has finally released a live recording made in March 1994 at the first annual "March of Jazz" festival in St. Petersburg, Florida. "The All Stars at Bob Haggart's 80th Birthday Party"
is a swinging, all-star tribute to the legendary bassman, culled from three nights of jam-session style concerts. As with most live concert albums, where a "second take" is impossible, an occasional balance problem or off-mike solo does crop up, but the overall quality of the recording is excellent.
The personnel on hand for Haggart's birthday bash is a venerable "Who's Who" of swing, from true Big Band veterans like Haggard, Milt Hinton, Flip Phillips, Yank Lawson, Jerry Jerome, and George Van Eps, transitional players like Ruby Braff, Dick Hyman, Derek Smith, and Bob Wilbur, and continuing through the younger generation of Randy Sandke, Jake Hanna, Ken Peplowski, and Howard Alden. Though each set has its own leaders, the spirit of a jam session is pervasive throughout this collection.
The first CD kicks off with an uptempo jam through the old chestnut "Oh, Lady Be Good", featuring an intricate solo section that is a transcription of Lester Young's classic 1936 solo - an impressive feat for an ensemble consisting of clarinet (Allen Vache), trombone (Dan Barrett), and guitar (Howard Alden).
Other highlights on the first 75-minute disc include Flip Phillips' rendition of "Symphony", a tune that has been in Phillips' book since World War II; Bob Wilbur and Kenny Davern recreating their Soprano Summit on "Nobody's Sweetheart" with Bob paying tribute to Sidney Bechet's soprano work, a style that has sadly been neglected today; Ruby Braff and Dick Hyman's beautiful performance of "Yesterdays"; and the final two swinging ensemble pieces let by Braff and Flip Phillips, "Muskrat Ramble" and "Limehouse Blues".
Disc Two opens with a light-hearted bass and vocal rendition of "Old Man Time" by The Judge, Milt Hinton. Two veteran trumpeters take the stage next for a romp through "Oh, Baby". Milt stays on bass and delivers a trademarked slap-bass solo and Yank Lawson and Joe Wilder (on flugelhorn) both engage in some spirited blowing. Though time has taken the steadiness that these two players exhibited in years past, it certainly has not effected the soul of their music. A Wilbur-Peplowski-Kenny Davern clarinet feature, the Duke’s classic "The Mooche", follows.
The unbeatable guitar trio of Howard Alden, George Van Eps, and Bucky Pizzarelli delivers a superb unaccompanied reading of "Lullaby of Birdland." If you are not familiar with Pizzarelli or Van Eps, two legendary Swing-era giants, this track should serve as enough of an impetus. Randy Sanke joins the band for two swinging large group offerings, "Lover" (featuring a superb Peplowski tenor solo) and "Wolverine Blues". Lawson, Haggart, Wilbur, Sutton, Pizzarelli, and other bandmates work to revive the spirit of The World’s Greatest Jazz Band by blowing "Three Little Words". Two swinging jams close out the disc, "Air Mail Special" and the all-star finale, "Bill Bailey, Won’t You Please Come Home."
Sadly, this recording serves as a bittersweet reminder of the great players who have left us recently. Trumpeter Yank Lawson passed away only a year after this concert. George Van Eps (age 85), Milt Hinton (90), Jerry Jerome (89), Ralph Sutton (79), and Flip Phillips (86) have all passed in the last few years, each leaving behind a monumental legacy of recordings and lasting influences on younger generations of players. Shortly before their deaths, two of these players released well-received farewell CD's - Flip Phillips ("Swing Is The Thing" - Verve
) and Jerry Jerome ("Something Borrowed, Something Blue" - Arbors
Swing fans, particularly those who have enjoyed the contributions of Bob Haggart and his contemporaries for many years, will find everything in this CD much to their liking. Though it does not present the older generation of musicians in their most vital or robust performances, it serves as a wonderful concert document and a fitting tribute to a true living legend of jazz.(There is also another volume featuring performances by Dick Hyman, Derek Smith, and Ralph Sutton - "The Piano Giants at Bob Haggart’s 80th Birthday Party". Available from Arbors Records.)