Become a member and get exclusive access to articles, live sessions and more!
Start Your Free Trial

The Vanguard Jazz Orchestra: Thad Jones Legacy

JazzTimes may earn a small commission if you buy something using one of the retail links in our articles. JazzTimes does not accept money for any editorial recommendations. Read more about our policy here. Thanks for supporting JazzTimes.

Thirty-three years after its first performance at the Village Vanguard under the name of the Thad Jones-Mel Lewis Orchestra, today’s version of that inspired group continues to wield the banner of big band excellence with just as much spirit and imagination as it had a generation ago. Here, in tribute to one of its two co-founders, the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra performs nine of Jones’ arrangements, all but one of which, Jerome Richardson’s “Groove Merchant,” are also of his own compositions as well. Jones’ softer side is shown on the gently swinging waltz, “Quiet Lady,” which spotlights pianist Jim McNeely, baritonist Gary Smulyan and trumpeter Scott Wendholt; “Yours and Mine,” a balladic feature for tenorman Rich Perry; and the Ellingtonian-tinged “All My Yesterdays,” with McNeely, Dick Oatts’ Hodges-like alto and Ralph LaLama’s tenor center stage.

The remainder are all straightahead swingers, such as the way-up modal “Once Around,” the multi-tempoed, dissonant take on mid-’60s boogaloo and the variously paced “My Centennial,” a showcase for Smulyan’s heated baritone. Featured soloists include trombonists John Mosca, Ed Neumeister and Jason Jackson; trumpeters Wendholt and Glenn Drewes (using a plunger mute); sopranists Oatts and Billy Drewes; tenorman LaLama McNeely; bassist Dennis Irwin and drummer John Riley. Anyone familiar with Thad Jones’ writing style knows of his love for full, rich, rewardingly dissonant harmonics voiced over the wide compass of three sections, in this case ranging from soprano sax and lead trumpet to baritone sax and bass trombone. Couple that with his gift for swinging phrasing and the result is some of the finest big band scoring of the post-Basie era.