Dan Terry Ork Impresses In Buoyant Birdland Bow (pp. 3-4)
New York-Birdland has been the scene of three big band debuts this season-Chico Farrill, Pete Rugolo, and now, Dan Terry. The first two arrived in a panoply of adjectives. O’Farrill was to present the most creative fusion yet of jazz and Latin-American (principally Afro-Cuban) elements. But O’Farrill’s music turned out to be heavy, largely repetitious and thematically routine.
Rugolo had devised new voicings for his expanded band which included French horns, a tuba, widely doubling woodwinds, and extensive percussion. Pete also had a number of brilliant sidemen. But though the color changes were pleasant and the variety of the book was rather stimulating, there was no real cohesion, relatively little imaginative distinction, and certainly no real swinging quality to the band.
Terry arrived heralded only by a Columbia LP and five singles cut on the coast–music that swung but was otherwise little better than competent. He had been in the east several months before his debut, planning a permanent band and building a book. Many onlookers, aware of the mountainous difficulties inherent in creating a new band these days, were skeptical as to whether he could produce.
And then, four days before Terry’s Birdland debut opening, someone rifled his car and stole all the trombone arrangements for the new book (the rest of the parts happily were elsewhere). A small panic ensued. From within the band, Al Cohn, Phil Sunkel, and Osie Johnson contributed originals and arrangements. From outside, Marion Evans, Billy Verplanck, and George Handy contributed several more, and there were some of the Gene Roland numbers already in the book for which there was just enough time for the trombone parts to be copied. After two days (nine hours) of rehearsal, the band opened.
And the debut has proved a swinging success. This Dan Terry band is one of the most pulsatively alive bands in the last few years. Its arrangements and originals are cleanly scored, unpretentious, and often of considerable linear interest. Above all, there is a buoyancy in the beat and in the solo work that is refreshingly reminiscent of the days when big, swinging bands were a natural part of the music scene, not precarious collector’s items. The approach is sound and is broader than the Birdland date indicated because Terry also plans much attention to ballads, since this band aims at being able to play any kind of date, ballroom or concert.
Terry himself makes a personable, outgoing front man with the ready smile and eager enthusiasm that audiences dig as a leader. No major talent as a trumpeter, he wisely takes relatively few solos on his horn, leaving most of the trumpet solo work to the inventive Phil Sunkel. The rhythm section-with Osie Johnson, Wendell Marshall (who recently left Duke Ellington), and Dick Katz-is a steady ball. There’s excellent solo work from Al Cohn, altoist Gene Quill, and baritonist Sol Schlinger in the reed section; from Eddie Bert among the trombones, and aforementioned Sunkel.
Terry’s band now has 18 pieces, and the key question now is whether the top men-such as Johnson, Marshall, Bert, and Cohn-will be willing to travel if the band stirs up enough interest to go on the road. Terry’s answer is that for some months anyway, he wants to stay in the east, and work out of New York, and then if the band breaks big enough to warrant national traveling, he’ll worry about whether all of his men will go out or not.
Also in his mind is the feeling that if the band does break big, some of the sidemen who now prefer to stay in New York, might change their minds for a winner. After Birdland, the band went into the Savoy ballroom for a week with options, and dates are pending in Washington as well as return stands at Birdland.
Terry plans to keep building the book through scores by Roland, Johnson, Evans, Verplanck, Quincy Jones, and “anybody else who writes swinging arrangements and wants to contribute to the band.” Among the better numbers in the present book heard in the course of this review are Handy’s Tight Hat; Evans’ New Shoes and Florid; Cohn’s It’s Coolin’ Time.
What most characterizes the band is its ability to swing hard but lightly-a fine paradox to be found in its most maturely enjoyable form in the bands of Count Basie and Woody Herman. For Dan Terry, who’s worked in the past for Muggsy Spanier, Dick Jurgens, Larry Clinton and Sonny Dunham and who has studied at the Conservatory of the College of the Pacific, this band of his is a long step forward.
He has a lot of work ahead to pull the band into contention in an era still so vocal-conscious, but if there’s room in the music business, and there should be, for a vital, enthusiastic band of first-rate musicians who communicate their enthusiasm with swinging forcefulness, then Terry and his band should occupy a large share of that room.