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Arranging the Score: Portraits of the Great Arrangers by Gene Lees

Gene Lees, in addition to being a widely published writer on jazz and pre-rock popular music, is also an accomplished lyricist and singer. After serving as Down Beat’s editor from 1959 to 1961, Lees wrote as a freelancer for Saturday Review, Stereo Review and High Fidelity, and later published his own noncommercial Jazzletter, from which Arranging the Score’s profiles were gathered.

Over the years, Lees has consistently brought to his interview-based reportage intelligence and musical insights that are lacking in others’ work. Moreover, he is a supreme wordsmith with a novelist’s sense of structure. Even when one reads his essays on such unlikely subjects as semisymphonic pop music arrangers Percy Faith and Robert Farnon one is struck by Lees’ felicity of phrase. You’ll want to replay Lees’ subjects’ recordings after reading the essays on Gil Evans and Gerry Mulligan, and even more so with the piece on the brilliant late 1920s arranger Bill Challis, whose Bix Beiderbecke-inspired harmonic and rhythmic innovations graced the bands of Jean Goldkette, McKinney’s Cotton Pickers, Fletcher Henderson and Paul Whiteman.

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