If you remember the Tonight Show during the Johnny Carson years, you might also recall that it was well-known as a place to hear good jazz, especially that played by a big band. Johnny was a fan himself, and he always made sure that the show’s band was fully supported. That made it a really solid gig for some of the best musicians around, and a showplace for guest stars too.
The Tonight Show and its music came to mind as I listened to Louie & Clark Expedition 2, a new album on the Percussion Power label. After all, not only did the stars of the album – drummer Louie Bellson and trumpeter Clark Terry – often play on the show, but another familiar name from those days was also associated with this album.
Tommy Newson was a fine musician and even led the show’s band at times, but was better known as a good-natured comic foil for Carson. Before his untimely death in early 2007, he provided many of the arrangements for the pieces on this album, which were all written by Bellson.
But the connection with the Tonight Show is just the tip of the proverbial iceberg for Bellson and Terry, because both have had very long and storied careers that date back to the days of the big bands. Both have led their own groups at times, and also played with many of the greats, including Ellington, Goodman, and Basie.
It’s that big band sound that they’ve turned to with this album, and they haven’t spared the horsepower, with a 17-piece group of pros that would have been right at home in the era. The album begins with Bellson’s four-movement “Chicago Suite,” an ambitious work that not surprisingly is percussion-heavy. In fact, when one of the best jazz drummers of all time is writing the music, it would be more surprising if any of the pieces here were not drum-centric.
On the other hand, Clark Terry’s trumpet – and occasionally his flugelhorn – gets plenty of opportunity to earn a share of the spotlight on other tracks, including the thoroughly enjoyable “Terry’s Mood.” I also enjoyed “Two Guys And A Gal,” which features guest drummers Kenny Washington and Sylvia Cuenca joining Bellson for a outstanding and unusual drum threesome.
The album is filled with a baker’s dozen enjoyable big band tunes, all written by Bellson. I would have liked to have heard this group of seasoned pros handling a few old jazz standards too, but Bellson has earned the right to populate the album his way. Good stuff from a couple of legends who are not quite ready to hang it up.