Jazzed in Cleveland
a jazz history by Joe Mosbrook
a special WMV Web News Cleveland series

Part 58 - Cleveland Jazz Orchestra Recordings
Story filed October 3, 2000

The Cleveland Jazz Orchestra The Cleveland Jazz Orchestra, nationally acclaimed as one of the best big bands of its kind in the country, has produced four recordings in its 16-year history.

The first, a 1992 cassette recording entitled Greatest Hits - Live, was a compilation of live recordings from its 1991 concert series. Included were CJO trombonist Paul Ferguson's originals "Blue Highways" (which was later also recorded by Claudio Roditi and the RIAS Big Band in Berlin) and "Niece Piece," Clare Fischer's "Pensativa," CJO trombonist Chas Baker's composition "The Way Back Machine," Duke Ellington's "Merry Go-Round," "A Little Minor Booze," Ferguson's arrangement of "Auld Lang Syne," CJO saxophonist Rich Shanklin's arrangement of Dizzy Gillespie's "Groovin' High," the Stan Kenton theme "Intermission Riff," and Jelly Roll Morton's "Black Botton Stomp." At the time, the CJO was directed by Roland Paolucci.

The second CJO recording did not happen until 1998. It was a videotape of the Cleveland Jazz Orchestra's May 8 re-creation of the legendary Stan Kenton-Four Freshmen Road Show. Produced by the Four Freshmen Society and videotaped at the Cuyahoga Community College Metro Campus Auditorium, the video, entitled Road Show 1998, includes the CJO performing ten Kenton favorites and the Cleveland band backing the current edition of the jazz vocal and instrumental group. A highlight of the performance was the appearance of an original member of the Four Freshmen (the group began in 1948), Bob Flanigan, who teamed up with the current group and the band to sing the Freshmen's biggest hit "Day By Day." Flanigan called the CJO "a great band."

Six months later, after a concert with former Count Basie Orchestra arranger Sammy Nestico, Paolucci, who recorded the Cleveland Jazz Orchestra concert, said, "We ought to make a CD out of this!" He did. The CD, called Swinging' Together, is devoted exclusively to Nestico's Basie arrangements - "Dimensions in Blue," "Who's Sorry Now," "The Blues Machine," "Eighty-eight Basie Street," "Fascinatin' Rhythm," "You Gotta Try," "Sweet Georgia Brown," "It's a Wonderful World," Smack Dab in the Middle," "A Warm Breeze" and "The Wind Machine."

After the band played "Smack Dab in the Middle," Nestico, who had arranged for many of the biggest names in jazz, announced to the audience at the Fairmount Temple in Beachwood, "This sax section is the best! I'm 74 years old and it's the best sax section I have ever worked with in my life! I can't believe what I'm hearing!"

At the conclusion of the concert, Jack Schantz, who had become the music director of the CJO in 1993, said he could not remember a time when the band had been hotter or the vibes thicker. Nestico said, "One of the sincerest pleasures I've had in 55 years in the music profession was to be able to work alongside the Cleveland Jazz Orchestra." He said the CJO "strikes a very handsome chord for the cause of jazz!"

In 1999, with a grant from the Ohio Arts Council, the Cleveland Jazz Orchestra recorded a compact disc based on my Cleveland jazz history features. Called Traditions, it is a salute to Cleveland's many contributions to big band jazz and includes a 28-page booklet I wrote, tracing Cleveland's links to big band jazz history.

The new CD is the CJO's first studio recording and includes Clevelander Tadd Dameron's "Our Delight," arranged by Cleveland native Willie Smith who recently arranged an album for Joe Lovano; Henry Mancini's "Days of Wine and Roses" arranged by the CJO's Rich Shanklin; and a vocal medley of "Sometimes I'm Happy" and "There'll be Some Changes Made" by Fairlawn resident and former Duke Ellington singer Dolores Parker Morgan. Other selections include former Cleveland resident Bill Dobbins' arrangement of "Darn That Dream," the CJO's Paul Ferguson's arrangement of the Tommy Dorsey theme song "I'm Getting Sentimental Over You" (many of the members of the CJO toured with the Dorsey band), Bill Holman's arrangement of Thelonious Monk's "'Round Midnight," and three new pieces - bassist Dave Morgan's "Thad Type Tune," Ferguson's "Conversations," and Chas Baker's arrangement of "So Many Stars."

In its recordings, the Cleveland Jazz Orchestra demonstrates its dual mission - preserving the classic big band jazz of the past and contributing new big band jazz directions - and shows why it has won the praise of such critics as Bob Flanigan and Sammy Nestico.

The two compact discs and the videotape are available at CJO concerts or from the Cleveland Jazz Orchestra at Post Office Box 31666, Cleveland, Ohio 44131.

Copyright 2000 Joe Mosbrook

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You can hear radio versions of Cleveland Jazz History on WCPN/90.3 Monday nights at 9:30 and Friday afternoons at 12:30. Mosbrook's 1993 Cleveland Jazz History book, based on research for earlier broadcasts, is available at some Cleveland area bookstores, libraries and the Northeast Ohio Jazz Society (216-426-9900).