I’ve mentioned before that I sometimes regret dumping all my old vinyl LPs in favor of CDs (most recently in Bye-Bye To Brubeck Bossa Nova). Another of those missing albums came to mind today. It was an odd-looking one — transparent gold instead of black — recorded by a bandleader that I assumed at the time was sort of small potatoes. But I later realized that Dave Pell was the real thing — and he’s still performing, even in the new millennium.
At that time I was pretty much convinced that the big names — guys like Benny Goodman, Tommy Dorsey, and Artie Shaw — were the only ones who mattered. And even a little later, when Dave Brubeck drew me to a different kind of jazz, I still didn’t catch on to the fact that Dave Pell was a very important transitional figure in jazz.
Pell certainly paid his dues in the big band era, spending time during World War II as a teenage sax man in a number of bands, including those of Bob Crosby and Bobby Sherwood. After the war he continued to pick up experience by becoming a regular member of Les Brown’s popular band, and eventually began to form and lead his own groups.
Although he was a native New Yorker, the young musician had become a regular part of the burgeoning California jazz scene by the mid-1950s. Usually fronting an octet, Pell was able to give fans everything from big band standards to modern jazz, and he sold a lot of records before eventually turning most of his attention to producing. However, in subsequent decades he has often reconvened his octet and produced some outstanding sounds, and he still makes the occasional live appearance.