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Larry Elgart (1922-2017)

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Larry Elgart
Larry Elgart, an alto saxophonist and enterprising and tireless big-band leader whose major success began at the very moment when nearly all other swing orchestras were arthritic relics and the word “band" typically referred to four guys with long hair playing electric instruments and a drum set, died on August 29. He was 95.

In the 1950s and '60s, Elgart frequently teamed with his trumpet-playing brother, Les, on albums and in concert, drawing deserved comparisons to other Swing-era siblings including Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey, Benny and Harry Goodman, Bob and Bing Crosby, and Fletcher and Horace Henderson.

Despite Elgart's rise at the tail end of the 1950s and into the '60s and beyond, he created a signature sound that distinguished his commissioned arrangements and performances. Just as the best big bands of the 1940s had their own orchestral personalities—Glenn Miller with the clarinet in the top- note position in the reed section or Count Basie's relentless stomp style on piano—Elgart arranged his reeds in a tippy-toe staccato. The result made the band sound spry, like someone sneaking upstairs, shoes in hand, after being out late.

Larry's brother, Les, also created a special sound for his own band, which combined society reeds with power trumpets and a broad, meaty trombone section. In the case of both bands, what made the arrangements so appealing was the tight dialogue between the sections. Solos were often brief and typically belonged to the brothers. When they united on albums, one heard the best of both Elgart worlds—tap-dancing reeds with a thick swing driven by the trombones and pecks by the trumpets.

Both brothers had to earn a living, so their albums together and apart could vary from captivating finger-snappers to easy listening and middle-of-the road recordings seasoned liberally with schmaltz. But when the Elgarts were on point, especially Larry, the music was positively addictive (Les died in 1995).

To honor Larry Elgart, here are 10 clips illustrating his gift for engaging recordings and performances:

Here's the Les and Larry Elgart band in 1965, with the peppery reeds and languid wide-bodied brass section playing Skyliner, Cherokee, It's De- Lovely and Begin the Beguine on Chicago's WGN-TV...



Here's Larry Elgart in 1995 playing By e Bye Blues. Dig how tight the band is arranged, especially the reeds...



Here's Honeysuckle Rose...



Here's Larry Elgart's After You've Gone...



Here's Let's Turn It Off...



Here's Let My People Swing...



Here's Let's Turn It Off...



Here's This Heart of Mine...



Here's The Lady Is a Tramp, with a vocal by Carol Sloane! (known then as Carol Morvan)...



And here's one of my favorites, Frim Fram Sauce...



Bonus: Here's a WNEW-NY jingle arranged in the style of Les and Larry Elgart...

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This story appears courtesy of JazzWax by Marc Myers.
Copyright © 2017. All rights reserved.

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