Jimmie Lunceford: 'Masterpieces'

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The cover of Masterpieces


MURRAY HORWITZ, American Film Institute: Believe me, if it was the 1930s, and you were in the room where that music was being played, you would not be sitting down. That's the great Jimmie Lunceford Orchestra. And A.B. Spellman, tell me why Jimmie Lunceford's Masterpieces should be in our NPR Basic Jazz Record Library.

A.B.SPELLMAN: National Endowment for the Arts: Because, Lunceford's band was an unusual band in an era of unusual bands. It was a band that was incredibly tight and precise, even though it was derided as a lot of hokum. It was a band that played with such skill, dexterity and precision that it stands out. And the arrangements were first-rate.


HORWITZ: Tell me a little bit more about its unusualness. I mean this was a very creative album. There was creativity in almost everything this band did.

SPELLMAN: First of all, the band worked a hell of a show. They executed things, which were strictly entertaining.

HORWITZ: And they were clean. They had great uniforms.

SPELLMAN: They had great uniforms, and in fact, they were sometimes called the "Trained Seals," because they were so tightly drilled in every single thing that they did. But this drilling actually leads to the kind of tight unison playing that makes the band so beautiful.


HORWITZ: You mentioned unison playing, and not only unison, but harmonies that they would play with amazing dexterity. What are some of the examples we can just hear five saxophones phrasing as one person?

SPELLMAN: Well, I would recommend the reed-section work in "Sleepy Time Gal," because there you get the kind of tight playing that they had. And it's very elaborate, hard stuff that they were doing.

HORWITZ: And, they go from loud to soft very fast.

SPELLMAN: A lot of different dynamics within this particular arrangement.


HORWITZ: You talked about their serious musicianship. Nowhere is that in greater evidence than in some of the soloists in the band.

SPELLMAN: Even though, the Lunceford band was accused of being an arranger's band, it did have some very fine soloists. They were not as deep as the Ellington band or the Henderson band, but their lead soloists were first-rate. They had people like Joe Thomas on tenor saxophone, and Willie Smith on alto sax, who was just behind Hodges and Benny Carter, among the sweet saxophonists. Trummy Young, the trombonist, was great, as was Eddie Dorham on trumpet. So, it's a good, solid band, and with strong people to put up front.


HORWITZ: Music for your NPR Basic Jazz Record Library, we're recommending Jimmie Lunceford's Masterpieces. For NPR Jazz, I'm Murray Horwitz.

SPELLMAN: And, I'm A.B. Spellman.

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