Building A Dream Big Band

Over the next couple of weeks, I will be piecing together, section by section, my ideal jazz big band. This band will be comprised simply of my favorites, and there are no requirements as to who may be a part of this band, including whether or not the musician is alive or dead. I encourage you to offer your opinion on how your dream big band might differ.

The band will consist of 21 members: five trumpets, five saxes, four trombones, piano, bass, drums, guitar, two singers, and a bandleader.

Today, I submit to you the trumpet section. Enjoy!

Lead Trumpet: Arturo Sandoval

A lead trumpet player has to be able to hit any high note with the same quality of tone as if he or she was playing middle range notes. Jazz virtuoso Arturo Sandoval was probably my easiest pick for this band. Arturo is easily the most versatile trumpet player in all aspects. Amazing tone, an unmatchable range, fast fingers, and technically perfect. A dream lead trumpet player for any band.

Watch Arturo Sandoval play Cherokee:

Second Trumpet: Wynton Marsalis

Second chair in a trumpet section is typically the featured soloist, so my second chair has to be extremely creative and entertaining. To me Wynton is as creative and interesting as it gets when playing a trumpet solo. He has been a featured soloist in nearly every band he has played in, which is why he sits in chair two as the sections featured soloist.

Watch Wynton Marsalis play Harmonique:

Third Trumpet: Freddie Hubbard

I have often credited Freddie Hubbard as my all-time favorite trumpet player. In his prime you could hear him solo for ten minutes and never hear him repeat a single lick. Freddie is the guy that could play a fast solo or a beautiful ballad…no matter the solo, you would never get bored.

Watch Freddie Hubbard play Straight Life:

Fourth Trumpet: Miles Davis

Traditionalists may hold it against me for seating Miles at fourth chair in this section, if for no other reason than his legend, but this is my band and this is where I seat him. Miles gives this section personality and genius. He might not play as high or as fast as the others, but his personality, sound and perspectives on improvisation truly perfect this trumpet section.

Watch Miles Davis play So What:

Fifth Trumpet: Thad Jones

I actually like this band with a four-piece trumpet section, with Thad stepping out on the stage to be featured on ballads on the flugelhorn. I still don’t know if there is a horn player who can play a ballad as sweetly as Thad Jones.

Watch Thad Jones play Only For Now from Suite For Pops 2:

So far, a great start to my dream band. Let me know what you think! And I hope you enjoyed the great recordings!

Next time, the trombone section.

Remembering Neal Hefti

Neal Hefti
Neal Hefti

The jazz world lost one of its most famous composers and arrangers last Saturday, October 11th, as Neal Hefti passed away in his home in Los Angeles at the age of 85.

While Hefti’s biggest “hit” might have been the composition of the theme song for the television show Batman, for which he won a Grammy award in 1966, Hefti built his reputation with wonderful compositions and arrangements for big bands.

In addition to being a fine trumpet player, Hefti built his reputation arranging and composing for Woody Herman. Hefti’s most memorable big band compositions were recorded by Count Basie’s band between 1950 and 1962, and included works like Lil’ Darlin’, Cute, Whirly-Bird, and Little Pony.

Neal Hefti spent a month composing the Batman theme song, which became an overnight success, landing in the Top 40 and winning him a Grammy for Best Instrumental Theme. He also composed music for The Odd Couple, Barefoot in the Park, and Harlow.

Click here to hear Count Basie’s band play Neal Hefti’s Whirly-Bird.

Click here to hear Count Basie’s band play Neal Hefti’s Lil’ Darlin’.

Click here to hear the Batman theme song written by Neal Hefti.

Eva Cassidy’s “Somewhere”

Eva Cassidy finds herself in a league of her own when it comes to heart-tugging, tear-jerking stories. Upon her passing from cancer in 1996, she was not a Grammy winner or a legend. In fact, you were fortunate if you had ever heard of her, unless you lived in the Washington D.C. area. It had nothing to do with a lack of talent, because the talent was coming out of her ears, and most everyone who heard her sing agreed on this. Unfortunately, recording companies struggled to figure out how to market her, as her repertoire consisted of everything from jazz to blues to rock to gospel to Irish folk music; a repertoire so broad that they simply chose not to market her at all. Apparently being incredibly diverse had its downside – she couldn’t be defined, so the powers that be decided to not try and define her at all. Grammy awards and record albums sales can be difficult to come by when no one has the guts to distribute your work.

The fortunate side to this sad story is that the right guy got his hands on one of her recordings and helped get her music on the airwaves, even if it was after her death. A British radio DJ came across her Live at Blues Alley release and began broadcasting Eva’s version of Somewhere over the Rainbow in the early 2000’s. That exposure led to topping the British album charts, and album sales topping one million.

Subsequent albums and exposure led Eva Cassidy’s popularity west, where by 2006 she became the number five selling artist on Her numbers on ITunes are comparable now, if not better. Most of her albums have now earned gold or platinum status posthumously. It appears after all, that diversity, matched with an epic voice (a voice I would be surprised if anyone disliked), doesn’t need clever marketing and a huge recording contract. Her following is huge and no longer can be described as a cult following. And while her story most certainly tugs at the heart, her huge sales since her death can not only be credited to an unfortunate story that chokes us up, but to an amazing talent that appeals to a large and diverse audience of listeners. And while it might be a bold statement for me to make, it is an honest one, as Eva Cassidy’s recording of Who Knows Where the Time Goes remains my all time favorite recording by a female vocalist.

Eva Cassidy’s latest album Somewhere, has now been released by Blix Street Records, a Gig Harbor based recording company. For those who know and love Eva’s music, this album will treat you quite nicely. This is far from an album that features leftover studio and live recordings that were thrown together just to create another release. It features a nice collection of down tempo tunes throughout, showing off Cassidy’s fantastic ability to remind listeners that a well sung ballad really should draw and display emotion. Showcased in the middle of the album are a series of bluesy songs including Chain of Fools, Walkin’ After Midnight, and Ain’t Doin’ Too Bad that remind us that to be versatile in music means not only the ability to sing different styles of music, but the ability to sing different styles of music well.

The album closes as if her fans were asked what they would like to hear Eva sing to close out an album. We hear a wonderful version of Gershwin’s Summertime, and finish with the title track, a tune co-written by Eva and Chris Biondo, Eva’s former boyfriend.

It is rare that you can listen to an Eva Cassidy recording and at the very least not say “wow”. The new album Somewhere offers no exception to that rule.

Below is a video of Eva Cassidy singing “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” at Blues Alley, as well as her recording of “Chain of Fools” from her new album “Somewhere”, and my all-time favorite Eva recording, “Who Knows Where the Time Goes”.

Click here to listen to “Who Knows Where the Time Goes”

Click here to listen to “Chain of Fools”

Welcome to Groove Notes!

Groove Notes will provide the opportunity to examine and discuss all things jazz. It will offer a perspective on recordings new and old, artist information, concert happenings, and any other jazz related topics big or small. Groove Notes will also allow readers a chance to hear and see audio and video related to these topics and give them a chance to offer their own responses to any of the postings.