J.J. Johnson: Broadway Express

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Back in the 1960s, jazz guitarist Mundell Lowe was busy. In addition to recording as a leader and sideman, he arranged and conducted sessions for his own band and for others, always with enormous taste. His albums as an arranger, conductor and player included Satan in High Heels (1961), a film score; Hey! This is Kevin Gavin (1962); Jerry Winters Again (1962); Alice Darr (1962); The Happiness of Joe Mooney (1963); The Greatness of Joe Mooney (1963); and two tracks on Peggy Lee's Is That All There Is (1969). Among the best of these nifty recordings was an album for trombonist J.J. Johnson called Broadway Express.

Recorded for RCA in December 1965, Broadway Express was a show-tune followup to J.J.'s Broadway that the trombonist had recorded for Verve in 1963.

Broadway Express was recorded in three session using three different bands. The first on December 13 included Once in a Lifetime, Sunrise Sunset, Sew the Buttons On and More Than One Way. The band featured Ernie Royal and Burt Collins (tp,flhrn); J.J. Johnson (tb); Tony Studd and Dick Hixson (b-tb); Jerome Richardson (cl,fl,pic); Phil Bodner (oboe,cl,fl); Frank Wess (fl,cl,b-cl); Danny Bank (bar,b-cl,pic); Jimmy Buffington and Bob Northern (fhr); Hank Jones (p); Kenny Burrell and Carl Lynch (g); Richard Davis (b) and Grady Tate (d), with Mundell Lowe (arr,cond).

The second session on December 16 captured Night Song, Come Back to Me, Something's Coming and Why Did I Choose You? The musicians were Ernie Royal, Joe Newman and Burt Collins (tp,flhrn); Wayne Andre, and J.J. Johnson (tb); Tony Studd and Dick Hixson (b-tb); Jimmy Buffington and Bob Northern (fhr); Jerome Richardson (cl,as,fl); Frank Wess (ts,fl,cl); Phil Bodner (ts,fl,cl,oboe); Danny Bank (bar,b-cl,fl); Hank Jones (p); Carl Lynch and Kenny Burrell (g); Richard Davis (b); Grady Tate (d); and Warren Smith (perc), with Mundell Lowe (arr,cond).

The third session recorded The Joker, Goodbye Old Girl, I Believe in You and Xanadu on December 17. The band on the date: Burt Collins and Ernie Royal (tp,flhrn); J.J. Johnson (tb); Tony Studd and Dick Hixson (b-tb); Jimmy Buffington and Bob Northern (fhr); Jerome Richardson (cl,as,fl); Frank Wess (ts,fl,cl); Phil Bodner (ts,fl,cl,oboe); Danny Bank (bar,fl,b-cl); Hank Jones (p); Carl Lynch and Everett Barksdale (g); Richard Davis (b); Grady Tate (d); and Phil Kraus (perc), with Mundell Lowe (arr,cond).

The beauty of Mundy's arrangements is that they swung hard, they were airy, and they often featured flutes and interesting instrument combinations. J.J. Johnson was the dean of the post-war jazz trombone and one of the first to master bebop. His firm command of the instrument and his powerful fleshy tone enabled him to dominate as a leader, dating back to the late 1940s. Also in Johnson's favor was his ability to compose and arrange gracefully.

J.J. Johnson died in 2001; Mundell Lowe died in 2017.

JazzWax clips: Here's I Believe in You from How to Succeed in Business (Without Really Trying). Dig Mundy's arrangement with clarinet, flutes, French horns, oboe and glockenspiel...

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This story appears courtesy of JazzWax by Marc Myers.
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