Mundell Lowe: TV Action Jazz


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Among Mundell Lowe's finest albums (and there are many) are the two TV Action Jazz LPs he recorded in 1959 and 1960. Most jazz fans think of Mundell solely as a polished guitarist in both club and studio settings. In fact, Mundell also is a terrific swinging arranger, and the TV Action Jazz albums bear this out.

The first one, recorded in February 1959, was called TV Action Jazz! The album featured Donald Byrd (tp), Jimmy Cleveland (tb), Herbie Mann (fl,ts), Tony Scott (cl,bar), Eddie Costa (p,vib), Mundell Lowe (g), Don Payne (b) and Ed Shaughnessy (d). The album's concept was to take the hottest detective shows on TV at the time and create swinging arrangements of their themes. Quite a challenge considering how hip these themes already were.

The track list will bring back memories for those who remember what TV was like in 1959. On the album are jazz interpretations of the themes to Peter Gunn, Mike Hammer, Perry Mason, 77 Sunset Strip, M Squad, The Thin Man, Naked City and Fallout!

Among the highlights are the late-night ballad treatment of the Naked City theme and the rapid-fire The Thin Man. Throughout, Mundell offers juicy, thick guitar lines, with nifty solos by each of the players, particularly trombonist Jimmy Cleveland and Tony Scott on baritone sax.

The second album, simply called Themes From... was recorded in June 1960. The personnel shifted slightly: Clark Terry (tp); Willie Dennis, Urbie Green and Frank Rehak (tb); Rod Levitt (b-tb); Phil Bodner (reeds); Eddie Costa (p,vib); Mundell Lowe (g); George Duvivier (b) and Ed Shaughnessy (d). By featuring Clark Terry on solo trumpet and beefing up the trombone section, the second volume has an even more detective-y feel. For some reason, trombones best express the hip, cool nature of TV's private eyes.

The tracks on the second album are themes to Tightrope, Hawaiian Eye, Mr. Lucky, The Untouchables, Bourbon Street Beat, Detectives, Markham and Johnny Staccato. Of particular note are Tightrope, Mr. Lucky and Markham.

As Mundell said in the first album's liner notes:

“One thing that impressed me strongly while I was doing this is what a pleasure it is to watch a TV show on which the music has been composed and recorded in this country. There's such a difference not only in the quality of the playing but the writing and recording, too."

Or put differently, it was great back then to flip on the tube and hear jazz themes behind the shows. What's particularly interesting about these two albums is that they are East Coast interpretations of West Coast TV-studio themes. All of Mundell's charts have a New York feel and all featured largely East Coast musicians. Very snappy stuff.

JazzWax note: For Part 1 of my interview series with Mundell Lowe, go here.

JazzWax tracks: Now for the big surprise. Are you sitting down? Good. Because instead of shelling out upward of $40 for the CD that combines both albums, I noticed that the first album, TV Action Jazz!, is now at iTunes for just $5.99. If you want the second volume, you'll have to buy the Complete TV Action Jazz CD here.

JazzWax clip: Here's Nelson Riddle's Naked City Theme, to give you a sense of how cool this song is. Mundell Lowe's arrangement, by contrast, is slower and moodier, and likely based on the show's end theme as credits rolled...

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This story appears courtesy of JazzWax by Marc Myers.
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