“Backward Glances” – #5


All my LP records were in storage in NJ beginning in 1994, and I have recently been reunited with the survivors here in Oz after a depressing trip to The States (NW NJ) in late 2016. Ergo, this occasional series as a celebration of being able to hear some of my favorite music again!


Full-time big bands became less and less readily available to the listening public in the early 60s. As they became too expensive in their upkeep, with very few exceptions they were replaced by smaller groups, or “live” music was “canned” altogether (Petrillo’s greatest fear!). The Apollo Theater, of course, had its good-sized house band lead by Reuben Phillips; Ray Charles reversed the flow by building up to a big band from a tight combo; Lloyd Price[1], and James Brown carried big bands with them in performance. Later on, so-called “rehearsal bands” were created that actually played new music, occasionally before the general public. Gerry Mulligan had one that I missed out on, but Thad Jones & Mel Lewis’s band was one of the first I would go out of my way to see/hear regularly in NYC. Such groups continue to be formed in NYC, at least as far as I can tell from Sydney! There have also been such bands hereabouts as well –  John Pochée’s Ten Part Invention being my favorite in Sydney during my decades of residence, with bands in Perth and Melbourne that I am aware of and whose CDs I’ve reviewed in these pages. (There is good to great jazz in this city, and in the country as a whole.)

Buddy Tate kept a smaller band – bigger than a combo – active at The Celebrity Club on the north side of 125th St. east of The Apollo for years. Stanley Dance recommended the band in print in the UK (Jazz Journal) and I first went there in the early-to-mid sixties, with a college friend and our dates (O&S #27). Later, I went as a reviewer of a benefit show that Victoria Spivey and Len Kunstadt put together ca. 1964 using Buddy’s band as the musical core for a veritable parade of older musicians and singers. Among those present in the band were Herb Flemming (tbn) and Tadd Dameron (pno)… quite a spread of age and styles!

Ostensibly, this extravaganza was to raise funds for a grave marker for blues-singer Mamie Smith with the proceeds from that show, but that apparently never took place. It DID result in my first major piece in BLUES UNLIMITED (UK), beginning a life-long “career” of sorts for me! There was also a reboot of The Savoy Sultans small band more recently under the guidance of drummer Panama Francis from 1974 into the 1990s. Combos, über alles, had become the financially necessary rule of the day!

But enough of that. My album of choice here is one by the Apollo house band led by alto-player Reuben Phillips (“Big Bad Band at the Apollo” issued on Ascot Records, AM 13004, released in 1962) … maybe some others will sneak in as well! I became aware of the LP via a positive review in a British jazz magazine, either JAZZ JOURNAL or JAZZ MONTHLY, back in the day. I could never find a copy of the LP in NYC, though, no matter how hard I tried – trips to 125th St. didn’t help in my search, either. I got finally lucky a few years later on a London trip … not at Dobell’s, but someplace less specialized. There were a couple of imported copies in the LP jazz bins (remember them?) with stickers that said “Specially imported by E.M.I. Records Ltd”, etc, etc, etc! As the sainted Thos. A. Waller used to say, “One never know, do one!”

First the band:

Reuben Phillips – as; James Powell – as/bari; Buddy Pearson, Robert Ashton – ts; Pete Clark – bari; E.V. Perry, Harold Johnson, Jesse Drake – tpt; Elmer Crumbley, Richard Harris – tbn; Adriano Acea – pno; Billy Butler – gtr; Roy Francis – bs; Emile Russell – dms.

Not too shabby a line-up of names and near-names, and it also gives you an idea as to what numerous semi-name musicians from the big band days ended up doing. Being in a theatre band was a variant on being a studio musician, and artistically better than Hilton Jefferson’s gig as a bank messenger/guard – at least it involved music! And the LP was produced by our old friend, Alan Douglas. I just noticed that, after all those years… honest!!!

The tunes are mostly originals; one Duke (“In a Mellowtone” [sic]), one standard (“I’ll See You in My Dreams”), Ray Charles’ “What’d I Say”, and one recent R’n’B hit (guitarist Phil Upchurch’s “You Can’t Sit Down”). Having spent much time at The Apollo, it all sounds a bit familiar and quite entertaining, and totally appropriate for the venue. Big bands are my weakness… thanks, Dad!



PETER B. LOWRY                                                                                                                         Sydney (2018)

[1] My copies of his fine big band LPs on his Double L label seem to have disappeared with the other damaged stuff from my former NJ storage space – presumably they are history for me, unless I get lucky during my collection’s closer perusals. Damn the mice and the loose water!!


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