Claude Thornhill and his band, recorded live at Glen island Casino in New York on June 23, 1947. Thornhill’s music has fortunately weathered well with age. Almost completely mis-diagnosed as a “Sweet Band” during the 40’s and 50s, Thornhill was an innovator who didn’t get the props at the time to gain the freedom he needed to pursue what became revolutionary ideas. That came from the people who worked with him; most notably Gil Evans and Gerry Mulligan (among many others), who laid the groundwork for Cool Jazz and Be-Bop during the post-war years through the early 1950s, when Jazz was going through an upheaval of sorts.
One of the things Thornhill stressed, and you can hear it in all his material, was the ability to play effectively quietly rather than forcefully. The prevailing theory being that anyone can get a message across by yelling, but it took some talent to do it in a quiet way – and you can hear this theory being put to good use in milestone albums like Birth Of The Cool which, if you look at the personnel on those sessions, the name Gil Evans and Gerry Mulligan pop up – proteges of Thornhill and bearers of the torch.
But on the face of it, and listening to this club date, you might not be convinced. The 40s were still about dance bands, and Claude Thornhill was still pursuing success in a commercial world. He didn’t have the freedom say, a Sten Kenton did (Capitol at that time was a much smaller label, compared to Columbia which was Thornhills label and a major at the time), but instead had to work around it, injecting ideas in the midst of potboilers and standards – but, you gotta do what you gotta do – and if you consider yourself a professional and dedicated to your craft, you have to do a lot of things you may not agree with in order to eat. And that appears to be the situation with this artist. For the most part, Claude Thornhill did not get the recognition he so richly deserved during his lifetime – and its only been in recent decades that his music has been rediscovered and re-evaluated.
So, lest you think this is a strange and somewhat ill-suited choice for a Jazz entry, I suggest you do what Claude Thornhill always stressed – listen quietly and with open ears. The magic will be revealed.
Enjoy, and get ready for 2019.