I have always loved big bands. When we started the museum, I wanted it to be a big band museum. There is no other musical group that can create the excitement, power, and feel of a big band. When I say power, I don’t mean volume, I mean everyone hitting the note at exactly the same time to create an explosion of sound. To achieve that, everyone in the band actually has to back off their volume and listen to everyone else. So, it’s not at all about sheer volume at all.
Listen to this example of how it’s done when it’s done right. It starts with the rhythm section playing perfectly together and laying down the tempo and feel. They call it a walking bass line because it has the feel of someone walking down the street. And I mean a cool dude walking down the street!
The horn players also have to be aware of the time and feel, and above all they have to listen to make that happen. When you are playing in a band with a great sense of feel and time like this one, you actually feel like the band is one unit and you are just riding along with that unit. You lock in with everyone else and the band takes on a life of it’s own. You feel like you worked your whole life to get to those few moments.
Also, listen to the ensemble after the trumpet solo. It’s like a Corvette driving 20 mph down the street. It’s the most powerful thing in the world to have all that power and not use it. Everyone knows it’s there, and everyone just stares at the car as it drives past. You know it’s going to unleash the power at some point, but you don’t exactly know where or when. Then when the power of the band does let loose, it is amazing to see that much power with so much control and yet, still contain the feel and musicality. It’s not just noise and chaos like most people think when they think of big bands. It’s only chaos if the musicians aren’t listening to each other properly. Every idea we are taught in classical music of balance, blend, tone, dynamics, etc. have to be included in big band jazz, too. The result is that we get a feel and a power you can’t get with any other size, or style of music. A group larger than a big band loses feel, and the ability to follow the lead players and rhythm section. The precision of this band in this recording will be lost. A group smaller than a big band won’t have the power of 15 horn players.
Sammy Nestico wrote for the Count Basie band, and this is in the style of Basie. To me, this is as good as it gets for big band playing. A century of jazz evolution brought us to this recording, which was actually done in the late 80’s, but is so good it is timeless.
They make it sound very easy and simple on this recording. That’s the misunderstanding of jazz—-it sounds easy. These are some of the top musicians in L.A. and they have years of experience. Most musicians, including many professionals, have never experienced playing in a band this good. You have to work yourself to the top to play with musicians who can achieve this quality, and even when you do, you don’t always get to play great arrangements like this.
Sammy is one of the best big band writers in the business, using some of the best big band musicians in the world on this recording. It’s rare to get that combination these days on a cd, and Sammy knew he wouldn’t make money on a cd like this. He wanted to do it and others like it, because he loves big bands as much as many of us do. He wanted to show how it’s done when done right.