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A Tribute to Benny Goodman
The Julian Bliss SeptetJulian Bliss
Recreating the exciting sound of swing from the 30’s and 40’s, Julian Bliss’s dynamic virtuosity leads his sextet through some of the great tunes of the swing era, staying true to the authentic feel but naturally with a modern twist.
Julian Bliss says “I decided in the summer of 2010 that I wanted to start my own Jazz group. I enlisted the help of Neal Thornton (Piano) to help make this dream a reality. We spent months listening to every version of each tune we could find, and putting together our own versions while still being mindful of the light and fun feel Goodman captured all those years ago. We then had the task of putting the rest of the band together. We were specifically looking for musicians that had a great interest in the Swing era, and I must say we couldn’t have picked a better set of players”
"Julian Bliss threatens to steal the show on clarinet," Norman Lebrecht
Recent review of Julian's performance with Grammy-award winning soprano Hila Plitmann on 'The Ancient Question' (SIGCD276), released December 2011.
What people are saying
"This tribute to the King of Swing is an absolute gem re-capturing perfectly the feel of those distant days"
Release date: 4th Jun 2012
Order code: SIGCD288
|1.||Don't be that way / Stompin' at the Savoy||Benny Goodman, Edgar Sampson||4.26|
|2.||Caprice No.24||Nicolo Paganini, Original arr. Lloyd 'Skip' Martin||3.05|
|3.||Up a Lazy River||Hoagy Carmichael, Sidney Arodin||4.41|
|4.||The World is Waiting for the Sunrise||Ernest Seitz, Eugene Lockhart||4.25|
|5.||Moonglow||Eddie De Lange, Will Hudson, Irving Mills||4.20|
|6.||Lady be Good (Rifftide)||George & Ira Gershwin||4.13|
|7.||Seven come Eleven||Benny Goodman, Charlie Christian||2.42|
|8.||Here's that Rainy Day||Jimmy Van Heusen, Johnny Burke||5.29|
|9.||Sheik of Araby||Ted Synder, Harry B. Smith, Francis Wheeler||3.34|
|11.||Avalon||Al Jolson, B.G. De Sylva, Vincent Rose||2.37|
|12.||Soft winds||Benny Goodman, Fred Royal||2.47|
|13.||After you've gone||Henry Creamer, Turner Layton||4.16|
Great Britain's Julian Bliss is a renowned classical clarinetist who even has his own line of "Bliss" clarinets available from Conn Selmer. At the age of seven, however, he became enamored with the music of Benny Goodman, and 14 years later in 2010 decided to form a group to perform Goodman's music. With the help of pianist Neal Thornton, a band of like-minded British musicians was formed, a repertoire chosen, concerts booked and performed, and finally this CD was recorded in September of 2011. Wanting to go with the small group sound of Goodman's sextet, they decided to add a trumpet in order to be able to approximate a big band texture as well. The instrumentation here should be familiar to Goodman fans, with Bliss on clarinet fronting pianist Thornton, vibraphonist Jim Hart, guitarist Colin Oxley, trumpeter Martin Shaw, bassist Tim Thornton, and drummer Matt Skelton.
Unlike many classical musicians, Bliss is capable of swinging mightily and adapting his formidable technique to the task at hand. He, Thornton, Hart, and Oxley certainly invoke memories of Goodman, Teddy Wilson, Lionel Hampton, and Charlie Christian, respectively, as one listens to these fresh and vital interpretations of tunes associated with Goodman, but these are no slavish repertory recreations. The best tribute bands both satisfy you on their own merits while at the same time compelling you to revisit the original recordings. The Julian Bliss Septet succeeds on both counts. The thirteen selections include "Stompin' at the Savoy," "Moonglow," "Lady be Good (Rifftide)," "Seven Come Eleven," "Avalon;" "Soft Winds," "Goodbye," and even Paganini's "Caprice No. 24," which Goodman played and once recorded. Good music is timeless, especially when played with such enthusiasm and flair.
JazzTimes.com, Scott Albin
The jazz police of my younger days said Benny Goodman sucked. And that was that. There’s so much to listen to that you can’t process it all, and when your tastes aren’t fully formed yet, you can be swayed by the (genre) police. But, still, who didn’t like stuff like “Stompin’ at the Savoy”, “Avalon” and all the rest. A lot of it might have been too corny or dated for the times, but legends are legends, right? Sometimes it takes another generation to pass to get the point across. Bliss is a member of the new breed that was smitten by Goodman and has crafted a loving tribute that’s both respectful and organic. Falling under Goodman’s spell as a kid, this clarinet man will be taking center stage by storm in due course even without this set as a springboard. Delightfully classic jazzbo tooting by a cat who loves his work, this is just a wonderful record from any angle no matter where you jump in. This is a sterling example of how to make the past come alive. Well done.
Chris Spector, Editor and Publisher - MidwestRecord.com
Julian Bliss is a rara avis: a distinguished classical musician also enraptured with great jazz. We've seen his ilk before and have always been highly enamored of these people: Rampal, Bolling, even Kiri Te Kanawa dipped into the jazz world to marvelous results. But you need to know that Bliss is indeed a classicalist because that's the only way you'll understand why his tone is so incredibly pure and smooth. Even during complicated passages (catch The World is Waiting for Sunshine and Avavlon), his control and musical demeanour are astonishing, and A Tribute to Benny Goodman is just that: an enshrinement of the one man everyone thinks of when the word 'clarinet' is uttered.
More, Bliss chose a highly skilled combo to back him and even devoted an unusually generous lowdown on all of 'em a la one of those killer Naxos jazz releases everyone loves (and Signum lavished Naxos-level documentation qualities on this disc), gents who are well-pedigreed players and just as sophisticated in all nuances as Bliss himself. I was especially delighted when Colin Oxley and his guitar were given clear runways to take off and fly. That doesn't happen very much in swing music, but, regardless, every one of these gentz is an adept of the first water.
The brio and gorgeous tonicities all through Tribute are infectious, as are the joie de vivre and genteel élan, and Bliss & Co. add much to these standards. A septet is, of course, a small format and Goodman's band, along with all the others' (Shaw, Dorsey, Herman, Barnet, etc.), tended to be big band organized, but nothing is missed in the transition, merely a form of reductionism that covers all bases save for the acreage of sound native to large horn sections. On other other hand, the clarity of each player is vastly more pronounced within a pristinely executed engineering job. If you've ever wondered what the hippest among past generations were listening and dancing to while waiting for rock and roll to be invented, this is it, y'all, and you'll soon understand that not only were our grandparents just as rooty-toot unorthodox in their own way as we were but also that their favored musical mode brought them exactly what clarinetist Julian is surnamed for—bliss—just as Led Zeppelin and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young have done for us.
AcousticMusic.com, Mark S, Tucker
A visit to www.julianbliss.com will reveal that this young, British, classically trained clarinettist has had a longer association with jazz than one might assume. Aged six years he appeared on the Des O'Connor show duetting with Acker Bilk and even at that tender age signs of jazz intonation were apparent. Obviously in the intervening years the technique has improved as has the feel for jazz playing. For any player to tackle a selection of Benny Goodman's "greatest hits" is a pretty daunting task in that it will provoke comparisons with the original performances but aided by six excellent colleagues and very good arrangements by Neal Thornton, Julian Bliss pulls it off, admirably.
There are certainly not copy performances though. Bliss places his own distinctive stamp on the familiar tunes and on at least two of the tracks his classical training adds to the performance. To see what I mean, listen in particular to Gordon Jenkins' Goodbye which also boasts tender duetting with the trumpet of Martin Shaw. On the faster numbers such as Avalon the ability to swing, an essential skill with this music, is admirably demonstrated. This track also features the guitar of Colin Oxley to great effect. All in all this is a very good jazz debut album from a very talented musician, ably supported. He's someone to watch in the future and on this evidence highly recommended.
Jerry Brown, Jazz Journal
"Back in the day..." Jazz was America's "pop" music. Remember melody? What ever happened to melody?
Move over Eddie Daniels we have a new shooter on the jazz clarinet front and his name is Julian Bliss. The Julian Bliss Septet and A Tribute To Benny Goodman celebrates not only the virtuoso pioneer of American swing music but captures the vibrant joy of a simple unadorned melody played with feeling and conviction.
The idea for the Septet originated in 2010 with the help of pianist Neal Thornton and thanks to patience not to mention some good ol' fashioned wood shedding we have what could arguably be considered the finest Goodman tribute recording and swing band working today. With tunes that range from "Stompin' At The Savoy" to "Moonglow" the Julian Bliss Septet covers the essential Goodman discography and does so with great care and respect. Other composers covered on tunes closely associated with the Goodman band include Hoagy Carmichael's "Up A Lazy River" and the Jimmy Van Heusen/Johnny Burke tune "Here's That Rainy Day."
Bliss plays with a light hearted approach and with the finesse of a surgeon as does the entire ensemble. What is remarkable about the talent of Bliss is that as a player firmly established on the international concert scene as a "serious" classical artist there seems to be an effortless transformation from classical to jazz without the "stiffness" that has accompanied some artists that have tried to make this jump and failed. Of course no review is complete without a decent back story and in 2007 Julian was invited by Conn Selmer to design a range of affordable clarinets bearing his name. The Bliss range of clarinets is taking off world wide and have received a great deal of praise. From classical to jazz to making music affordable for the next generation, Julian Bliss and his Septet certainly have earned their five stars!
Julian Bliss is surely a case for the progressive education movement, a shining example of nature versus nuture. At the age of five he decided to pick up a clarinet of all things, and learn to play it. His childhood recorder had not hit the spot, a more complex reed was required to blow out the sounds in his head. And so he did, to concert hall standard by the time he was 10, then a spell at the University of Ohio until the age of 12, studying under Howard Klug. Julian, wishing only to play the clarinet, would cut lessons and be found practising in the many rehearsal spaces, devoted to his music. No-one taught him to be this way, neither his mother or father were musical, but supportive when they realised that their son had taken an unusual turn.
Benny Goodman’s childhood was not much different. The child of Polish-Jewish immigrants who settled in Chicago, he was sent to the synagogue to pursue his musical interests. From the age of 10 in 1919 he received two years of classical training and, like Julian, became a strong player, sitting in with bands and learning, soaking up the atmosphere, playing the classical notes so that he could bend them to the prevailing rhythm, jazz, exploding across the nation on tiny discs made from vulcanised rubber, played from large brass horns, firstly in the saloons of the rich, then throughout the world. Sound was born and it changed everything. Enthusiastic dance tunes for a population enjoying the fruits of the stock market boom.
Julian became a classical musician, the highlight of which, he says, was playing for the Queen at her Golden Jubilee in 2002. ‘To walk out on stage to that many people – 12,000 I think it was – in front of the Royal family, and play in their back garden at Buckingham Palace, was surreal, a great privilege.’ I sit in front of this young man in the parlour at The Dean St Townhouse and see someone restless, still searching for the Holy Grail that will define his own musical journey. There is a mercurial element about Julian, at odds with the solidity of his appearance, which is intriguing.
And he’s ready to follow in the footsteps of his idol, Mr Benny Goodman, the bandleader whose skill with the clarinet, whose background in the dance bands of Jazz’s most influential era, is as famed as his attitudes towards discipline.
So when Julian decided to go against the grain and free his playing from its traditional constraints, pages of notes flew up into the air like so many hands, many of them derisive classical critics, questioning the purity of such a decision. After all, he is the young and rising star of the classical world, feted as a genius. Julian seems to accept these nay sayers with a shrug. ‘There will always be those who want me to remain strictly classical, but there is more to my musical ability than just classical music. I love it and there’s no reason I can’t do both.’ His candour is endearing, the fire is under a young man to explore the extensive songbook of his hero. And so he has, releasing his CD ‘A Tribute to Benny Goodman’ made with the septet he put together by word of mouth. In a matter of weeks Neal Thornton (piano) was on board. ‘We spent months listening to every version of each tune we could find, and putting together our own versions while still being mindful of the light and fun feel Goodman captured all those years ago. We then had the task of putting the rest of the band together. We were specifically looking for musicians that had a great interest in the Swing era, and I must say we couldn’t have picked a better set of players.’ Julian’s enthusiasm for his six players is obvious, he seems slightly in awe of the men he leads, the players who follow him, maybe with good reason, because this is a path he has yet to find his feet on. He is as young and bright as the sound of the man he wants to pay tribute to and the recording follows suit; a slightly modernised feel to the original notes may irritate the jazz purists, but this is a requirement for remembrance and the immortality of Benny’s songbook, mere replaying would easily become pastiche and this is, after all, a tribute.
Overall the CD is a sunny, genial account of the man and his music. Listening to Julian’s version is a pleasure, but I do miss the crackle of those old vocal booths on ‘Stompin’ at the Savoy’ and the dancehall renditions, when so many would swing to Benny and his inter-racial band (one of the first), are missing from this recording. I think the inclusion of a live version would have been the ultimate compliment to a man who made so many dance the night away. The final mix is a little too clean for my liking and perhaps there should have been an effort to temper the modernity with a more intimate feel, less crisp and more mellow. The ‘Sheik of Araby’, I feel, would have especially benefited, for as beautiful as the flurry of Julian’s clarinet is, it needs a little backbone, a slight heaviness to counteract the reed. These are minor gripes, however, and could easily be remedied the next time around – or with a little less treble on your stereophonic system.
For me, a young classical clarinetist choosing to follow his leader is the natural order of things for a talent who is still green and tender. There is great pleasure listening to Julian talk about Benny Goodman, long dead, with such enthusiasm. “He was just amazing,” he says, leaning into the conversation with excitement, “of course there are the stories about him being tight and demanding with his band, but only because he was driven to be the best. And I think people forget just how good a clarinet player he really was, when you start listening to him you realise how technically amazing he was. And the fact that most of the time he was just playing off the top of his head, but it didn’t sound that way at all.” To listen to Julian talk, clearly forgetting any pre-advised speech, is refreshing, his love for and interest in music is apparent and as yet untainted by what he ought to do. I hope that this CD is perhaps the beginning of a musical odyssey, it may be Benny Goodman now, the obvious choice, but the world has many artists to offer someone with such fire and raw talent. Ali Farka Toure, Toumani himself? Imagine the plaintive clarinet, less often the star player, with such friends to dance around? Benny himself reverted to the classical universe as he grew older, commissioning Bartok’s ‘Contrasts’, at the violinist Joseph Szigeti’s urging, and awakening a new respect for musicians doing things ‘the wrong way round’ so Julian’s aspirations are in good company.
It’s lunchtime now, and Soho is waking up around us. Julian leaves as politely as he arrives, with a shake of the hand and a note to listen to ‘Love Connection’ by Freddie Hubbard. The interview took exactly an hour and whilst I linger on the way out chatting with aquaintances, Julian is long gone to a rehearsal, his fingers itching to play.
Benny Goodman would be proud.
The Arbuturian, Lavinia Blundell-White
Benny Rides Again! This tribute to the King of Swing is an absolute gem recapturing perfectly the feel of those distant days. Based loosely on the Goodman Sextet although augmented, by the addition of Martin Shaw on trumpet, to a Septet to incorporate some of the big band material - the opening mix of Don't Be That Way and Stomping at the Savoy is particularly, and effectively, well done.
Bliss, better known as a classical clarinettist, turns his attention to the small group works of Benny Goodman just as BG himself made forays into the classical repertoire.
With a hand-picked team, the spirit of the thirties and forties exudes from each track without loss of individuality.
The leader, a child prodigy at 5 and now 23, displays an innate affinity to the music producing a near perfect clarinet sound and, despite his classical upbringing, no lack of swing. Jim Hart once again proves his ability to handle any musical situation although he has had previous experience of the Goodman canon with Alan Barnes. Colin Oxley, not unknown in this neck of the woods, slots easily into the Charlie Christian role with impressive soloing and comping whilst Martin Shaw plays himself not attempting to go down the brash Harry James/Ziggy Elman path. His poignant duet with Bliss on Goodbye conveys the sadness of the Gordon Jenkins' tune.
Neal and Tim Thornton (are they related?*) on piano and bass, alongside the ubiquitous Matt Skelton, fill out the rhythm section making this a very tight ship as indeed all Goodman units were.
The King is dead - Long live the King!
A worthy tribute.
*Neal and Tim Thornton are father and son and this is their first record together.
Bebop Spoken Here, Lance