Wednesday, February 22, 2012

pleasant memories

Sometimes, when you remember something, it seems like the past was always so much brighter. Things were better way back when.

If only you had a time machine just to check if it were really so... Well, this week, it feels like I've been granted a time machine, and the results have been lovely.

I wrote, a couple of posts back, about picking up a CD copy of the very first Syd Lawrence LP I ever had off Amazon. To be fair, not quite a copy - but the tracks off that LP all appeared a year or two later on a double LP, and it's that version that's come out. The LP I had is pictured here. Amongst Big Band aficionados it's embarrassing to admit it, but my way into the genre was through Glenn Miller music. I then add - but of course I subsequently discovered much, much more!

It's cool to like Basie, Ellington, Heath, the later Herman stuff, Kenton (it's also a bit geeky to like Kenton, either that or very clever) and so forth. But Miller? Please.

Jazz musicians - those who are self-consciously more than merely players in a swing band - never tire of looking down their noses at Miller music. After a while, you catch on and realise the errors of your youth and learn to forget that you ever really enjoyed In The Mood or knew the words to Chattanooga Choo Choo. Except ironically.

And then the time machine - the CD. You see there was always a myth about the early Syd Lawrence band playing Miller music - it was supposed to be just like the original, so close you couldn't tell the difference.


Here's Syd playing Pennsylvannia 6-5000 in 1970:

And here's a recording of the Miller band:

For me, Syd takes the original, and then adds something. Zest. Pizazz. Swing. He lifts it, and doesn't play it as it should sound, but as it could sound. Syd's trumpet solo at about the minute mark is glorious, and the rhythm section feature just afterwards could be Basie. The Miller version sounds straight-laced and a bit tired and like a dance band not a Big Band at all.

No wonder I fell for this stuff. By the time I first saw Syd's band at the end of 1979, the personnel had changed quite a lot from that 1970 clip - and I still think Syd's first band was his best - but this version of Caribbean Clipper from 1987 is the band I knew. Still swinging. Freddie Staff on lead trumpet, Ronnie Verrell on drums. All still belting out Miller music as it could be.

Don't get me wrong - I love the band that bears Syd's name today, years after Syd has left us. But they don't quite have that same passion for the Miller stuff, and although they play amazingly and I think they are fantastic (I especially love their originals, and their Basie) Syd's understanding of the Miller music and what it could be, how it could be played, the special quality he could bring to it - that has gone with him. He was quite a remarkable musician, and I have never heard anyone play the music he loved anywhere near as well as he did.

So. I have had my time machine. A CD from Amazon. I have had the chance to remember again how brilliantly something sounded in my youth - and I was right. It was brilliant. It wasn't my youthful ignorance. It was actually that good. No wonder I fell for it, and I am falling for it all over again - only, when I first heard that LP in September 1979, there was the matching reality to go and hear. Today's Syd Lawrence Orchestra are great, they play their music better than any other Big Band around, but without Syd they can't transform Glenn Miller's music into the magic Syd achieved. I don't think anyone could.

So I'll pop that CD on again, and enjoy the sound of it, and the very pleasant memories, and the fact that sometimes things really were that good. It's here on Amazon, and it's great.

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