Quick, name your top five Jazz artists. Easy enough right? Now name your top five Jazz composers…ok so maybe that’s a little harder because maybe you don’t pay attention to who wrote what. Now name your top five arrangers…I said arrangers…what do you mean you don’t know what an arranger is? An arranger is the unsung hero of the Jazz world, they’re even lower than bass players and trombone players. They take a basic tune and write out parts for every member of the band. They’re responsible for deciding who plays what and how it sounds.
One way to illustrate a good arranger is to listen to some VERY well-known tunes and see what’s been done to them. Frank Macchia provides several brilliant examples on Son Of Folk Songs For Jazzers. Not surprisingly he has been nominated for three Grammy Awards for Best Instrumental Arrangement, most recently this year. Take something as simple as ‘Twinkle Twinkle Little Star,’ a tune that’s been around for 250 years. Ask any person above the age of one and they can probably sing you the melody. What Frank has done with it transforms it into a small masterpiece that can be appreciated by music fans of any age. I played this for my 11-year-old son who plays the violin and he picked out the tune right away during the slow intro then actually said, ‘whoa cool’ when the rest of the band kicked in.
Now is this a kids album or what? I guess that depends on your kids and what they’re into. It’s probably not suited to very young kids, though I believe that all music is good for everyone no matter their age. I could see this being used in elementary schools to help kids identify individual instruments. I remember seeing the poster with every known woodwind instrument on it, yet I never remember hearing examples of the cooler looking ones like the contra bass clarinet which can be heard here.
As if you needed any more illustrations of great arranging Frank presents not one but two versions of ‘Three Blind Mice.’ The first is ‘Jazzy’ and reminds me a little of the music Quincy Jones created for the animation of John and Faith Hubley in the late 60s. The second is slower and ‘Cool’ with five bass flutes (!) playing in harmony and a guitar solo by Grant Geissman.
In addition to the lush instrumental arrangements there are a few vocal turns that deserve mention. Ellis Hall sings ‘Careless Love’ a slow down ‘n dirty blues, Tierney Sutton takes a turn at the beautiful ‘Silver Dagger’ and Frank himself rasps out a version of ‘This Old Man’ that would make Howlin’ Wolf, Captain Beefheart and Tom Waits sit up and take notice.
If you’re a kid at heart and you appreciate a well-arranged classic then look no further.