Monday, November 9, 2015

Fred Dale - A Great, Little-Known Big Band

I have been collecting 78s in earnest (whatever that means) for about six years, but the seed was planted many years ago, when I was about 14 or 15. My grandmother gave me a couple of boxes of 78s - stuff she had picked up at garage sales as well as (I found out later), some of my uncle's old records. I was fascinated, and listened and enjoyed them indiscriminately at first. As time passed, some of the records began to stand out - I realized that, yes, Benny Carter was better than Larry Clinton, and Louis Armstrong better than Bing Crosby. I eventually got rid of most of the records, but kept a handful, even through all the years during which I didn't have a way to play them.

In one of those boxes was a record which grabbed me right away - a swinging modern jazz big band of which I had never heard. I had no idea who Fred Dale was, but even as a jazz neophyte I knew that this hot version of "Mean to Me" was pretty special. The ballad on the flip side was nice too, although not as earth-shattering. Later, when I was in college, I went to my school's library and looked up Fred Dale in the Jepsen jazz discography. It revealed that the Dale big band had recorded one session in 1954, and that the band was composed mostly of unknowns, but with a few big names mixed in. It was still a pretty mysterious record.

After my college days, the 78s went into the closet, not touched until my current obsession began in 2009. When I went through the box and rediscovered this disc, I was curious as to whether or not it would sound as good as I remembered. It did.

And of course, by then the internet existed. Some determined Googling resulting in some information about the band and the recording session. This is from the Indiana University Music Department website:

In 1953 the Fred Dale Band consisting of a majority of I.U. students entered a Metronome magazine Collegiate Jazz Band Contest. This was among the first of such contests and was adjudicated by tapes. The band included Al Kiger, Jerry Coker, Al Cobine, Buddy Baker, and David Baker. The band was a co-winner of this national contest along with the band from UCLA. The prize was a monetary award and a recording for a small label.

And from a Smithsonian Institute oral history interview with trombonist/composer David Baker:

Around this time there was a band that was formed by a guy named Fred Dale, who moved here, who would later work for MCA, the booking agency. He decided to put together a band. He put together an all -star band – he didn’t call it an all - star band, but it was an all - star band that had Kiger in it; it had Buddy Baker; a guy named Lou Ciotti on tenor saxophone; Jerry Coker; Al Cobine; a piano player – first of all Al Plank, then I think later on it was John Mast. The bass player – it varied, but at one time or another it was Bill Takas. At another time it was – I just can’t remember those details at the moment. That band was a band which Fred Dale entered in 19 – seems like it was 1953 – in the Metronome All Star contest. It was the very first – near as I know, the very first collegiate contest, and it was done by tape. You sent in a tape, and your band was adjudicated and decided who was going to be the best band. I think we ended up tying with the jazz band from Westlake [Westlake was a college in Los Angeles], which was a band which had Jimmy Cleveland and some of those guys in it – Lanny Morgan, whowould later be in Supersax and later on the Maynard Ferguson band when I was on there. 

So that was a great band, and that band did play a lot. We traveled, we played a lot of gigs, and we entered that contest and won it. But when Fred decided to make the album – the recording that was going to come out of it – he couldn’t take everybody to the West Coast. So what he did – I wrote one of the arrangements. I did the arrangement on "Mean to Me," which was really kind of a lift over the way Wes and them played it, with hits and things. So he took Lou Ciotti, himself, and then they used professional musicians on the West Coast to make the recording.

Baker's memory is not perfect - most of the band members at the recording session were indeed IU students, with a few professional ringers added - notably trumpeter Doug Mettome and trombonist Urbie Green, both of whom were already well-known. The personnel, according to Tom Lord's jazz discography, consists of:

Fred Dale - trumpet and vibes; Vern Cressler, Al Kiger, Doug Mettome - trumpet
Buddy Baker, David Baker, Urbie Green - trombone
Leonard Graves - alto & tenor saxes; Jerry Coker, Al Cobin - tenor sax; Ray Papai - bari sax
Al Plank - piano; Dick Wagner - bass; Richard Dickenson - drums.

Besides Dave Baker, several of the student musicians, such as Al Kiger, Buddy Baker, and Jerry Coker, went on to have careers in jazz. 

So here's a great, little-known modern jazz big band record on the Coral label, from June, 1954. I think that the trumpet solos are by Doug Mettome, trombone by Urbie Green, and tenor sax by Jerry Coker. My copy is in poor shape, especially the side with "Laura." But I was able to clean it up some, and the tracks are quite listenable, especially "Mean to Me." Enjoy.

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