WBGO Playdate

WBGO's Playdate: The Carnegie Hall Jazz Band with Sing, Sing, Sing

CHJB Playdate

This is a web extra for Playdate Show #3. To hear "Sing, Sing, Sing," click on the link above. To hear the full show and more web extras, click here.

By Becca Pulliam

In the fall of 1992, there was a new orchestra in New York City -- the Carnegie Hall Jazz Band.

The most ambitious concert of the ensemble's first season was a concert that presented the full panorama of the music of Miles Davis (1926-91). In from the West Coast, trombonist Garnett Brown wrote a massive arrangement, with everything from bebop to Davis's Tutu.

Guests stepped up, from Jackie Mac (McLean) and Roy Hargrove, Gerry Mulligan and Lee Konitz, Bob Berg and Mike Stern. Shirley Horn and Her Trio played "You Won't Forget Me." Maestro Jon Faddis was indefatigable on the trumpet, Miles's voice.

As you listen to this sample, you can read the Peter Watrous review of "Legacy of Miles"  from The New York Times.

Photo by John Abbott

That review pierced my heart. We had just launched our new series, JazzSet with Branford Marsalis, and were recording and presenting the Carnegie Hall Jazz Band on WBGO and NPR.

From the top I loved the band. I loved Garnett Brown's headlong arranging, I loved the majestic sweep; I loved that Ron Carter played bass through the concert, I loved all the trumpeters, and was disconsolate when I read Watrous's review. 

More than 50 years earlier, Benny Goodman had brought jazz to Carnegie Hall with a holiday show called "Spirituals to Swing." On October 21, 1993, the CHJB opened their second season witha concert entitled “Benny Goodman Revisited.”

This time, the reluctant NYT critic heard something that made him completely happy: arrangements by Jim McNeely. In Watrous's words,

. . . [without warning,] the soprano saxophonist Dave Liebman came out to perform ‘Let's Dance,’ and then ‘Sing, Sing, Sing.’ Mr. McNeely has completely rewritten these pieces, using Gil Evans* as a guide. Big, airy brass chords floated above the rhythm section. The melodies were submerged under the gauzy textures of the arrangement. . . .

’Sing, Sing, Sing’ was [McNeely's] masterpiece. . . . with sharp riffs borrowed from the big-band canon, turned into a piece constructed of smudged, pensive chords. Where the original embodied a dance-hall exuberance, this was almost sullen in parts. And where the original was fairly concise, Mr. McNeely's version was sprawling, evolving into a free duet for Mr. Liebman and the band's drummer, Victor Lewis, then into an improvised call-and-response section between Mr. Liebman's screaming saxophone and the band. It was exhilarating . . . .

Let's listen to a short piece of "Let's Dance" from this concert:

And the complete rendition of one of Goodman's biggest hits, “Sing, Sing, Sing.”

*best known for his arrangements for Miles Davis, of course

Thanks to Carnegie Hall, Festival Productions, Jon Faddis and the band for permission. Recording by Leszek Wocjik and Duke Markos.


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Support comes from the National Endowment for the Arts, New Jersey State Council on the Arts and WBGO.

Playdate funders

Produced for WBGO by Alexander Ariff,
with Becca Pulliam and Duke Markos, Executive Producer Josh Jackson.

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