Jazz at the Philharmonic: The First Concert

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4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Various
LABELS: Verve
WORKS: jazz
PERFORMER: Artists including: Shorty Sherock (t), JJ Johnson (tmb), Illinois Jacquet, Jack McVea (ts), Nat King Cole (p)
CATALOGUE NO: 521 646-2

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Few non-instrumentalists have played a significant role in jazz. Norman Granz is one of two or three who have left an indelible stamp on the music as both promoter and producer. It all started with The First Concert, an informal jam session at Los Angeles’ Philharmonic Auditorium in July 1944. On stage were a mixture of advanced swing-era and burgeoning bop musicians. Granz simply asked them to improvise over a few well-known chord sequences in an atmosphere of friendly cooperation and competition. On ‘Tea for Two’ Nat King Cole reveals what an enormously gifted musician he was prior to his defection to commercial music.

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Meanwhile McVea’s foray into the upper register on ‘Body and Soul’ pushed the instant excitement button with the crowd, a device that became a hallmark of later concerts. Krupa and Rich sees Granz reproducing the JATP informality in the studio. The prospect of two drummers in competition is daunting, but in fact they only play together here once. This is a greatly underrated album, notable primarily for some inspired solo work by Dizzy Gillespie and Roy Eldridge, who turn out to be the ones who vie for solo honours, with excellent support by what was in essence the Oscar Peterson Trio: Peterson (p), Herb Ellis (g) and Ray Brown (b). Rich and Krupa personify the word swing, although over the years it has been fashionable to decry their achievements, Rich in particular, because of their flashy solo work. But their deaths have left a hole in jazz that has never been adequately filled. Stuart Nicholson