Elliot Lawrence and his Orchestra, live in 1951. Originally broadcast by the Mutual network and rebroadcast for the military by the Armed Forces Radio Service.
Elliot Lawrence is an interesting figure in the progression and history of Jazz. Active during a period of time where Big Bands were heading into their twilight years – sometimes misjudged by purists and critics as “a sweet band” because of commercial demands to play music for dancing and not really for listening. Bands that became temporary homes for the likes of Gerry Mulligan and other notables of the Cool Jazz and Be-bop genres (Mulligan was a Lawrence alumnus as well as occasional arranger for the band) and Bands that stretched the envelope while managing to keep feet in both waters, so to speak. Elliot Lawrence was doing interesting and innovative things during the late 1940s/early 1950s while still maintaining popularity as leader of a band for dancing. That he went from labels like Columbia to Fantasy gave some indication there were other elements and interests afoot. Some critics lamented the fact that he should have been born about ten years earlier, as he would have fit right into the major changes taking place in Jazz during the War and shortly after as bands splintered and small groups flourished.
That he’s gone largely overlooked by the greater Jazz community is a shame, as much of what he did was notable despite a certain pigeonholing that has often plagued musicians in all genres throughout history.
Initially, I was of two minds about running this gig as some might consider this broadcast bordering on Pop. But the more I listened the more I realized Elliot Lawrence was into something else and the dance music side paid the bills.
At any rate, I decided to include this as part of the Downbeat series and let you decide how you feel about it. Fortunately, Elliot Lawrence is still very much with us and very active, although he’s stepped back from Jazz since 1960 and has devoted most of his time and talents to TV, Film and Stage and is currently Music Director of the Tony Awards. In addition to composing the scored to such classic films as Network and The French Connection – so the story has a happen ending.
To get an idea of this other side of Elliot Lawrence, the side that was active and saying something to a Jazz audience, here is that gig originally broadcast in early 1951 as a reminder.