Greg Henry Waters Newsletter December 15, 2005
Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays To All!

Enjoy my versions of 10 Christmas Songs in a jazz saxophone format!


My friend John Riley, invited me to his Monday night concert at the Village Vanguard with their 16 piece jazz orchestra.  So I rested all day so I could be out all night for the second set which started at 11 p.m.  Getting on the bus in the cold weather and riding the late night subway is not my idea of fun but one cannot stay in the house all the time. 


Watching the people, it is a wonder all the people in New York City wear such dark clothes always dark blue or black.  Everybody wears these negative clothes. I wonder why all the time?


 What makes New York City so great? Well one thing is the Village Vanguard Orchestra that is for sure.  You know this band has been playing there for over 30 years with all kinds of different musicians and arrangers.


I cannot understand why this band is not playing more nights a week.  It is an awful situation when our classical orchestras get so much local support and jazz musicians get nothing. They have to make it on their own for the most part.  I was really disappointed in the sound system too at the club.  You would think after 50 years they could get a good sound system. Because the piano had a tin sound with the microphone they were using.  The drums could not be heard a lot of times and the saxophones sounded like they were playing underwater during the solos.  Of course, this is where I was sitting in the back not the best place for sound really.  I told the guys in the band I was sitting in a bad location.  This club is so famous through out the world and only sits 123 people.  It is amazing there is any jazz at all because of lack of support from the public and business community.


I must say it really makes me angry when the Met and the New York Philharmonic gets all this money,  salaries, job security and these guys get very little compared to the orchestral community.   Well, so much for our local officials! They are so ignorant when it comes to our real culture of jazz.  Don’t get me wrong a lot of jazz musicians have a sick view of the jazz culture too including Wynton Marsalis. This idea just because you are famous means you have the last word; for me, this is a big joke because most or 99% of the people know nothing about musical art just what they hear from others! And you do not have to be black to be a real jazz musician which is such a lot of lies. Musicians only talk about their next job never about music.  This I have learned from my travels and working as a musician in classical and jazz music for 45 years.


Anyway, what I am trying to say is that big band jazz is one of our greatest art forms and was created by all the wonderful arrangers both black and white equally.  No one has the last say when it comes to jazz like Wynton would want you to think.


Notes from BMI about Big Band Jazz!


There is within the many tributaries that flow into the great stream of 20th and 21st-century American music a glorious, if now less surging, tradition of original composition for large ensembles, or big bands. In the 1920s there were the pioneering efforts of Don Redman, Bill Challis, Ferde Grofe, George Gershwin and, of course, Duke Ellington, the matchless Maestro, who continued to innovate until his passing in 1974. During the big bands’ 1930s and ’40s heydey, Fletcher Henderson, Jimmy Mundy, Benny Carter, Gene Gifford, Sy Oliver, Ralph Burns, Dizzy Gillespie, Walter “Gil” Fuller, and Tadd Dameron were in full swing — and subsequently, in some cases, bop. From the post-bop-to-cool ’50s to the post-Beatles 1960s, the writing of Gil Evans, George Russell, Neal Hefti, Pete Rugolo, Bill Holman, Shorty Rogers, John Lewis, Ernie Wilkins, Manny Albam, Al Cohn, Bob Brookmeyer, Gary McFarland, Gerry Mulligan, Frank Foster, Benny Golson, Sun Ra, Mike Abene, Quincy Jones, and Thad Jones (no relation) helped keep big bands alive and sublimely kicking. And within the past 35 or so years, Toshiko Akiyoshi, Sammy Nestico, Bob Florence, Maria Schneider, and Jim McNeely are among those who have extended the idiom of big band composition.


I have personally played arrangements in great bands like Bill Holman, Shorty Rogers, Manny Albam, Al Cohn, Bob Brookmeyer, Gerry Mulligan, Bob Florence, Stan Kenton, George Russell, Heal Hefti, Pete Rugolo, Bill Stapleton with Wood’s Band. Bill was a classmate of mine when we were at North Texas in Denton.


 I formed my own 13 piece band here in New York it was a chamber orchestra format.  Never wrote much for the big band because so many people have. But the tradition of big band music comes from all these great arrangers. My library is at the North Texas music library at North Texas.


The band at the Vanguard was made up of arrangements started by Thad Jones, on Monday the band during the second set played four different arrangers and composers, which I really liked because they were a cross between Stan Kenton and Ellington’s band.  Slide Hampton was there too on Monday and the band played two of his arrangements.  Although the tempos were a little off for me, or the transitions from one section to the other, I think it needed to be conducted, his blues number was the best with the trombone solo by Luis Bonilla.  John Mosca played a very good solo too.  Dennis Irwin played maybe the best solo of the evening I thought on string bass.  Also Dick Oatts, and Billy Drewes on Altos played some exciting solos and Gary Smulyan on Bari-saxophone blew is heart out; this was for sure.  Ya, Gary keep up the attitude!.


But what is most important is the over all sound of the band which for me was great.  It really showed and demonstrated the qualities of a true jazz orchestra.  Every child and citizen of this country should be exposed to this sound, but for some reason Rock Stars get all the attention.  Just a little note I thought the lead Trumpet was too loud a lot of times, but very nice too.


Now they are making a rock star out of Diana Kraul! We have a few instrumental musicians on the late night talk shows but for me all these bands just suck.  It is discussing that we have no real musical standards in this country when it comes to popular culture.  I think Eubanks who is a BMI Composers band sucks especially when that singer gets in front of the band at the intermissions. Are they competing for the worse late night band? Paul Whiteman said, “When singers take over the popular music there will not be any music anymore.”



Well, so much for our popular culture we can do nothing about it.  I recently received a magazine from the University of North Texas which was very enlightening. You know music has changed so much since 1966 when I graduated from North Texas.  Now the school is so large and reaches into the world with so many musical societies and projects.  It is really over whelming. My point is that the music schools and the public are just so far apart.  It is a world within itself not reaching out to the world but just to needs..  Maybe music is not a universal language after all?   We spend billions on war, doctors, medicine, but very little or nothing when it comes to musical art.  It is a toy of the rich not a necessary need like war is. How many composer of serious music are making a living at their craft.  Bach even got paid as an organist not as a composer mostly.


Information and background about jazz and its history!  this website can give you some background into jazz history and bands.

A list of well known musicians in Jazz but not all big bands!

Learn about the many programs at North Texas that reaches out to China and Finland now.  The Jazz Orchestra was just in Thailand playing for the King.  Anyway it is such a big subject I cannot write about this here in these two pages.  My point is that music is supported my students wanting to learn music not the public.  This is really sick’Oh sick’Oh  When is the world and public going to face up to the responsibility of real music reaching the public and not depending on parents to support art music?

Jazz History - Swing

The 1930s ushered in a style of music that that became the most accessible and popular in jazz history. From 1935, when the U.S. was recovering from the Great Depression, big bands flourished as the dance craze swept the country. Nationwide exposure to "swing" music via radio broadcasts and recordings enabled the music to thrust into popular culture. Band leaders including Benny Goodman, Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Jimmie Lunceford , Artie Shaw, Cab Calloway, Benny Carter, Earl Hines, Chick Webb, Tommy Dorsey, and Charlie Barnet became household names and popular music icons. At the onset of the swing era, jazz had begun to take on more standardized characteristics. Prior to the 1930s in New York, Chicago and the Southwest, bands began replacing the traditional small group New Orleans style of jazz, featuring collective improvisation, in favor of larger and more powerful groups consisting of twelve to sixteen musicians. One of the reasons for this change was the constraint of current technology.


With the lack of microphones, or any form of electrical amplification, dance bands had to make other plans in order to be heard in large ballrooms and dance halls. By increasing the number of musicians, the volume also increased. No longer could the collective improvisation of the New Orleans style be sustained with a larger ensemble without sounding like chaos. New approaches to dealing with jazz on a grander scale had begun taking root by the early 1920s. The earliest musicians to create these big bands included pianist Fletcher Henderson, Duke Ellington and Benny Moten, as well as bandleaders Paul Whiteman, Jean Goldkette, and Ben Pollack.


With the increase in ensemble size, arrangers became key to the success of these bands. Bandleaders like Duke Ellington became famous as composers and arrangers, while other leaders hired staff arrangers or commissioned music for their groups. The early New York big band style of the 1920s focused on the orchestration of commercial tunes from Tin Pan Alley and original compositions, eventually infusing "Hot" jazz soloists like Louis Armstrong, Bix Beiderbecke, Coleman Hawkins and Benny Goodman into the arrangements.


The bands based in Kansas City, the Southwest and Midwest were known as territory bands and played blues-oriented music focusing on the steady swing groove emanating from the rhythm section. These bands included Andy Kirk's Clouds of Joy, Walter Page's Blue Devils, Jay McShann, Alphonse Trent, and Benny Moten. Arrangements were loosely constructed around the soloists. The horn sections riffing behind the soloists often improvised the arrangements, eventually formalizing their parts. Key to the success of these groups were the soloists who added the excitement and creativity to the music. Musicians like saxophonist Lester Young and trumpeter Buck Clayton gained early fame as star soloists with the Count Basie Orchestra. As World War II came to a close, so did the popularity and economic viability of the big bands.


Musician union strikes, special taxes imposed in dance halls and the drafting of musicians into the military struck heavy blows to the swing era. Many bandleaders also performed and recorded in small group settings focusing on improvisation. These groups were often composed of the soloists made famous from their big band exposure. Such artists include tenor saxophonist Ben Webster with the Duke Ellington Orchestra, Roy Eldridge with the Artie Shaw Orchestra, and Buddy Rich with the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra. Benny Goodman's famous quartet featuring pianist Teddy Wilson, vibraphonist Lionel Hampton, and drummer Gene Krupa became the first inter-racial group to perform in public. As the swing style developed, musicians began to incorporate more technically and harmonically advanced approaches to the music. Now we have the modern big band jazz orchestra like at the Village Gate on Mondays.


All the great big band sounds comes from the swing area and has now developed in to concert jazz orchestras not dance bands.  The Village Vanguard Jazz Orchestra is an excellent example of big band jazz.


Thank You Greg Henry Waters