Johnny Richards session was highly challenging: Photos, Video

- in ARTISTS, BOOKS, VIDEOS

The “Perfect Album” album I’ve selected remains one of my absolute favorite big-band recordings—Something Else by Johnny Richards. It’s so far off the grid that no Wiki page exists, and YouTube features just one song.

As I listened to Something Else yesterday while writing, I fell in love with the music all over again.

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Something Else
 was recorded for Bethlehem in Hollywood on August 2 and 3, 1956. What made Richards (above) special as an arranger was his fiery romanticism and percussive moodiness. A highly progressive orchestral writer, Richards thought big. Really big. And he loved his section writing busy, textured and inflamed. He also wanted his soloists soulful and emotionally committed. As you might imagine, a Johnny Richards session was highly challenging from a reading and blowing perspective, even for the best studio musicians with the most hardened chops. Bill Holman said so. So did Al Stewart.

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During the August 2 session, Waltz Anyone? was the only composition recorded that day. This may have been largely a result of the work itself. There is a sizable amount of instrumental traffic coming and going, and yet it’s one of the prettiest and most cohesive jazz orchestral works. But it’s a tiger. Or, Richards and the band may have nailed it early and used the remaining studio time to rehearse the other arrangements for the next day’s session.

Don’t think for a second that the problem may have been with the band: Pete Candoli, Buddy Childers and Maynard Ferguson (tp); Stu Williamson (tp,v-tb); Tommy Pederson, Frank Rosolino and Milt Bernhart (tb); John Cave (fhr); Albert Pollan (tu); Charlie Mariano (as); Richie Kamuca (ts); Ronny Lang (bar,pic); Bill Holman (bassax); Marty Paich (p); Buddy Clark (b); Stan Levey (d); Lou Singer (perc) and Johnny Richards (arr,dir).

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The next day, Richards took on more firepower: Shorty Rogers (flhrn) was added (yeah, I know, added), and Don Kelly (b-tb) and Vince DeRosa (fhr) replaced Milt Bernhart and John Cave, respectively. The songs were For All We Know, Aijalon, Dimples, Long Ago and Far Away, Band Aide, Turn About and Burrito Borracho.

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Richards composed Waltz Anyone? Dimples, Band Aide, Turn Aboot, Burrito Borracho and Aijalon (Richards’s wife Blanca is listed as co-writer on the last track). The rest were standards. Every single track on this album is out of the park. There isn’t a single ounce of wheel-spinning, cliché weaving, back-peddling or even the thought of padding or a cop-out chart. I’ve worn out two vinyl copies and I own three CD versions. It’s a perfect album and in my top 5 greatest jazz orchestra recordings of all time.

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Coda:
 This album popped up during my JazzWax interview with Bill Holman (above, in the 1950s):

JW: You played bass sax on Johnny Richards’ famed Something Else session in 1956. Were Johnny’s arrangements difficult to play?

Bill Holman: I don’t remember a whole lot from that date. I do remember being in the studio with that bass sax. I wasn’t a bass sax player. I had to work pretty hard to make it perform.

JW: Why did Richards choose you to play bass sax?

BH: He probably chose me because he knew me from Stan Kenton’s band and thought I was a good player. I was just glad to get the gig. I only remember walking into the studio with that huge sax.

And here’s Turn Aboot, with sensational solos by Lou Singer on tympani drums, Charlie Mariano on alto saxophone, Frank Rosolino on trombone, Shorty Rogers on flugelhorn, Maynard Ferguson on trumpet and Richie Kamuca on tenor saxophone…

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