Thad Jones -- cornet, flugelhorn, principal composer; Danny Stiles -- trumpet; Bill Berry -- trumpet; Richard Williams -- trumpet; Jimmy Nottingham -- trumpet; Bob Brookmeyer -- trombone; Jack Rains -- trombone; Tom McIntosh -- trombone; Cliff Heather -- trombone; Pepper Adams -- baritone sax; Jerome Richardson -- reeds; Jerry Dodgion -- alto sax; Joe Farrell -- tenor sax; Eddie Daniels -- tenor sax; Hank Jones -- piano; Richard Davis -- bass; Sam Herman -- percussion; Mel Lewis -- drums;; Special Guest:;; Joe Williams - vocals
It was near the end of 1965 that trumpeter-composer-arranger Thad Jones, a member of the musical Jones family out of Detroit and a longtime member and key component of the Count Basie Orchestra, teamed up with former Stan Kenton big band drummer Mel Lewis to form a powerhouse aggregation that took big band jazz into a modern era. Their Thad Jones-Mel Lewis Orchestra began a regular engagement at the Village Vanguard in February 1966 (documented on the live album Opening Night). With such formidable soloists as valve trombonist Bob Brookmeyer, tenor saxophonist Joe Farrell, trumpeter Richard Williams, baritone sax ace Pepper Adams and Thad's older brother Hank Jones on piano, the Thad-Mel big band juggernaut made a huge impact in its first Newport Jazz Festival appearance later that summer.
Hank Jones kicks off this Newport set in tasty fashion with an extended piano intro on the band's opener, "The Second Race," accompanied only by bassist Richard Davis and drummer Lewis. Joining this jauntily swinging piano trio on muted trumpet is Richard Williams, and the quartet hits a nice groove before the full ensemble comes in at the three-minute mark. Jones' dynamic arrangement for the horns proceeds for another minute before Farrell launches into an inspired, fire-breathing tenor solo at the four-minute mark. The full compliment of horns enters the fray to bring this Newport opener to an exciting, flag-waving conclusion in the best Basie fashion. Next up is a fresh take on the gorgeous standard "Willow Weep for Me," featuring some adventurous arranging by Bob Brookmeyer, who also contributes a remarkably facile trombone solo. Trumpeter Williams turns in a stirring solo on this well known number given a new suit of clothes by Brookmeyer's clever reharmonizations and swirling, contrapuntal voicings in the horn section.
The frontline of Farrell, alto saxophonist Jerry Dodgion, tenor saxophonist Eddie Daniels and baritone saxophonist Pepper Adams is featured on some tightly woven harmony and unison lines, a la Woody Herman's Four Brothers from his Thundering Herd, on Jones' invigorating big band swinger "Little Pixie," which is fueled by Lewis' energetic drumming. Older brother Hank contributes another tasty piano solo before giving way for the individual horn soloists. Farrell and Adams, in particular, burn white-hot here in stretching out on this exhilarating uptempo romp. Trumpeter Williams follows the succession of sax solos with a bristling solo of his own. Following a brief bit of humorous between-songs instrumental banter between unidentified saxophonist and trumpeter, the band launches into "Big Dipper," another Jones original premiered on Opening Night. Trumpeter Williams is prominently featured on this bluesy midtempo swinger.
At this point in the show, the great jazz singer and former Basie-ite Joe Williams joins the Thad Jones-Mel Lewis Orchestra as a special guest. Together they run through a moving rendition of Duke Ellington's spiritual, "Come Sunday," along with the upbeat, solidly swinging "Jump for Joy," which Williams had premiered at the 1963 Newport Jazz Festival (documented on his RCA albumAt Newport '63 and the rollicking Basie chestnut "Sent for you Yesterday," giving this July 2nd Newport audience a preview of the Solid State album Presenting Joe Williams and Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Orchestra, which was recorded in September and released later that year. Jones and Lewis co-led the big band through 1978, when Jones suddenly relocated to Copenhagen and formed his own band, Eclipse. It continued as the Mel Lewis Jazz Orchestra up until the drummer's death in 1990 and since then the Thad Jones book has been performed every Monday night at the Village Vanguard by the resident Vanguard Jazz Orchestra, continuing a five decade tradition which began with that initial appearance back in 1966, just a few months before this Newport Jazz Festival performance. -- Bill Milkowski