Perfect Album: Something Else

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Johnny Richards
I was going to post today about a “Hot Track" but decided instead to simply start a new feature called “Perfect Album." Yesterday I was listening to Johnny Richards' Something Else, one of my absolute favorite big-band albums. Something Else was recorded for Bethlehem in Hollywood on August 2 and 3, 1956.

What made Richards (above) special as an arranger was his fiery romanticism and percussive moodiness. A highly progressive writer, Richards thought big. Really big. And he loved his sections busy and inflamed and his soloists soulful and deeply committed. As you might imagine, a Johnny Richards session was highly challenging even for the best studio musicians with hardened chops.

During the August 2 session, Waltz Anyone? was the only composition recorded that day. This may have been largely a result of the work itself. There is a sizable amount of instrumental traffic coming and going, and yet it's one of the prettiest and most cohesive jazz orchestral works. But it's a tiger just the same. Or, they may have nailed it early and used the rest of the studio time to rehearse the other arrangements for the next day's session.

Don't think for a minute the problem was the orchestra: Pete Candoli, Buddy Childers and Maynard Ferguson (tp); Stu Williamson (tp,v-tb); Tommy Pederson, Frank Rosolino and Milt Bernhart (tb); John Cave (fhr); Albert Pollan (tu); Charlie Mariano (as); Richie Kamuca (ts); Ronny Lang (bar,pic); Bill Holman (bassax); Marty Paich (p); Buddy Clark (b); Stan Levey (d); Lou Singer (perc) and Johnny Richards (arr,dir).

The next day, Richards took on more firepower: Shorty Rogers (flhrn) was added (yeah, added), and Don Kelly (b-tb) and Vince DeRosa (fhr) replaced Milt Bernhart and John Cave, respectively. The songs were For All We Know, Aijalon, Dimples, Long Ago and Far Away, Band Aide, Turn About and Burrito Borracho.

Richards composed Waltz Anyone? Dimples, Band Aide, Turn Aboot, Burrito Borracho and Aijalon (Richards's wife Blanca is listed as co-writer on the last track). The rest were standards. Every single track on this album is out of the park. There isn't a single ounce of wheel-spinning, cliche weaving, back peddling or even the thought of a cop-out track. I've worn out two vinyl copies and own three CD versions. And yet it's so little known that there's no Wiki page for the album and just one track on YouTube. I'm telling you it's a perfect album.

Coda: This album popped up during my JazzWax interview with Bill Holman (above in the 1950s):

JazzWax: You played bass sax on Johnny Richards' famed Something Else session in 1956. Were Johnny's arrangements difficult to play?

Bill Holman: I don’t remember a whole lot from that date. I do remember being in the studio with that bass sax. I wasn’t a bass saxophonist. I had to work pretty hard to make it perform.

JW: Why did Richards choose you to play bass sax?

BH: He probably chose me because he knew me from Stan Kenton's band and thought I was a good player. I was just glad to get the gig. I only remember walking into the studio with that huge sax.

JazzWax tracks: You'll find Johnny Richards's Something Else (Bethlehem) here or here.

JazzWax clip: Here's Waltz Anyone?...

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This story appears courtesy of JazzWax by Marc Myers.
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