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Remembering Buddy DeFranco

In 1999 Swing Fever met the wonderful clarinetist and warm gentleman Buddy DeFranco.
This is how it came about. Our band had a tour booked which included the fine ex-Basie trumpeter, Harry “Sweets” Edison. Harry had not been well, and a month before the tour he died. Since the tour had been focused on him, it was incumbent upon us to apprehend a noble equivalent. Buddy DeFranco’s name came up. No one in Swing Fever had ever played with Buddy, though his reputation and his music were well-known to us. We telephoned him – I can’t recall how we came to have his number – and within an hour he had signed on.
For many years Buddy had led his own groups where he was the featured soloist, but this was an instance where he was incorporated right into the band, playing clarinet parts – which we quickly had written for him – in the ensemble. Naturally we also gave him a lot of solo space.
All of a sudden there we were, Swing Fever and Buddy DeFranco concertizing all over California. And I was getting to know one of the most distinct and warm gentlemen in jazz, along with his wife Joyce, who was by his side and ours, throughout the tour. It began a friendship that has lasted, mostly by telephone, all the years since. In 2001 Swing Fever did another California tour with Buddy.
The first included Tony Johnson, drums; Ruth Davis, bass; Steve Campos, trumpet; Jim Putman, guitar; Buddy and Jackie Ryan and, what an honor, me. Jim Rothermel was the other reed, and it was a pleasure listening to Jim and Buddy trading 4s, 8s, 2s.
During our two tours we recorded some of the concerts. Just last year a CD/DVD package was released. Better late than never. These recordings also include Jackie, along with some of the other live dates we had done with Clark Terry and Terry Gibbs. It was produced by OpenArt Productions, and me.
Some of the memorable tour moments: At Villa Montalvo, in Saratoga, we had a chance to observe Buddy conducting a workshop with a college band, where he kept leaning on the woodwinds to play legato, to sustain all the way through their phrasing instead of biting the notes off. Not a bad bit of advice for us too, I remember thinking at the time.
Buddy was an inveterate rehearser, who practiced his clarinet nearly every day of his life, and had done so clear back in his early days with Tommy Dorsey and before. He did the same on our tour. It drew a complaint from one hotel guest in Saratoga. This ruffled Buddy’s feathers a bit. He said he hadn’t had a hotel complaint in 30 years.
He invented a “mute’ for the clarinet, which allowed him to practice at full volume almost noiselessly. It consisted of a long glove that covered the clarinet entirely with slits on both sides for your hands to enter. He said he had ideas about manufacturing it commercially; did that ever happen? He could have sold six of them just on his name alone (clarinets being so popular).
Buddy said that toward the end of Tommy Dorsey’s life they rekindled a friendship that earlier had some bumps in it. He also kept up a friendship with the late Artie Shaw.
“Here’s a little something to think about,” Buddy said to me one time, “contrary to what everyone thinks Charlie Parker did not play better when high on heroin. Often he played considerably worse.” Nonetheless it was Parker he said, who really opened his ears and sent him headlong into bebop.
He had a very low opinion of dope in general, and especially of the rockers who he felt led a lot of young people to abuse. He held the rockers of the ‘60s responsible for ruining a lot of lives.
For a jazz musician, Buddy was a very upright traditional sort of person. This made him a nice balance to the madcap Terry Gibbs. Terry jabbed him with wild spirit; Buddy brought Terry (according to Buddy) down to earth. (On our tour with Terry; I can personally say that I have never seen Terry Gibbs down to earth.) Their partnership was felicitous.
The Glenn Miller Orchestra traditionally gets the raspberry from jazz players, chiefly because it sidestepped jazz. Buddy led the Miller ghost band for eight years and enjoyed it, even though he said he rarely played clarinet in it. He told me it was the arrangements he loved, Bill Finnegan’s in particular.
I remember Buddy talking about playing in the super-avant garde Boyd Raeburn band. “Cleared the room in six minutes.”
Also the Buddy DeFranco Quartet had booked two weeks in an east coast club owned by a gloomy old mafioso type who glared at him through the whole first set. He confronted Buddy on the break: “So when does the singing start? “Singing,” Buddy replied? The guy thought he had booked Buddy Greco.


Swing jazz was the dominant music of the “Big Band Era” in the 1930s and 40s, played by orchestras of Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Benny Goodman, Tommy Dorsey, and dozens of other well- rehearsed excellent “hot” bands, along with cooling the jazz emphasis, like the Glenn Miller Orchestra and “Sweet” bands like Guy Lombardo. The era began with black bands (Bennie Moten, Fletcher Henderson, Duke Ellington) in the late 1920s, and became a screaming sensation as the white bands and white audiences (mostly college age) took up the style. Swing bands also trained a spotlight on the great songs of Gershwin, Kern, Rodgers, Berlin, Carmichael etc. – the so called “Great American Songbook” – bringing them maximum attention and respect.

Swing took the nation through the Great Depression and the War years, then stumbled to almost a dead halt in 1946, as postwar couples began staying at home and raising families. Rhythm and Blues and the popularity of vocalists such as Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra had already made serious inroads. Bebop (Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gilespie) had grabbed the attention of the more adventuresome jazz listeners.

Swing dancers of today harken mostly to the music of that Depression era and its various “jitterbug” dance styles, curiously ignoring the Latin, waltz, ballad and other “ballroom” features of the Big Bands which always – we forget – played a rich mixture.

The singing style of Frank Sinatra is also a leftover of the Swing era. His music-largely a parade of the “Great American Songbook,” has maintained a dedicated audience, which also includes diehard fans of Bobby Darrin, Dean Martin, Harry Connick and Michael Buble. No greater devotee to this music can be found than Michael Feinstein.

Swing Fever Set Lists – Oregon tour 2012

OR/WA 2012 SET I

9:20 Special (Warren, Basie, 1930s)
The Count Basie Band was one of the big surprises of the 1930s. A blues-based “territory” band from Kansas City, it hit New York with a style in wild contrast to those of Fletcher Henderson and Chick Webb who commanded Harlem.

Straighten Up And Fly Right (Cole, 1943)
Nat King Cole’s first hit in 1943 on the fledgling Capitol label, and one of the hallmarks of the great King Cole Trio, which featured Nat Cole’s sparkling piano in tandem with the guitar of Oscar Moore. Starving in Los Angeles, Nat had sold the rights to his song for $50. The song nonetheless, helped establish his career.

Liza (Gershwin, Kahn, Gershwin, 1929)
Is one of the fine contributions from the Gershwin brothers, and an example of how much the new exciting songs of Gershwin, Kern, Arlen, Berlin, Porter and Rodgers influenced and stimulated the Big Bands and soloists of the era.

All of Me ~ (Gerald Marks, Seymour Simons, 1931)
First appearing in 1931, this song enjoyed many revivals, including a Billie Holiday version and later one by Frank Sinatra, which really established the tune as a standard. Denise Perrier sings.

Alright, OK~ Singer Joe Williams shot a spark into the Count Basie band of the 1950s with hits such as “Ev’ry Day” and “The Comeback,” contrasted with a smooth, swinging ballad style that helped launch a popular career, that persisted into the 1990s.

Caravan (Tizol, Ellington, 1937)
Long established as a Duke Ellington standard, “Caravan” was really a contribution of Ellington’s long-time valve trombonist Juan Tizol, who also wrote “Perdido.” The germ of many Ellington compositions came from his sidemen, and Duke had the luxury of maintaining a band to glean their ideas, as well as to test and stimulate his compositional offerings.

Sam You Made The Pants Too Long
Adapted from Victor Young’s “Lord, You made the Night Too Long” 1932, a minor Bing Crosby hit that Milton Berle and cronies felt obliged to parody in 1940 as a man’s kvetch to his tailor.

You’d Be So Nice To Come Home To ~ (Porter, 1942)
Ending a title with a preposition was just one of the ways that Cole Porter broke the rules with his inventive songs and urbane, sometimes riskè lyrics. Porter wrote all his own lyrics, something that among the great popular composers only Irving Berlin and Frank Loesser attempted. Though widely renowned for those lyrics, Cole Porter’s true genius lies in his compositions, like this one sung by Denise Perrier.

Until the Real Thing Comes Along ~ (Chapman, Cahn, 1936)
Has personal meaning to Denise Perrier, who heard it as a young girl in her own family. Lyrics are by the beloved Sammy Cahn, who penned many songs with composer Jimmy Van Heusen for Frank Sinatra, but this one was written with Saul Chapman.

Route 66 ~ (Troup, 1946)
Bobby Troup and his young wife composed the song as they drove their car westward to seek their fortune in Hollywood. They tried their rhymes first on other highways, but it was only when they got on Route 66 after Chicago that the tune began to click. The song became widely popular and one of the hits for Nat King Cole and his King Cole Trio.

OR/WA 2012 Set II

Count Basie’s band was most at home with the blues, which harkened back to its Kansas City origins, and often displayed the band’s extraordinary sense of dynamics and irresistible rhythmic pulse, driven by the rhythm guitar of Freddie Green in lock-step with drums and bass, and the Count’s pianistic comments.

I’ve Got the World On a String (Arlen, Koehler)
This is one of the early songs which introduced the world to the music of Harold Arlen. Arlen teamed with lyricists to produce many of the greatest songs in American Music; Ted Koehler (for this and other songs), Yip Harburg (the score for “The Wizard of Oz,”) and, Johnny Mercer (“That Old Black Magic,” “Blues in the Night,” “One For My Baby”).

On the Sunny Side Of the Street ~ (McHugh, Fields)
Denise is forever sunny when she leads us down this familiar boulevard, music by Jimmy McHugh, one of the 30s finest and Dorothy Fields a trailblazing woman in the music industry and a very successful lyricist.

I’ve Got You Under My Skin ~ (Porter)
In contrast to Irving Berlin, the Gershwins and most of the middleclass composers and lyricists of the period, Cole Porter was born wealthy, yet able to overcome this handicap and write some of the most memorable songs of the period. Only Porter, Berlin and Frank Loesser were courageous enough to write not only their music, but also their lyrics.

Tickletoe (Young, Basie, 1939)
Lester Young was one of the two great tenor saxophonists who blew into Harlem with the Count Basie Band, and one who would live to be among the most influential players emerging from the Swing Era. Saxophonist Charlie McCarthy is featured on this exuberant “Prez” number.

Love For Sale (Porter, 1930)
Like his first hit “Let’s Do It,” Cole Porter enjoyed pushing the thematic limits. Love For Sale traced the weary existence of a savvy, wistful professional. It was said that nothing gave Cole Porter greater pleasure than raised eyebrows. The censors rewarded him by banning it from the airwaves!

Mood Indigo ~ (Ellington, 1931)
Duke Ellington’s earliest steady engagement was at the Cotton Club in New York, a famous gang-run establishment that had an all white audience and all black entertainment. Ellington’s Orchestra was known as “The Jungle Band,” featuring muted horn effects by Bubber Miley, Duke’s first great trumpeter.
It was out of this same atmosphere that, in 1931, Mood Indigo was born. The year marked a turning point for the Duke, away from the Cotton Club and the “Jungle Band” style and toward an identity based on Duke’s increasing complex compositions and the band’s growing popularity.

Honey Suckle Rose ~ (Waller, Razaf)
One of the cheery, light hearted songs of Fats Waller that seemed to fly out of his nimble fingers. Writing with lyricist Andy Razaf, the best of them were instant hits. Waller himself, one of the truly great stride piano players, enjoyed a popularity second only to that of Louis Armstrong.

Georgia On My Mind ~ (Carmichael)
Hoagy Carmichael, native of Indiana, often harkened back to the rural; whether it was “Memphis in June,” “Moon Country,” or “Lazy River,” you could usually fine a moon or a hayfield in it someplace, especially when he teamed with lyricist Johnny Mercer (“Skylark”).

Take the A Train ~ (Strayhorn, 1941)
Billy Strayhorn’s composition, which became the Ellington theme and remained so for years, began as a sketch Strayhorn penned on the subway on his way to Ellington’s house in Harlem, an audition piece for joining Duke’s band as an arranger.

Clark Terry’s 94th Birthday

December 14, 2014 was Clark Terry’s 94th Birthday. For those for whom the name rings only a distant bell, trumpeter Clark Terry has been one of the most respected and renowned players of the past 60 or 70 years, having served long apprenticeships in both the Ellington and Basie bands, and led many versions of his own band, resulting in countless recordings.Two of those recordings were with Swing Fever. Both were studio recordings done in San Francisco, and came at the culmination of numerous concert dates touring around California. (Both are available – just ask us.)Our first meeting with Clark, grew out of our determination to honor Pee Wee Claybrook, the fine saxophonist who played with Swing Fever for many years, but had never recorded. He and Clark had known each other since the early says of WWII. Clark loved the idea of joining us on a CD. It turned out to be just in time, as Pee Wee died shortly afterward.Knowing Clark has been one of my great personal thrills in my 32 years of Swing Fever. One indelible memory is driving Clark over the Sierra and through Feather River Canyon – the shortest route between two concert gigs – while we played a tape of Duke Ellington’s Bal Masque concert. Clark had been part of that concert, and his running commentary on the performance should have become a CD by itself. One thing that stood out is Clark’s delight with Billy Strayhorn’s arrangements for that performance.Among Clark’s virtues is his effervescent humor. In the be-bop era it was considered taboo by the serious frowners (Miles, etc.) to display humor onstage or in the music. Dizzy Gillespie, for one, attracted criticism for his clowning, but got away with it because he was Diz. The same can be said of Clark, who followed humor-wise, in the tradition of Armstrong and Fats Waller, at the same time as his music hued closer to Charlie Parker. It’s a playfulness, scarcely diminished by numerous physical ailments as Clark has aged.Another memory grew out of our first recording where, due to Clark’s failing eyesight, I had the trumpet parts blown up to double size. However, the printer had mistaken my instructions, and expanded the parts to a factor not of two, but of four. Having no time to correct the error, we arrived at the Mobius recording studio, and presented Clark with trumpet parts on huge posters. Some artists of Clark’s renown might have taken this as a colossal insult, but Clark laughed about it then, and hasn’t stopped yet.I will include the recollection tomorrow in my telephone birthday greeting. If it doesn’t elicit at least a chuckle, I’ll know I have the wrong number.Here’s a reflection for us: Dave Brubeck, who just celebrated his 90th, and Clark Terry were born just days apart. What a contrast in backgrounds – hardscrabble in St. Louis, horse ranch in California – and in their contributions to American music. My only encounter with Brubeck was the one I recounted on the previous entry (though treated to numerous Dave and Paul stories by Joe Dodge, Brubeck’s early drummer and ours) but I grew to know Clark quite well during tours and recordings, and later a visit to his and Gwen’s home in New Jersey.And then just a very few years ago, my wife Laurie and I met them in Manhattan for dinner at the Jazz Standard, where Frank Foster’s Big Band was playing. Frank was then recovering from a stroke, and was unable to manage his saxophone, but yanked out a trumpet, which he could operate with his good hand, and lured Clark to the stage for a trumpet duet. The place was full of musicians. The great thrill for Laurie and me, besides the music, was sitting with Clark as musicians crept over by ones and twos and threes to pay tribute, reminisce and chat. The camaraderie among those players, mostly younger, mostly black, seemed tremendous. It felt like community.

Tell me more.

So very often a potential client will tell me they want a dance band. Well they probably don’t mean a tango band, so I take that to mean a variety band: some swing, some ballroom, some old rock, maybe some newer rock – what we think of as a wedding and events band that has to please a varied group of people. Often I find that people actually want a rock band, but unless you are more specific, I wouldn’t know that.

A booking company, like we are, can offer all kinds of bands, but you need to tell us what you want. The more you can tell me about what you envision, the more likely you are to be presented with a choice of bands that will meet and exceed your expectations.