harrod (oboe), Ray Beckenstein (fl), Hal McKusick (cl,as), Danny Bank (b-cl), Eddie Costa (p,vib), Barry Galbraith (g), Milt Hinton (b) and Osie Johnson (d). Manny Albam wrote the arrangements.
One of the four tracks recorded that March was I'm Glad There Is You, with Hal McKusick on alto saxophone behind Mathis. To hear the track and Hal's alto sax for free, go here.
You'll find the track at iTunes or here on Johnny Mathis: 40th Anniversary Edition. The track is incorrectly listed at Amazon as the Percy Faith version. That one came later and had strings.
This story appears courtesy of JazzWax by Marc Myers.
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