Boyd Raeburn and His Orchestra, live at Club Morocco on Vine Street, between Sunset and Hollywood Boulevards in Hollywood from around October of 1945. Boyd Raeburn was one of those band leaders, like Stan Kenton, Claude Thornhill and Dizzy Gillespie, who were far ahead of their time, forward-thinking and innovative. The big difference between Raeburn and the others was Raeburn was one of the best bands almost no one had heard of. And it certainly wasn’t for lack of trying. Raeburn had a solid reputation among his peers, including Duke Ellington, Billy Eckstine and Woody Herman, who were fans and did what they could to get Raeburn’s message out.
But it was a combination of the times (a Musicians Union strike in August of 1942 and later in 1948), the wartime scarcity of shellac for pressing discs and the reluctance of Record Company executives to sign what was considered at the time, a pretty radical band.
Listening to this live club date from 1945 from the distance and comfort of 2016, you wonder what all the resistance was about. Pretty tame by standards, even a few years after this gig, but the Music of Boyd Raeburn was considered uncommercial in the eyes of the mainstream, and the best he could do under the circumstances, was get involved with some of the small, independent labels of the day. The problem was, the Big Band lineup was something that needed a substantial amount of money in order to sustain, and maintaining his vision cost Boyd Raeburn dearly in the area of repeated bankruptcies and personnel changes.
Eventually, Raeburn was signed to a major label in the 1950s; Columbia. But the proviso for signing and the advance was the demand to play “commercial dance tunes” – the result was three albums, all of which were forgettable and a pale shell of what Boyd Raeburn was all about only a few years earlier.
The music of Boyd Raeburn, during the formative period, is luckily still around – those small labels were eventually bought out by larger small labels and Raeburn’s reputation as a “Musicians-Musician” has maintained and grown in its stature all these years.
So, if you haven’t been turned on to the music of Boye Raeburn yet, check this re-broadcast via Armed Forces Radio from 1945. Boyd Raeburn was part of that movement of musicians who were getting ready to turn Jazz on its ear – and a reminder there were some unsung heroes very much a part of it.