Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Gerald Wilson's Nancy Jo: Liner Notes (from album Moment Of Truth)

Here are the original liner notes from Moment of Truth: “Jazz has never been noted for the prolonged success of its big bands. Most listeners know that they can number on their fingers the large aggregations that have existed for more than a year outside the recording studio. While the ones that have actually become fixtures in jazz and important to its history number only slightly more than half a dozen, all told. It is no less sorrowful to realize that the situation has gotten worse rather than better in recent years. In fact, it can safely be said that Gerald Wilson's Big Band, the musical efforts of which are here enclosed, is one of perhaps three distinctly new and sustainedly successful such organizations to emerge in the last 20 years!

“Gerald Wilson, the gentleman jazz trumpeter debuted this great new aggregation on record about a year ago in what is now a jazz classic album ('You Better Believe It!'). Rating 4 1/2 stars in Down Beat, and unanimous huzzahs from critics and fans alike throughout the world, it featured such soloists as Richard Holmes, Carmell Jones, Harold Land, and Teddy Edwards. The last three named, regular members of the band in the interim while it played numerous engagements in southern California, are back herein. Additionally, new soloists are in—altoist Bud Shank, guitarist Joe Pass, and pianist Jack Wilson. But much more importantly, Gerald Wilson's composing and arranging gifts are again excitingly on display. Whereas in the debut album the blues were stressed, the present recording finds Gerald more fully revealing the scope of his talents in settings varying from the blues to Latin, to the jazz ballad, and to swinging up-tempo selections of complex harmonic structure. 'The album,' Gerald points out, 'is called 'Moment of Truth!' because the band is now a reality—a truth, and this album is representative of that truth. We, its members and I, feel that it is a new band in the best sense of that term. We're a band that plays mostly original material in the contemporary jazz idiom—material written mostly for the band and material,' he stresses, 'by what I would call the really creative writers in jazz today.' Besides Wilson's own work, this album displays the largely unplumbed gifts of trombonist Lester Robertson, who Wilson feels is a 'fine jazz player, and a musician who really knows music.'

“ . . . Wilson is no newcomer to jazz. Besides arranging and playing for Duke Ellington, Dizzy Gillespie, and Jimmy Lunceford, as well as other name bands, he led his own great big band in the early days of modern jazz and intermittently from then until about 1956, when the nucleus of the present organization began to take form. 'Guys like Lester Robertson and Teddy Edwards were a part of that band and are still with it,' he points out. For the most part the band has remained in the Los Angeles area where Wilson in addition to his jazz work has, like Benny Carter, become a highly successful composer and arranger for Television, Motion Pictures, and the Recording Studios. On occasion even acting roles himself, his more important musical credits include albums with Al Hibbler, Ray Charles (he has just completed a second album with Charles in New York), Nancy Wilson, and Les McCann, and musical directorship for TV and Movie items (such as The Ken Murray Spectacular). Several MGM films, and other NBC programs have also shown his work to good advantage.

“Because of its non-travelling policy in the past, the band has, of course, been able to avail itself of the cream of West Coast jazz talent. 'But,' says Wilson, 'this band is actually not dependent upon its soloists for its sound and style and interest.'1 Although he pays the highest tribute to the excellence of his men, whom he feels could not be surpassed in overall artistry and musicianship, Wilson contends that 'this band has a nucleus of players and a book that makes the soloists, not the reverse. I think we have a distinctive sound, although I don't have any special musical devices, ensemble patterns, or instrumentation to achieve this intentionally. It's mostly in my writing and arranging, but again, even here I can't say what's going to come out when I sit down to put something together—that is, I don't have a preconception of how to get the band's sound into it.' Although Wilson is self-taught as a composer and arranger, he has studied the technical aspects of his trade rigorously. 'Nobody can say they have taught me how to write or orchestrate—I haven't studied with or under anyone—but that is not to say I haven't studied long and hard, on my own. I don't feel that my lack of formal training means that I am in any way limited in my approach to the job. In fact, I feel that now, after 25 years or so of experience and study, that I can do just about anything I set about in this field.'

“Regarding his band's goals and esthetic purposes, Wilson has this to say: 'While this is not a simple band and the harmony and structure of the material are advanced, the search is for simplicity—but not simpleness. After all, the band does show its versatility and artistry, I believe, in performing such numbers in the album, for example, as Josefina, Teri, and Emerge.' As Wilson suggests, these are not easy tunes but none is difficult for the sake of being difficult. This writer believes, with Wilson, that with the release of this album, 'there's no telling where this band can go. We're ready, but we're not gonna rush it. It's taken a long time, but I wouldn't have it any other way. You can't force somethin' like this and expect it to succeeed.

“'Both in life and music,' Gerald Wilson summed up, 'I search only for the truth. I once played the part of a jazz musician known as 'The Wailer' in a television drama,' he mused. 'I had the last lines of the play to speak. I can't forget them and as a matter of fact they're from the bible.' As he spoke these words in the living room of his Los Angeles home, Wilson crossed the room, picked up The Book itself and thumbed to the source of his play lines and then read them with seriousness: ''And ye shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free'; that's my credo, and I think it'll see us through.'

“Listeners to the present recording can have little doubt of it.

“As for the selections . . . . Nancy Jo (another daughter) is 'medium up and crisp and somewhat reminiscent of another era,' observes Wilson. Carmell Jones has an excellent [trumpet] solo, perhaps his best on the album. He pauses at the bridge and [tenor saxophonist] Harold Land and the band enter briefly. Jones then finishes the chorus. Joe Pass [on guitar] solos brilliantly then, the band reentering on the second bridge and ploughing it home.”

1Contrast this with Ellington, who wrote specifically for the individual members of his orchestra, and whose pieces—when played best—call for emulation of the specific sounds of Harry Carney, Johnny Hodges, Lawrence Brown, Cat Anderson, Jimmy Blanton, Ben Webster, etc.

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