Tuesday, November 8, 2011

All Star Bands

It's great to hear a band that has been together for years. Even if some of the members aren't as stellar as others, a band in which everyone knows the music, and is comfortable with each other, makes the music sound good. Gary Bartz used to say, "Nothing is better than a real working band!" And I agree. However, many promoters, producers, and club owners have no interest in real working bands these days. They just want to put together names that will draw the biggest crowd. And oftentimes, I can't say that I blame them. Times are tight. But also oftentimes, the "all star" bands that get thrown together seemed doomed from the start, musically speaking.

Duke Ellington: band is still working even though he's dead
Many venues won't even consider booking  you at all unless you have an all-star band. The sound of the musicians isn't important. It's all about the names. The late Freddie Hubbard, one of my musical heroes without a doubt, could barely play the trumpet for the last 15 years of his life due to a lip injury.  However, he would get booked because his name on the marquee drew a crowd. In fact, sometimes, the name can be a dead person, hence the prevalence of "ghost bands" like the still-touring Duke Ellington Band (Duke died in the 70's) or the Woody Herman Band( Herman died in the 80's). I used to work with the Mingus Band , and before or after performances, concertgoers would ask, "Is Charles going to play tonight" or "Is Mr. Mingus ill?" (Or they thought Frank Lacy was Mingus......)Indeed, the Polish violinist Michal Urbaniak told me that he was trying to book a tour in Poland in the 90's, and one club owner asked him "Who is in your band?" Without skipping a beat, Urbaniak calmly replied, "Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, John Coltrane, and Art Blakey." The club owner said, "I've heard of them, " and booked the band.

A drummer and friend of mine named Jeremy Blynn used to do this hilarious bit called the "Norman Granz All-Stars", which was a fictional band consisting of Tito Puente, James Brown, Miles Davis, and Frank Sinatra. He would basically go back and forth between spot-on vocal impressions of all four
Norman Granz
artists, and he always had us in stitches. But it wasn't just the imitations, which were impressive, but the idea of Puente, Brown, Davis, and Sinatra juxtaposed was so jarring. I bet that band would draw a crowd, but I doubt that those four giants would get through a sound check without some heated words or possibly even fisticuffs!

Sometimes, if I am completely bored, I'll make up all star bands that never existed, bands that would be very unlikely to exist. It's fun, yields some interesting results, and can distract me from the pain of sitting in coach on most airlines nowadays. It's kind of like playing Mad Libs: it's a sort of random creativity that makes you chuckle a bit. And don't try to read into any of these; it's only based on randomness and the strangeness of the combinations, and has nothing to do with my personal opinions regarding any of the named musicians. Have you every tried this? I wonder if anyone would pay to see any of these bands? Feel free to submit your own creations....

The Hank Jones Trio featuring Geddy Lee on bass and Sheila E on drums

The Branford Marsalis Quartet featuring Elton John on Piano, Paul McCartney on Bass, and Max Weinberg on drums

The Hiromi Trio featuring Oscar Pettiford on Bass and Gene Krupa on drums

Art Blakey and The Jazz Messengers featuring Chet Baker on trumpet, Kenny G on alto saxophone, Yanni on piano, and Victor Wooten on bass

 The Brad Mehldau Trio featuring Gene Simmons on Bass and Andrew Cyrille on drums

The Miles Davis Quintet featuring John Zorn on alto sax, Tori Amos on piano, Sting on bass and Tommy Lee on Drums

Return To Forever featuring Chick Corea on keyboards, Stanley Clarke on bass, Lenny White on drums, and Steve Turre on trombone

The Wynton Marsalis Septet featuring Gato Babieri on tenor saxophone, Albert Mangelsdorff on trombone, George Howard on alto saxophone, Bobby Short on piano, Verdine White on bass, and Phil Collins on drums

The Dave Brubeck Quartet featuring Steve Coleman on alto sax, Henry Grimes on bass, and Lars Ulrich on drums

The Ahmad Jamal Trio featuring Billy Cox on bass and Meg White(from the White Stripes)on drums.

The Wu Tang Clan featuring Method Man, The Rza, the Gza, Ghost Face Killa, Old Dirty Bastard, Bucky Pizzarelli on guitar and Marian McPartland on Piano......

Now if you didn't crack a smile after any of that nonsense, then this might at least make you smile.....


  1. I would love to see Marian McPartland rip it up with the Wu.

  2. Blossom Dearie and her trio: Derek Bailey, guitar; Bootsy Collins, bass; Paul Motian, drums.

    Opening for:

    Jimi Hendrix Sings the Nat King Cole Songbook, featuring Ran Blake, piano; David Izenzon, bass; Zigaboo Modeliste, drums; and the Hendrix Horns: David Sanborn, Evan Parker, and Harry Allen.

  3. Marian McPArtland ain't Nuttin to F with....ha ha ha

  4. The Jimmy Smith Trio with Al Di Meola on Guitar and Animal (from the Muppets) on Drums. Liner Notes by Hunter S. Thompson.

  5. art, chet, and vic are some of my favorite musicians. but i had never imagined them all playing together.
    ...ew. thanks.

  6. Kenny had a great solo on that video!


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.