A few months ago, I ran another Boyd Raeburn program, that one, a club date from El Morocco in Hollywood. A lot of people responded to it favorably, completely up-ending my previous notion that Raeburn was a figure in Jazz largely obscure and mostly unnoticed.
And then I ran across this 1979 article written in The Washington Post by W. Royal Stokes which pretty much confirmed what I had suspected; that I was wrong, and a lot of people had heard of or were influenced by the music and musical point of view of Boyd Raeburn.
In case you missed the article, here’s a taste of it to get some idea, if you are one of those people just making the discovery and wanting to find out a little bit more on Boyd Raeburn, and how come he’s not a household name:
“The Boyd Raeburn Orchestra is remembered by those who heard it in the 1940s as a band with a very new sound-it was, in fact, ahead of its time. Its harmonic concepts were advanced, it made use of fluctuating time signatures (4/4, 7/4, 11/9 in one piece), it resembled a symphonic group on stage with flutes, oboes, bassoons, alto and bass clarinets. English horns and harp supplemented its standard swing band instrumentation, and it sometimes employed classical themes. Buddy DeFranco, with the band in the late ’40s, recalls the arrangements as the most difficult music he has ever played.
Many musicians of merit, and some of international fame, passed through the Raeburn Orchestra during its peak years of 1943-1948. Among those were DeFranco, Dizzy Gillespie, Tommy Young, Don Lamond, Oscar Pettiford, Maynard Ferguson, Benny Harris, Hal McKussick, Al Cohn, Serge Chaloff, Frankie Sokolow, Johnny Bothwell, Dodo Marmarosa-and Al Swope, Steve Jordan and Angelo Tompros, three from the Washington area. Featured vocalists of the band included Ginnie Powell, who became Raeburn’s wife.
Boyd Raeburn’s associations through the ’30s had been largely with hotel dance bands of little distinction, some of which he led. Toward the end of the decade his band moved in the direction that the major swing orchestras of the day were taking. Circumstances, both cultural and personal, conspired to transform him into the director of an organization, the Boyd Raeburn Orchestra, that was on the leading edge of advanced musical expression of its time.
A new body of musical thought was coming to the fore in the early ’40s; for want of a better term we now call it “modern jazz.” The big dance/swing bands still dominated the scene, both popular and jazz, but several of these were listening with interest to the new music coming to be known as be-bop. Woody Herman changed the image, and the sound, of his orchestra from “The Band That Plays the Blues” to the first of the “Herds.” Stan Kenton incorporated bop into his offerings, styling his new approach “Progressive Jazz.”
No one claims that Boyd Raeburn was a creative artist of great stature; he himself was heard to remark, “For a musical idiot I’ve got a great band. But few who are familiar with the music of his period will deny that his band ranked with the best of the innovative groups of the era, including those of Kenton and Herman.
But Raeburn was creative in one sense: He was adept at recognizing talent and he both knew what he liked and wanted to improve his band. A crucial change of direction for his purposes occurred here in Washington when a number of local musicians were hired for a performance at the Roosevelt Hotel in January 1944. As was often the case on such “gigs, the performance was broadcast on the radio. Among those who joined the band on this occasion was the new arranger Eddie Finckel, whose harmonic innovations and orchestral design would dominate the scores for the rest of that year.”
Sadly, precious little of his work was commercially recorded. It would appear there are more live recordings of him available than commercially released ones. That could explain the relative obscurity, but leaves it on the shoulders of the nutcase collectors, who dig through vast piles of 16″ Radio Transcriptions (myself being one), to unearth these historic milestones and share them to the world in general.
So in keeping with my promise to post more music by Boyd Raeburn, enjoy this offering from 1944 – hopefully more pieces of the puzzle have fallen into place.