Bourne's Favorite George Gruntz Recordings
January 15, 2013. Posted by Michael Bourne.
I traveled with George Gruntz in the fall of 2000. He performed his project "Turkish Night" first with the WDR Big Band in Cologne, then with the George Gruntz Concert Jazz Band (GG-CJB) in Lausanne, Bern, and Zug, Switzerland.
George loved to spotlight "The Lucifers" -- what he called the GG-CJB trombone section. Here's a piece I especially enjoyed, composed by trombonist Dave Bargeron and arranged by GG, "Valencia," featuring some of his favorite soloists. Chris Hunter, alto sax, was the band's concertmaster and played even fragments of music in the rehearsals with astonishing intensity.
Larry Schneider, tenor saxist, was the band's loose cannon and in the concerts sometimes his solos twisted the band into suspensefully unexpected directions. Soloing also were Sasha Sipiagin, trumpet, Danny Gotlieb, drums, and the climax of every performance was an often fierce battle of the bones between Dave Bargeron and Luis Bonilla.
Here's a highlight from "Turkish Night" performed at the Stadtgarten in Cologne with the WDR Big Band in 2000. Soloing were pianist Frank Chastenier, tenor saxist Rolf Romer, alto saxist Heiner Wilberny, and drummer Adam Nussbaum.
During rehearsals, as the first tunes were being played, the band kept breaking down trying to swing together in the difficult (for Western chops) traditional rhythms. After one of the breakdowns, Adam Nussbaum looked at me and, laughing, said "This ain't 'Satin Doll!'" They all eventually swung wildly.
Habib was the singer, discovered by Turkish master musician Burhan Ocal in Izmir, where he'd sing when his fellow tobacco workers gathered at a teashop. He was traveling for the first time away from his town and his country. He was a large fellow, wearing an ill-fitting woolen suit. He was sweetly shy singing an ancient love song. He shook the building.
GG first performed his "Chicago Cantata" in Chicago with local gospel singers, the great tenor saxist Von Freeman, blues pianist Sunnyland Slim, and The Sons of Blues. Sterling Plump wrote the lyrics, sung by Billy Branch, blues harmonica, and Carl Weathersby, blues guitar. "All Day, All Night" was recorded by the WDR Big Band, with Billy, Carl, and John Marshall soloing on trumpet.
George also toured China, and one reason he was able to tour China was that, though most of the band were Americans, was that George himself was Swiss.
During the tour, a German TV unit made a documentary. One of the reporters asked some school children if they liked jazz. They all nodded enthusiastically. "Who's your favorite jazz artist?" asked the reporter. "Michael Jackson!" shouted one of the kids. George was amazed that most of his audience was totally unaware of jazz, all the more amazed by the tumultuous cheering for the music.
Here's how one of the concerts opened, with a piece called "Literary Lizard," composed by Ray Anderson and arranged by GG, with solos from tenor saxist Sal Georgianni, trumpeter John D'Earth, trumpeter Lew Soloff, and bassist Mike Richmond, introduced (in Chinese and in English) by Li Quiang. I came up with the album's title, Beyond Another Wall. I was in Berlin for the Jazzfest when the Wall was falling, and George Gruntz was breaking down another Great Wall.
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