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Brown’s last outing completed by son

Session No. 55

Les Brown, 1936-2000



Juke/Doc Hollywood Records




Grade: A

The Les Brown orchestra, known officially as Les Brown and His Band of Renown, has had an astonishing shelf life. Truth of the matter, no other big band has been in existence as long. And the run, that began in 1936, has earned the Brown ensemble a place in the Guiness Book of Records.

“Session No. 55” is the final recording project in which Brown participated because before it could be completed, the band leader died. That left it up to his son, Les Junior, who had directed the orchestra when his ailing father couldn’t, to finish the job. And it’s our good fortune young Brown did just that because the CD is a honey.

The Brown band has always been a model for good taste, consistency and crispness as well as owning a library stocked with sparkling charts by J. Hill, Frank Comstock and Van Alexander, among others. And although there have been personnel changes over the years, trombonist Stumpy Brown and vocalist Butch Stone provide a link to the past.

The disc under discussion offers 21 selections done up in that clean, lean Brown sound. Several of the songs, including the band theme, “Leap Frog,” and the artsy “Bizet Has His Day” were big sellers for Brown, while many of the others are solid versions of big-band favorites.

“String of Pearls,” “Satin Doll” and “Drop Me Off In Harlem” are among the swing-era plums.

Vocalists Jane Monheit and Lou Rawls add to the recording’s appeal. Monheit sings two of Doris Day’s biggest hits, “Sentimental Journey” and “Secret Love,” with the same suppleness, sweetness and naivete Day displayed with Brown. Rawls’ powerful pipes are featured on “They Can’t Take That Away From Me” and “I Only Have Eyes For You.”

Those terrific tenor sax solos, performed by Ted Nash in the past, now fall to Rusty Higgins, whose tone is every bit as round as Nash’s. Mike Melvoin, a splendid pianist, has inherited Geoff Clarkson’s role; former Hi-Lo singer Don Shelton’s clarinet is a pleasant addition; and trumpeter Don Clarke ranks with the best of earlier Brown trumpet players.

In sum, the closer you listen to the recording, the more plain becomes why the Brown orchestra has kept a high profile all these years even though the big-band era came to an end a half-century ago.

(For orders or information: Juke/Doc Hollywood Records, 468 No. Camden Drive, Beverly Hills, CA 90210)

Cam Miller is a free-lance jazz critic in Lake Wildwood. You may write to him care of The Union, 464 Sutton Way, Grass Valley, 95945.


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