March 28, 2023 is the centenary of the birth of Thaddeus Joseph (Thad Jones) perhaps best known as the co-leader and primary arranger/composer for the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Jazz Orchestra.
Born on March 28, 1923 in Pontiac, Michigan, Thad was one of ten children. Two of his brothers include pianist and NEA Jazz Master Hank Jones (1918-2010) and drummer Elvin Jones (1927-2004), a member of John Coltrane’s legendary quartet from 1960 to 1966.
Thad was part of the Count Basie Band from 1954 to 1963. The Count himself is somewhat responsible for the creation of the Jones/Lewis Jazz Orchestra as he didn’t think a series of compositions and arrangements Thad had written for the Basie band to record captured the classic “Basie Sound.”
Thad would soon leave the Basie band to spend the next couple of years touring with George Russell, recording with Gil Evans and becoming a staff musician at CBS-TV.
In late 1965, Thad and drummer Mel Lewis assembled an 18-piece orchestra that included some of New York City’s best jazz musicians and much of the music Thad had written for the never-recorded Basie project.
Appearing live for the first time on Monday, February 7, 1966 at the Village Vanguard, the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Jazz Orchestra was off and running. Monday evenings were typically nights when Broadway theaters were dark. That provided an opportunity for musicians who would otherwise be unavailable to perform with the Thad & Mel band.
Despite the departure of Thad from the band in 1979 (he relocated to Scandinavia without bothering to inform Mel and the band), the band soldiered on under the leadership of Mel Lewis until his passing in 1990 and, after renaming itself as the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra, has continued to perform on Monday evenings at the Village Vanguard for over 55 years.
Two hours is barely enough time to host a radio show let alone showcase the music and career of someone as vital to jazz history as Thad Jones. But hopefully, we can whet your appetite to dig a bit deeper on your own.
Besides music from the Vanguard and the Thad & Mel orchestras, we’ll feature Thad’s compositions as performed by Convergence, Bill Evans with Ray Brown, and Gary Smulyan with many other Vanguard Orchestra saxophonists and trios led by Jeff Hamilton and Bill Charlap.
We’ll also include a Dexter Gordon recording from the early 1970s with Thad as a sideman, the Count Basie band with one of Thad’s best-known solos and a live quartet date by Thad & Mel from the summer of 1977.
One of the Thad/Mel big band tracks will come from “Suite for Pops,” an album issued in 1975 that’s never been reissued on CD which features vocalist Dee Dee Bridgewater.
Composed by pianist Jim McNeely, “Thad” is one of the Vanguard big band tracks you’ll hear. It’s solely built on snippets and motifs woven together seamlessly that Thad wrote for many of his big band charts.
The other Vanguard big band track was written by Thad about 47 years ago at the time of the US Bi-Centennial. Choosing to title it “My Centennial,” perhaps he have meant it more as a musical epitaph to be shared on the 100th anniversary of his birth. If so, we’re honoring that request albeit one day late.
Tune in to The Night Beat at 8 PM Wednesday, March 29, as your host, Doug Crane celebrates the life and musical legacy of Thad Jones.
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