Manhattan Jazz Septette


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In 1956, jazz and pop record labels began to issue 12-inch albums. The format was an upgrade from the 10-inch LP and would remain a staple until the saturation of the marketplace by CDs 40 years later. The new 12-inch LP meant up to 25 minutes of music on each side, allowing for six songs per side at three minutes and change each. To fill the sides, A&R executives at labels turned to crack arrangers and top sight-reading musicians who could get the job quickly with minimal re-takes.

One of the jazz labels issuing 12-inch LPs was Coral, which had been around since 1949. The subsidiary of Decca specialized in jazz and jazzy pop, and much of its catalog is still compelling and well-crafted. In the spring of 1956, Coral asked arranger Manny Albam (above) to write tight arrangements for a small ensemble. Albam, in turn, asked Oscar Pettiford to pull together the best musicians in town to cut the record.

On June 7, 1956, seven of New York's most proficient studio jazz players assembled: Urbie Green (tb), Hal McKusick (as), Herbie Mann (fl,ts), Eddie Costa (p,vib), Barry Galbraith (g), Oscar Pettiford (b) and Osie Johnson (d). For the session, they were known as the Manhattan Jazz Septette,

Six of the 12 songs recorded were Albam originals—Like Listen, Since When, Rapid Transit, Flute Cocktail, At Bat for K.C. and Thou Svelt. The rest were Jelly Roll Morton's King Porter Stomp, Betty Comden, Adolph Green and Jule Styne's Never Never Land, Johnny Mercer and Artie Shaw's Love of My Life, Lou Alter and Eddie DeLange's Do You Know What It Means to Miss New Orleans and Mack Gordon and Harry Warren's There Will Never Be Another You.

In today's parlance, this band was a supergroup made up of stellar players who were already established giants. All were prolific sidemen and spent a better part of their days shuttling from studio to studio in New York recording as leaders and sidemen. What's more, all had exquisite taste and most doubled and tripled on other instruments.

If you want to hear how the East Coast was responding to the West Coast jazz scene in the mid-1950s, dig Oscar Pettiford's Manhattan Jazz Septette. This is an exceptional album that allows you to hear leading jazz craftsmen of their day up close.

JazzWax tracks: You'll find the Manhattan Jazz Septette here. The so-called bonus tracks aren't bonus tracks at all but a separate album called Guitar and the Wind, which was guitarist Barry Galbraith's only leadership album.

JazzWax clip: Here's Do You Know What It Means to Miss New Orleans...

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This story appears courtesy of JazzWax by Marc Myers.
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