This week I’ll do my best to make up for skipping last week by writing a little something about two of the greatest jazz performers ever. Their careers are the stuff legends are made of, and I’ll not waste a lot of time re-hashing what you probably already know. That way we can get right to the meat of it.
Drummer Bellson was born July 6, 1924, in Illinois. Over the course of his career he played with a long list of jazz superstars, including Tommy Dorsey, Harry James, Benny Goodman, Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Ella Fitzgerald, Blue Mitchell, and many others. In 1952 he married Pearl Bailey, and they remained married until her death in 1990. Bellson himself died on February 14, 2009.
Clark Terry was born December 14, 1920 in Missouri. Like Bellson, Terry has performed with Count Basie and Duke Ellington. He also appeared with J.J. Johnson, Oscar Peterson, Harold Arlen, Bob Brookmeyer, and many others. In the 1960’s he became the first black staff musician at NBC, as part of The Tonight Show Band.
The album I want to talk about this week is their 2007 collaboration, “Louie & Clark Expedition 2”, released on the Percussion Power label.
The personnel for this one amounts to a big band, and includes:
Louie Bellson, drums
Clark Terry, trumpet, flugelhorn
Sylvia Cuenca, drums
Greg Glassman, flugelhorn, trumpet
Frank Green, flugelhorn, trumpet
Steve Guerra, tenor sax
Stafford Hunter, trombone
Jack Jeffers, trombone
Stantawn Kendrick, soprano sax
Tony Lujan, flugelhorn, trumpet
Marcus McLaurine, bass
Adam Schroeder, baritone saxophone
Whitney Slaten, tenor sax
Helen Sung, piano
Kenny Washington, drums
“Louie & Clark Expedition 2” consists of thirteen tracks. Eleven were composed by Bellson on his own, two with the help of others.
The first four songs comprise Bellson’s “Chicago Suite”, in deference to the city he loved so much. Track one is “State Street Swing”, and as you may imagine from the title, it does indeed swing from beginning to end. I don’t know when Bellson wrote this, but if it wasn’t written in the 1940’s it certainly does a wonderful job of evoking that era. It serves as a short intro (three and a half minutes) to set us up for what is to follow. Or so you might think.
Surprisingly, instead of swing or even bop, track two (still part of the “Chicago Suite”) is a beautifully slow ballad called “City Of Seasons”. In the hands of a 17 piece orchestra, even a ballad has its lively moments, and “City Of Seasons” will hold your attention with ease.
“The Blues Singer” is up third. Muted and un-muted horns do indeed give this a bluesy sound and is almost reminiscent of Satchmo scatting.
“Lake Shore Drive” rounds out the “Chicago Suite” in lively fashion. This one also gives us our first Bellson drum solo, however Bellson wisely makes it a short one.
“Davenport Blues” is next, and is the first of two songs here that Bellson wrote with a collaborator, in this case the unfortunately obscure Reno Palmier, who is perhaps best known (if he is known at all) for spending almost thirty years as guitarist for “The Arthur Godfrey Show”. “Davenport Blues” swings nicely, and the rhythm section moves it right along.
“Two Guys And A Gal” has a big, happy beginning with the distinct feel of a 1940’s big band number. It includes another Bellson drum solo that comes and goes and comes back again. Bellson, ever the master of his craft, wisely ends the song just at the point where you’ll find yourself thinking, “Okay, this can end any time”.
The next track, “Piacere”, is another swing piece with a more mellow tone that nonetheless has a warm feel. Sung’s piano finally gets some “up-front” time and she makes the most of it. The horns dominate, of course, but no matter how hard they blow, you always know she’s there.
“Give Me The Good Time” is a big, warm, happy song, as it should be with a title like that. This yet another song reminiscent of the big band sound of the 1940’s, and of course that is the point, isn’t it? The Louie & Clark Expedition is not taking us into new, uncharted territory. Rather it is marching us straight into the known, the expected, the comfortable. This is not an album for experimentation, this is an album of past glory relived and rejuvenated.
“Ballade” is the second and final song presented here where Bellson shares writing credits, this time with Jack Hayes. As the title implies, this one is a big, slow ballad with the horns dominating. The eventual tenor sax solo is warmly presented.
“Terry’s Mood” starts, interestingly enough, with Bellson and bassist McLaurine trading quiet licks for a few seconds before the rest of the gang joins in. The best part, to me, is when we are treated to a quiet little trio interlude when everyone steps back and lets Bellson, Terry and pianist sung carry it for a while.
“Back To The Basics (Old)” is a big, happy song that keeps the horn players busy. In a live setting, this one would make a great curtain-call number, first or last encore. There’s something special about a muted horn that enhances the appeal of a piece, and this one is no exception, especially in a setting like this where he is holding a conversation between himself and the rest of the band.
I was going to end this at “Back To The Basics (Old)”, but “Now (The Young) is just too good to not mention. All the horns are present, but the saxes dominate the opening, then things quite down a bit as Terry steps up with his muted horn, and it becomes a whole ‘nother song when Sung’s piano joins in. The horns do return, in a matter-of-fact “We’re here too and you are not going to forget it” sort of way, and take it to the end. Sung gets in a lick or two to remind the boys that she’s there, and the big ending takes it all away.
The final song is “Well Alright Then”, and it opens with mostly just the saxes burning up the charts. The guys (and gal) continue to chart a hot course, typical of swing and bop, right to the end.
I wasn’t able to find any videos of the guys performing any of the songs from this album, but there are videos galore of these two. Here is just a small sampling.
In this first clip from April 1985, which does feature both of them, the guys discuss improvisation.
Here is a remarkable set from Terry, Bellson, Harry Edison, Dizzy Gillespie, Oscar Peterson and Dave Young from 1988.
And one more with our two stars plus, once again, Dizzy Gillespie, Oscar Peterson, Roy Eldridge, and Neils Henning-Orsted Pedersen.
I’m sure it will come as no surprise to you when I tell you I am certain that Louie Bellson And Clark Terry’s “Louie & Clark Expedition 2” will make a wonderful addition to your personal playlist, for a Saturday (or any other) night!
You can learn more about Louie Bellson and his music on his web site. Likewise, you can find more information about Clark Terry on his web site.
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Copyright © 2012 by Al Evans. All rights reserved.