Sy Oliver - trumpet, arranger, conductor; Doc Cheatham - trumpet; Francis Williams - trumpet; Al Bryant - trumpet; Joe Newman - trumpet; Eddie Bert - trombone; Garnett Brown - trombone; Candy Ross - trombone, vocals; Warren Covington - trombone, vocals; Jack Jeffers - bass trombone; Haywood Henry - baritone sax; Bob Levine - tenor sax; Harold Ousley - tenor sax; Frank Strozier - alto sax; Norris Turney - alto sax; Cliff Smalls - piano; Peck Morrison - bass; Panama Francis - drums; Lillian Clark - vocals; Larry Kenton - vocals; Art Lambert - vocals; Alan Sokoloff - vocals
In 1974, Newport Jazz Festival impresario George Wein, in association with Carnegie Hall, formed the New York Jazz Repertory Company, a precursor of the Jazz at Lincoln Center repertory program now headed up by Wynton Marsalis. With four musical directors -- arrangers Sy Oliver and Gil Evans, and pianists Billy Taylor and Stanley Cowell -- and a pool of 100 players, the NYJRC undertook an ambitious 15-concert series spread out over five months in its first year. This New York Jazz Repertory Company concert, part of the 1974 Newport Jazz Festival, has Oliver paying tribute to the music of his one-time employer, Swing-era big band leader Tommy Dorsey. The concert opens with trombonist Warren Covington stepping forward to deliver the familiar notes of Dorsey's warm-toned theme, "I'm Getting Sentimental Over You," which segues smoothly into "Song of India," Dorsey's syncopated take on the Rimsky-Korsakoff theme "Hindu Song" from the opera Sadko. Next up is a rousing rendition of "Hawaiian War Chant," a tune first recorded by the Dorsey big band in 1938 and one borrowed from the traditional island melody from Prince Leleiohaku's 1860 song, "Kaua i ka Huahua'i." Drummer and big band veteran Panama Francis powers this rendition with his steady tom tom work (reminiscent of Gene Krupa's drumming on the Benny Goodman hit song, "Sing Sing Sing").
From that energized number they jump into an infectious "T.D.'s Boogie Woogie" that features some slick playing from pianist Cliff Smalls and a potent, blues-tinged trombone solo from Garnett Brown. Trombonist Covington then steps forward to play the melody and handle the vocals on another popular Dorsey number, a syncopated rendition of Irving Berlin's "Marie" featuring a call-and-response vocal chorus from the rest of the band. Sy Oliver's original gospel-drenched composition "Yes Indeed," another popular item in Dorsey's band book, was covered by everyone from Ray Charles and to Jo Stafford to Bing Crosby and the Boswell Sisters. Candy Ross shares the vocals here with Lil Clark.
Trombonist Covington next handles the melody and shares the jivey vocals with Ross on a modern big band arrangement of Irving Berlin's "Blue Skies." Oliver also applies his considerable arranging skills to "Chicago," another catchy tune featuring tight jivester vocal harmonies between Covington and Ross. Covington is also prominently featured on the opening trombone-baritone sax duet with Haywood Henry on a buoyant arrangement of "For You," which also features Lillian Clark recreating the original vocals by Jo Stafford. From that subdued offering they jump into Dorsey's lively 1944 hit record,"Opus No. 1," which was composed by Oliver and subsequently covered in 1954 by the Mills Brothers. Several band members turn in stellar solos here, including Harold Ousley on clarinet, Joe Newman on trumpet, Bob Levine on tenor sax and pianist Smalls.
A vocal group consisting of Lillian Clark, Larry Kenton, Art Lambert and Alan Sokoloff then recreate three tunes popularized by Dorsey's singing group, the Pied Pipers (Frank Sinatra, Jo Stafford, Connie Haynes) -- the mid tempo swinger "Oh Look at Me Now," the lush "I'll Never Smile Again" and a bouncy "On the Sunny Side of the Street," all cleverly arranged by Oliver. They close on a high note with Oliver's rockin' jump blues number "Well Git It," before reprising strains of the Dorsey theme, "I'm Getting Sentimental Over You," to conclude this 1974 Newport Jazz Festival appearance.
Born Melvin "Sy" Oliver on December 17, 1910, in Battle Creek, Michigan, he left home at age 17 to play trumpet with Zack Whyte and his Chocolate Beau Brummels. He later developed his growling trumpet style in Alphonso Trent's territory band. Oliver joined Jimmie Lunceford's band in 1933, playing trumpet and contributing many hit arrangements, including "My Blue Heaven" and "Ain't She Sweet." In 1939, he became Tommy Dorsey's main arranger, providing many hip arrangements for the group at the time (similar to Fletcher Henderson's role with the rival Benny Goodman Orchestra during the same period). After leaving the Dorsey band, Oliver worked as a freelance arranger, including 10 years as musical director at Decca Records, during which time he presided over arrangements of recordings for Ella Fitzgerald. He continued leading his own nine-piece band through the '70s and retired from the music scene in 1984. He passed away on May 29, 1988, at age 77. (Bill Milkowski)