Oscar Pettiford: 1955-'58


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In the spring of 1956, bassist Oscar Pettiford (pictured above with cello), in tandem with producer Creed Taylor, began assembling musicians and arrangers for what would become one of the hippest and sexiest big bands of the mid-decade period. Two albums were recorded a year apart for ABC-Paramount, where Creed was head of jazz A&R. Back in 2008, when I interviewed Creed, I asked him about the two Pettiford orchestral recordings:

JazzWax: The Oscar Pettiford Orchestra in Hi-Fi albums were superb. They must have been a thrill for you to produce.

Creed Taylor: They were. Oscar and I were great friends. We talked music whenever we got together for dinner or drinks, When the idea for the albums came up, we’d talk about the musicians who were available. Oscar would say, what about so and so? And I’d say fine, but what about so and so? It was like putting together an all-star baseball team. Quincy Jones was there at the very beginning, too, and arranged some of the compositions, though he was uncredited.

Last week, Uptown Records released Oscar Pettiford: New York City 1955-1958, newly discovered live broadcasts of Pettiford's nonet, sextet and big band at New York's Birdland and OP's Black Pearl on Second Ave., a club owned by Pettiford. I've always loved Pettiford's Hi-Fi orchestras, so it's a joy to hear these live recordings. But first, a little background.

Pettiford recorded his first 12-inch album for ABC in June 1956. It was called The Oscar Pettiford Orchestra in Hi-Fi, Vol. 1 and featured Ernie Royal, Art Farmer (tp), Jimmy Cleveland (tb), Julius Watkins, David Amram (fhr), Gigi Gryce (as,arr), Lucky Thompson (ts,arr), Jerome Richardson (ts,fl), Danny Bank (bar), Tommy Flanagan (p), Oscar Pettiford (b) and Osie Johnson (d).

Then Pettiford put together another interesting band that included Betty Glamann on harp and recorded Vol. 2 in August 1957. The album's lineup featured Ray Copeland and Art Farmer (tp), (with Kenny Dorham replacing Copeland on a track), Al Grey (tb), Julius Watkins and David Amram (fhr), Gigi Gryce (as,arr), Benny Golson (ts,arr), Jerome Richardson (ts,fl), Sahib Shihab (bar), Dick Katz (p), Betty Glamann (harp), Oscar Pettiford (b,cello), Whitey Mitchell (b) and Gus Johnson (d).

In the more than 12 months between these two big-band releases, Pettiford rehearsed the arrangements for the second album during his runs at Birdland, where the band was broadcast live several times on the radio. When I interviewed Dick Katz in 2008, here's what he had to say about Pettiford...

JazzWax: Who was the most exciting musician you’ve worked with? Dick Katz: Probably Roy Eldridge. I consider him to be as big a giant as any you can name, including Louis [Armstrong]. Roy was an amazing artist. The other was Oscar Pettiford. And then Benny Carter.

The band's theme, The Gentle Art of Love, was written by Pettiford and arranged by Lucky Thompson. Other charts for the band were by Gigi Gryce, Benny Golson and several unknown orchestrators. Also on this new two-CD set are 10 tracks by the Oscar Pettiford Sextet, featuring Johnny Coles (tp), Sahib Shihab (bs), Hod O'Brien (p), Betty Glamann (harp), Oscar Pettiford (b) and Earl “Buster" Smith (d) at his club. [Photo above from Oscar Pettiford's Birdland band, with Betty Glamann]

The sound quality is great and the material is superb.

JazzWax tracks: You'll find the two-CD Oscar Pettiford: New York City 1955-1958 (Uptown) here.

Forty-page booklet with liner notes by Noal Cohen.

JazzWax Note: The two Oscar Pettiford Hi-Fi albums are available as part of a box featuring six Pettiford albums for $12 here.

JazzWax clips: Here's a clip of Smoke Signal featuring Art Farmer and Gig Gryce from Vol. 2 with Betty Glamann on harp...

Here's The Gentle Art of Love, the band's theme, during a live Birdland appearance not from the new Uptown release...

And here's Pettiford on Australian TV with guitarist Attila Zoller in 1959 playing the same song...

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This story appears courtesy of JazzWax by Marc Myers.
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