Les Brown: Just a Gigolo

One of the great things about the study of an art form is that, in many cases, the cream finally rises to the top. For many years, it was easy to take the Les Brown band for granted; it played wherever Bob Hope turned up, whether on television or Viet Nam. It played local west coast gigs if it appeared live, and made a couple of albums a year through the sixties. But when Hope left the business and Brown's many recordings became available on CD, many of us took a long look and listen to what his band accomplished. He was known for introducing Doris Day, but he had many other vocalists who were excellent. His was a dance band first, but he always had top notch soloists, and he recorded high-powered jazz written by excellent arrangers. Added to that was the fact that he was a fine arranger himself, and never stopped writing for the band.

It would be interesting to know how he came to have a new version of "Just a Gigolo" in his book. This song first attained popularity in the United States back in 1931 and would become legendary as part of Louis Prima's Las Vegas act paired with "I Ain't Got Nobody." But in the hands of the Band of Renown, it starts with a piano intro, a statement of the melody in two and then four-beat, a bebop-laced vocal by novelty singer Stumpy Brown, a solo by Abe Most, an eight bar transition drenched in bop (Gozzo was a ringer in the trumpet section for this recording, and he is amazing as usual), and then a solo statement by bopper Pell. The band then takes over for a chorus, and we are reminded of the brilliance of arranger Skip Martin in this exciting and roaring transfiguration of a simple tune swinging mightily as if the band's life depended on its performance (one should also listen to Clarkson's solo; he is a highly underrated musician). The music ends with a highly dissonant chord that still seems perfect given what happened during the previous three minutes.

In the scheme of things, this is a relatively minor record, but if the minor performances are this good, many of the major recordings are stunning, and it makes perfect sense when modern big band historians now call Les Brown's ensemble one of the finest big bands of all time.

April 14, 2009 · 1 comment


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