THE DOZENS: ESSENTIAL GARY MCFARLAND by Bill Kirchner

Gary McFarland’s life could be the subject of a movie screenplay. Until he was in his mid-20s, McFarland (1933-1971) was a musical illiterate. By the age of 27, after two summers at the Lenox School of Jazz and a short stay at the Berklee School of Music, he had moved to New York City to pursue a career in music. In the next decade, he became one of the most acclaimed and recorded new composer-arrangers in jazz; writer Gene Lees called him an “adult prodigy.” But suddenly, he was gone—the tragic victim of a prankster in a bar who furtively poured liquid methadone into McFarland’s drink.


        

     Gary McFarland, artwork by Suzanne Cerny

For years thereafter, McFarland was a virtually forgotten figure: his recordings were out-of-print, and his music was (and still is) mostly unavailable for performance. But in recent years, that situation has improved. A number of McFarland’s records have been reissued on CD, albeit often only as imports. A comprehensive, labor-of-love website maintained by Doug Payne is now devoted to his work. And in 2006, filmmaker Kristian St. Clair released This Is Gary McFarland, a 75-minute documentary.

At its best, McFarland’s music is a rare blend of simplicity and sophistication, with melodies and harmonies that stay with the listener. He’s been a profound influence on my own work as a composer-arranger, and when I expose students to his music, I invariably find that they are startled by its enduring freshness. At least in this respect, time has been kind to Gary McFarland.


Gerry Mulligan Concert Jazz Band: Weep

Track

Weep

Group

Gerry Mulligan Concert Jazz Band

CD

Gerry Mulligan Verve Jazz Masters 36 (Verve)

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Musicians:

Gerry Mulligan (baritone sax),

Nick Travis, Doc Severinsen, Don Ferrara (trumpets), Bob Brookmeyer, Willie Dennis, Alan Raph (trombones), Gene Quill (clarinet), Bob Donovan (alto sax), Jim Reider (tenor sax), Gene Allen (baritone sax, bass clarinet), Bill Crow (bass), Mel Lewis (drums)

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Composed & arranged by Gary McFarland

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Recorded: New York, July 10 or 11, 1961

Albumcovergerrymulligan-jazzmasters36

Rating: 95/100 (learn more)

After Gary McFarland arrived in New York City in the fall of 1960, he met Bob Brookmeyer, who invited him to a rehearsal of Gerry Mulligan's new Concert Jazz Band. "Weep" was McFarland's entrée into the CJB and, as it turned out, the New York recording scene. It has all of the elements of McFarland's best work: lyricism, harmonic sophistication, orchestral colors reflecting the influences of Ellington and Gil Evans, and a trace of melancholy. The ending is unforgettable.

Reviewer: Bill Kirchner


Gary McFarland: I Believe in You

Track

I Believe in You

Artist

Gary McFarland (leader)

CD

The Jazz Version of How To Succeed in Business Without Really Trying (Verve 314 527 658-2)

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Musicians:

Gary McFarland (leader), Clark Terry (flugelhorn), Hank Jones (piano),

Bernie Glow, Doc Severinsen, Herb Pomeroy, (trumpets), Bob Brookmeyer, Willie Dennis, Billy Byers (trombones), Ed Wasserman (clarinet), Phil Woods (alto sax), Al Cohn, Oliver Nelson (tenor saxes), Sol Schlinger (baritone sax), Kenny Burrell (guitar), Joe Benjamin (bass), Osie Johnson (drums)

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Composed by Frank Loesser. Arranged & conducted by Gary McFarland

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Recorded: New York, November 15, 1961

Albumcovergarymcfarland-howtosucceedinbusinesswithoutreallytrying

Rating: 94/100 (learn more)

Gary McFarland's first album as a leader was a collection of Frank Loesser songs from the then-hit Broadway show How To Succeed in Business Without Really Trying. That McFarland was able to put a distinctive stamp on material not especially conducive to jazz treatments proved a major boost for his career. "I Believe in You" is the show's song that came closest to becoming a standard, and McFarland made it a perfect vehicle for Clark Terry's lyricism and humor. Hank Jones is also heard to (as usual) fine advantage.

Reviewer: Bill Kirchner


Anita O'Day: I Want to Sing a Song

Track

I Want to Sing a Song

Artist

Anita O'Day (vocals)

CD

All the Sad Young Men (Verve 314 517 065-2)

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Musicians:

Anita O'Day (vocals),

Bernie Glow, Doc Severinsen, Herb Pomeroy (trumpets), Bob Brookmeyer, Willie Dennis, Billy Byers (trombones), Walt Levinsky (clarinet), Phil Woods (alto sax), Jerome Richardson (bass clarinet), Zoot Sims (tenor sax), Hank Jones (piano), Barry Galbraith (guitar), George Duvivier or Art Davis (bass), Mel Lewis (drums)

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Composed by Gary McFarland & Margo Guryan. Arranged and conducted by Gary McFarland

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Recorded: Englewood Cliffs, NJ, October 16, 1961; Los Angeles, November-December 1961

Albumcoveranitaoday-allthesadyoungmen

Rating: 93/100 (learn more)

After Gary McFarland's debut with Gerry Mulligan, producer Creed Taylor began giving album projects to the young arranger—one of the first being with Anita O'Day. The repertoire was an interesting mixture of non-hackneyed standards and a few originals. This song by McFarland and lyricist Margo Guryan should be better known—once you hear it, it sticks with you. The band tracks were recorded in New York, and O'Day later overdubbed her vocals in Los Angeles, but that's not at all apparent. (The singer and arranger met for the first time several years later.) Overall, this album is widely regarded as among O'Day's best.

Reviewer: Bill Kirchner


Gary McFarland: Reflections in the Park

Track

Reflections in the Park

Artist

Gary McFarland (leader, vibes)

CD

The Gary McFarland Orchestra – Special Guest Soloist: Bill Evans (Verve V/V6-8518)

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Musicians:

Gary McFarland (leader, vibes), Bill Evans (piano), Jim Hall (guitar),

Phil Woods (clarinet), Spencer Sinatra (alto flute), Julian Barber, Allan Goldberg (violas), Aaron Juvelier, Joseph Tekula (celli), Richard Davis (bass), Ed Shaughnessy (drums)

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Composed & arranged by Gary McFarland

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Recorded: New York, December 18, 1962

Albumcoverthegarymcfarlandorchestra-specialguestsoloist-billevans

Rating: 98/100 (learn more)

There are three Gary McFarland albums that I regard as his masterworks, and this is the first. (The others are The October Suite and America the Beautiful: An Account of Its Disappearance.) It's a collection of original pieces for an unusual chamber jazz instrumentation, featuring soloists Bill Evans, Jim Hall, and McFarland. (McFarland was a capable vibraphonist who worked well within his technical limitations.) "Reflections in the Park" captures the gentle mood of the album as a whole. Evans, around whom McFarland built this project, plays beautifully, delivering masterly interpretations of music that he reportedly saw for the first time in the recording studio.

Reviewer: Bill Kirchner


Gary McFarland: Hello to the Season

Track

Hello to the Season

Artist

Gary McFarland (leader, vibes)

CD

Point of Departure (Impulse A-46)

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Musicians:

Gary McFarland (leader, vibes), Willie Dennis (trombone), Richie Kamuca (tenor sax), Jimmy Raney (guitar), Steve Swallow (bass), Mel Lewis (drums).

Composed & arranged by Gary McFarland

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Recorded: New York, September 6, 1963

Albumcovergarymcfarland-pointofdeparture

Rating: 94/100 (learn more)

Here is a band that one wishes had lasted longer. As it was, Gary McFarland gathered some of his favorite players and constructed a whole greater than the sum of its considerable parts. "Hello to the Season" is one of the album's best tracks, with a customarily memorable McFarland melody that is skillfully developed in his arrangement. The group sounds bigger and more orchestral than six pieces—not surprisingly.

Reviewer: Bill Kirchner


Stan Getz: Entre Amigos (Sympathy Between Friends)

Track

Entre Amigos (Sympathy Between Friends)

Artist

Stan Getz (tenor sax)

CD

Big Band Bossa Nova (Verve 825 771-2)

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Musicians:

Stan Getz (tenor sax),

Nick Travis, Doc Severinsen, Joe Ferrante (trumpets), Willie Dennis, Tony Studd (trombones), Ray Alonge (French horn), Ray Beckenstein (flute), Eddie Caine (alto flute), Walt Levinsky, Babe Clarke (clarinets), Romeo Penque (bass clarinet), Hank Jones (piano), Jim Hall (guitar), Tommy Williams (bass), Johnny Rae (drums), Carmen Costa, Jose Paulo (percussion)

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Composed & arranged by Gary McFarland

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Recorded: New York, August 28, 1962

Albumcoverstangetz-bigbandbossanova

Rating: 94/100 (learn more)

A follow-up to Stan Getz's remarkably successful Jazz Samba album, Big Band Bossa Nova is a frequently inspired partnership between the saxophonist and Gary McFarland. It contains four bossa nova mainstays and four McFarland originals, and the arranger gives Getz room to explore the subtleties of this idiom. "Entre Amigos" is my favorite of the McFarland pieces—an invigorating performance by Getz and an equally "up" ensemble.

Reviewer: Bill Kirchner


J.J. Johnson: Winter's Waif

Track

Winter's Waif

Artist

J.J. Johnson (trombone)

CD

J.J.! (aka The Dynamic Sound of J.J.! with Big Band) (Mosaic MCD-1004)

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Musicians:

J.J. Johnson (trombone),

Ernie Royal, Jimmy Maxwell, Joe Wilder, Thad Jones (trumpets), Jimmy Cleveland, Tony Studd, Tommy Mitchell (trombones), Jim Buffington (French horn), Bill Stanley (tuba), Jerry Dodgion (alto sax, flute), Harvey Estrin (reeds), Oliver Nelson (tenor sax), Budd Johnson (baritone sax), Hank Jones (piano), Bob Cranshaw (bass), Grady Tate (drums)

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Composed & arranged by Gary McFarland

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Recorded: New York, December 9, 1964

Albumcoverjjjohnson-jj

Rating: 93/100 (learn more)

One of two Gary McFarland contributions to this album, "Winter's Waif" shows a tougher side of bossa nova. And a darker side, as the title would lead one to expect. After a solo alto flute introduction (by Estrin?), J.J. Johnson sets up the melody and then soars over an extended vamp by the band. An eat-'em-up-and-spit-'em-out rendition.

Reviewer: Bill Kirchner


Steve Kuhn & Gary McFarland: St. Tropez Shuttle

Track

St. Tropez Shuttle

Artist

Steve Kuhn (piano) and Gary McFarland (co-leader)

CD

The October Suite (Impulse A-9136)

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Musicians:

Steve Kuhn (piano), Gary McFarland (co-leader), Ron Carter (bass), Marty Morell (drums),

Isadore Cohen, Matt Raimondi (violins), Al Brown (viola), Charlie McCracken (cello)

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Composed, arranged & conducted by Gary McFarland

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Recorded: New York, October 14, 1966

Albumcoverstevekuhn-garymcfarland-theoctobersuite

Rating: 100/100 (learn more)

This is one of my "desert island" records—I've loved it for 35 years. It's the second of a triumvirate of Gary McFarland's recorded masterpieces, bookended by The Gary McFarland Orchestra – Special Guest Soloist: Bill Evans and America the Beautiful: An Account of Its Disappearance. The first half of the album comprises three pieces for piano trio and string quartet, and "St. Tropez Shuttle" is my favorite of these (though reluctantly so—it's a hard call). Kuhn and McFarland were good friends, and McFarland wrote with deep understanding of the pianist's gifts—particularly his often austere lyricism. Carter and Morell (the latter subsequently with Bill Evans for six years) complement Kuhn beautifully throughout. What's amazing about the writing on this album (and I've looked carefully at the scores) is how simple the individual parts are, and yet how dense the music sounds collectively.

Reviewer: Bill Kirchner


Steve Kuhn & Gary McFarland: Childhood Dreams

Track

Childhood Dreams

Artist

Steve Kuhn (piano) and Gary McFarland (co-leader)

CD

The October Suite (Impulse A-9136)

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Musicians:

Steve Kuhn (piano), Gary McFarland (co-leader), Ron Carter (bass), Marty Morell (drums),

Joe Firrantello (Farrell), Don Ashworth, Irving Horowitz, Gerald Sanfino (woodwinds), Corky Hale (harp)

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Composed, arranged & conducted by Gary McFarland

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Recorded: New York, November 1, 1966

Albumcoverstevekuhn-garymcfarland-theoctobersuite

Rating: 100/100 (learn more)

The second half of The October Suite was written for piano trio, four woodwind doublers, and harp. It's a wonderful contrast to the three piano-trio-and-string-quartet pieces on the album. "Childhood Dreams" was originally written by Gary McFarland (as "Jacques' Theme") for the score to a 1967 film called 13 (later retitled Eye of the Devil); the mood here is bittersweet—almost heartbreakingly so.

Reviewer: Bill Kirchner


Gary McFarland: Theme from 13

Track

Theme from 13

Artist

Gary McFarland (vibes, vocals)

CD

Soft Samba Strings (Verve V/V6-8682)

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Musicians:

Gary McFarland (vibes, vocals),

unknown piano, guitar, bass, drums, strings, voices

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Composed & arranged by Gary McFarland. Conducted by Jack Parnell

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Recorded: Englewood Cliffs, NJ, October 27, 1966; London, November 8, 1966

Albumcovergarymcfarland-softsambastrings

Rating: 90/100 (learn more)

Gary McFarland's main theme for the 1967 film 13 (later retitled Eye of the Devil) is one of his most recorded pieces, though under several different titles (e.g., "One I Could Have Loved," "Eye of the Devil," "Death March"). Here we hear it in a relatively straightforward version with strings, voices and rhythm (the former two overdubbed in London). Many of McFarland's recorded efforts later in the '60s reflected his interest in current pop-flavored music, often with him singing wordlessly in unison with his vibraphone. We hear a sample of that here. In a sense, it's unfortunate that his efforts to reach a wider audience went mostly unfulfilled—he was a charismatic, strikingly handsome figure, a natural for pop stardom.

Reviewer: Bill Kirchner


Zoot Sims: Does the Sun Really Shine on the Moon?

Track

Does the Sun Really Shine on the Moon?

Artist

Zoot Sims (tenor sax)

CD

Waiting Game (Impulse A-9131)

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Musicians:

Zoot Sims (tenor sax),

David Snell (harp), plus eleven violins, four violas, two celli, oboe/English horn, three French horns, classical guitar, bass and drums

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Composed & arranged by Gary McFarland. Conducted by Jack Parnell

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Recorded: London, November 28, 1966

Albumcoverzootsims-waitinggame

Rating: 94/100 (learn more)

This is one of my favorite jazz-soloist-with-strings albums, despite certain flaws. The usually impeccable Sims plays a bit sharp at times, and there's a decidedly out-of-tune oboe player. Regardless, Gary McFarland's scoring is gorgeous, and Sims's playing is consistently direct and moving in his best Lester Young/Ben Webster manner. "Does the Sun Really Shine on the Moon?" is one of three McFarland themes on the recording, and is among the composer's best melodies. The gifted British jazz harpist David Snell adds some unusual ingredients.

Reviewer: Bill Kirchner


Gary McFarland: On This Site Shall Be Erected . . .

Track

Gary McFarland: On This Site Shall Be Erected . . .

Artist

Gary McFarland (leader)

CD

America the Beautiful: An Account of Its Disappearance (Passport 1054 [2006 reissue])

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Musicians:

Gary McFarland (leader),

Bernie Glow, Ernie Royal, Snooky Young, Marvin Stamm (trumpets), Garnett Brown (trombone), Jim Buffington, Ray Alonge (French horns), Harvey Phillips (tuba), Jerome Richardson, Romeo Penque, Joe Farrell, Wally Kane, Danny Bank (reeds), George Ricci (cello), Warren Bernhardt (piano), Eric Gale (guitar), Jerry Jemmott (electric bass), Bill Lavorgna (drums), Warren Smith (percussion)

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Composed, arranged & conducted by Gary McFarland

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Recorded: New York, October 16, 18, 21 or 22, 1968

Albumcovergarymcfarland-americathebeautiful-anaccountofitsdisappearance

Rating: 98/100 (learn more)

Following The Gary McFarland Orchestra – Special Guest Soloist: Bill Evans and The October Suite, the third of Gary McFarland's recorded masterpieces, America the Beautiful: An Account of Its Disappearance, is a series of musical portraits of a country in the midst of vulgarization—as meaningful a statement now as it was when recorded 40 years ago. It's at times elegiac, at other times satiric, and always deeply felt. "On This Site Shall Be Erected …" captures these varied moods perfectly.

Reviewer: Bill Kirchner


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