By Dee Dee McNeil

November 1, 2021

Tony Bennett is scheduled to take a final bow and retire from the music business after the release of his duet album with famed pop star, Lady Gaga.  He’s had a royal career, spanning over eight decades and counting.  On this past August 3rd, Anthony Dominick Benedetto turned ninety-five years old.  He’s spent nearly eighty years of his life pursuing music.In 1926, Tony’s father, John Benedetto and his mother, Anna (Suraci) Benedetto welcomed little Anthony into the world at St. John’s Episcopal Hospital in Long Island, Queens, New York.  His father was a grocer and originally arrived in the United States in 1906, leaving behind his beloved province of Podargoni, Reggio; a rural district of that Southern Italian city in Calabria. Tony’s mother was a seamstress.   Although Tony Bennett’s father died when his son was only ten, he had already instilled in young Anthony a love of literature, art and music.  At thirteen, the talented youngster began working professionally in local, New York Italian restaurants as a singing waiter.  He claims to have been greatly influenced by Nat King Cole and Bing Crosby.  In 1944, Bennett was drafted into the United States Army and fought in World War II.  He served his country as an infantry rifleman on the front lines. Upon returning to civilian life, Anthony Benedetto’s amazing voice would soon lift him from struggle to millionaire status.  However, it took hard work, a little luck and support from his peers.  One supporter was African-American songstress and actress, Pearl Bailey, who loved Anthony Benedetto’s vocal style.  She invited him to become her opening act at a local Greenwich Village club.  One evening, Bob Hope happened to pop into the club and caught Tony’s act.  Bob was impressed with young Benedetto’s voice.  Mr. Hope was also part of a demanding entertainment industry that encouraged the young, pop singer to shorten his name.  In fact, Hope was the one that finally persuaded the rising star to change Anthony to Tony and Benedetto to Bennett.  Then he swooped him up and took Tony on the road with his Bob Hope touring company.  In 1951, Tony Bennett had his first hit record with the Mitch Miller orchestra, “Because of You,” on Columbia Records and arranged by Percy Faith.  It was his big break into the music business.’s strong, beautiful, baritone voice knew how to make the lyrics believable and the songs memorable.  He had a full, vocal range and could move effortlessly from his warm chest register, suddenly soaring into his tenor voice to hit high notes that were tinged with emotion.  Tony followed his first hit with a few more popular songs, one called “Rags to Riches.”  As his career grew, several jazz musicians took notice.  Among them was Count Basie. In the late fifties, Bennett recorded an album with the Count called “Basie Swings, Bennett Sings.” would be another decade before Tony Bennett landed another huge hit record.  This one would put him over the top and endear him to the world of jazz and beyond.  The song was, “I Left My Heart In San Francisco.” It became an overnight success.  Both the single release and the album were certified gold records.  That song won Tony Bennett a Grammy “Record of the Year” award and he walked away with the “Best Male Solo Vocal Performance Award.”   The crooner’s cool, smooth demeanor captivated audiences worldwide.  Below, he’s televised on the historic Judy Garland Show.  Even then, he enjoyed performing duets with other iconic artists. Bennett has always had the respect and admiration of top entertainers across the globe.  Even Frank Sinatra once was quoted in Life Magazine saying: “For my money, Tony Bennett is the best singer in the business, the best exponent of a song.  He excites me when I watch him.  He moves me.”   At one point, Tony recorded a cross-over, pop song called “Blue Velvet.”  That record attracted the teenaged market.  Screaming young people filled the seats of the Paramount Theater in New York, where Tony Bennett was performing seven shows a day, starting at ten-thirty in the morning.  But Tony wasn’t interested in recording top 40 and contemporary music like some of his peers were doing.  In 1957, after three number one ‘torch’ songs had climbed the Billboard charts and Tony’s voice was familiar to radio listeners across the nation, he hired Ralph Sharon to be his Musical Director.  Ralph encouraged Bennet to lean more towards the jazzy side of the music industry.  With Ralph Sharon’s guidance and arranging skills, the two men prepared a concert for a June 1962 Carnegie Hall appearance.  Tony Bennett was the first, male, pop singer and recording artist to work at Carnegie Hall.  He knew this could be a turning point in his career.  Consequently, his ensemble included jazz greats like Kenny Burrell on guitar, along with Ralph Sharon’s trio and jazz saxophonist Al Cohn.   Tony sang his torch songs, but added standard jazz tunes like “I’ve Got the World on a String” and “The Best is Yet to Come” to show he could ‘swing’ with the best of them.  All in all, the Carnegie Hall Concert included forty-four songs and was a huge success.  Suddenly, Tony Bennett was the talk of the town. The next thing Tony knew, his manager was getting calls from Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show, offering the popular vocalist a spot on the most popular, late-night, television program in America.The late sixties and 1970s were difficult years for crooners like Tony Bennett.  Rock and Roll popularity exploded and his record company pressured him to sing covers of those chart-topping songs.  He and his musical conductor, Ralph Sharon, parted ways and Tony allowed himself to be guided down that contemporary path.  He released an album of ‘cover tunes’ for Columbia called, “Tony Sings the Great Songs of Today.”  It was not only unsuccessful, but it pained Tony to his core.  Some say he became physically ill before going into the studio to sing those Rock songs.  It was the last straw.  In 1972 he cut ties with Columbia Records and in the mid-seventies, Tony established his own label; “Improv.” In 1975, he and the great Bill Evans released the “Tony Bennett/Bill Evans Album.”  Even with that stellar pairing of super talents, Bennett couldn’t get national distribution with a major record label. Unfortunately, by 1977 his small jazz label was out of business. ups and downs of the music business took their toll on Tony.  There were rumors of drug abuse and his records weren’t selling.  He got into trouble with the IRS for delinquent taxes and, in 1989, the great voice of Tony Bennett seemed to be invisible.  That’s when his son came to his father’s rescue.Danny Bennett, also a vocalist and a working musician, realized his dad was floundering in his career.  Danny and his brother, Dae, (a competent studio engineer) had started a group called “Quacky Duck and his Barnyard Friends.”  They weren’t particularly successful.  Danny realized that what he lacked in musical talent he had gained in learning the business of music.  He was a smart businessman and offered to become his father’s manager.  That became a turning point in both father and son’s careers. Tony reunited with his friend, pianist and musical conductor, Ralph Sharon.  Danny moved his father from Las Vegas back to New York and negotiated a new deal with Columbia Records, finally giving Tony Bennett complete creative control.  That move resulted in a hit record, “The Art of Excellence.”  Tony Bennett was back on-track! Bennett’s brilliant idea of pairing his dad with younger, iconic entertainers put Tony Bennett’s brilliant voice back on the airwaves and shining in a new, contemporary spotlight.  His 1994 MTV Unplugged album went platinum and garnered Tony two more Grammy Awards to place on his shelf.  He won the Best Traditional Pop Vocal Performance Grammy Award for the third straight year.  Also, Bennett won the top Grammy prize, securing “Album of the Year. “Today, Tony Bennett has too many awards to list them all.  He’s won twenty Grammy Awards over the years, including a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award and two Prime-time Emmy Awards.  He is a Kennedy Center Honoree and has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.   Celebrated as a sincere humanitarian, Tony was proud to be inducted into the International Civil Rights Walk of Fame.  After all, he marched with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. for civil rights and supported the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.  The Martin Luther King Center celebrated Bennett with their Salute to Greatness Award.  Tony was also honored by the United Nations with a Citizen of the World Award.  Additionally, he was commissioned twice as a visual artist by the United Nations. Yes!  Tony Bennett is also an amazing artist.  One of his paintings celebrates the fiftieth anniversary of the United Nations organization.  Bennett is one of seventy voices who sang on the “We Are the World for Haiti” project. world is a better place because Tony Bennett sang in it.  Sadly, in 2016, this great jazz and pop singer, who so wonderfully interpreted the Great American Songbook, was diagnosed with Alzheimer Disease.  Consequently, the announcement was made that he will retire after this recent September 30, 2021 release of his “Cheek to Cheek” recording, featuring pop star, Lady Gaga. Jazz Scene is proud to celebrate the amazing life and important contributions that Tony Bennett has made to jazz, to his community and to the world. As a musical genius, a visual artist, an activist and as a proud Italian-American, he has impacted our world-community.  Mr. Bennett has gifted us with sixty-one studio albums, eleven ‘live’ recordings, thirty-three compilation albums, three video albums and eighty-three single releases.* Tony Bennett will always be one we hold dear as jazz royalty.  

By Dee Dee McNeil

September 1, 2021

I was expectant and excited when I heard that Harold Land, our beloved Los Angeles-based, tenor saxophone icon, will be part of a new project. A record company that calls itself Reel to Real Recordings launched in 2017. Its mission is to unearth important and previously unreleased jazz performances. Their focus is on important archival and legendary artists. Already in line to become recordings are concerts by Cannonball Adderley, Etta Jones, Johnny Griffin, Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis, and George Coleman’s Quintet.

Harold Land’s project was released this summer. Reel to Real Recordings unearthed Land’s amazing concerts performed in Seattle. They were recorded at the Penthouse jazz club way back in 1962 through 1965. This album is called “Westward Bound!” It’s part of a planned series of historic music releases, under the direction of Cory Weeds and Zev Feldman, partners of the Reel to Reel label.

Engineer, Jim Wilke, has preserved some of Harold Land’s best work, during ‘live’ performances with three different bands. One quintet is inclusive of the Montgomery Brothers, Buddy on piano and Monk on bass, along with drummer Jimmy Lovelace, Kansas City trumpeter, Carmell Jones, and Harold Land as bandleader. This music was honed from a weekly broadcast on KING-FM radio over half a century ago. I agree with Zev Feldman, co-president of Resonance Records and a partner in Reel to Reall Recordings when he said:

“I feel that these recordings of Harold Land are special and need to be heard. Land was one of the purveyors of West Coast jazz, whom I feel is an under-recognized genius who doesn’t get discussed enough,” Feldman praised the tenor saxophone master.

On the opening number, “Vindetta,” Carmell Jones on trumpet and Harold land on tenor sax come straight out the gate like Santa Anita race horses. After working so long with trumpet genius, Clifford Brown, it’s no wonder that on some of these concert performances, Harold Land has included a trumpeter in his group. This original composition by Harold swings hard. Bassist, Monk Montgomery, is powerful beneath the excitement, walking his upright bass and holding the rhythm in place along with Jimmy Lovelace on drums. Pianist Buddy Montgomery is tasty and creative as his fingers skip along the piano keys.

Born December 18, 1928, Harold de Vance Land was a native of Houston, Texas but his family relocated to San Diego, California when he was in the first grade. He got a late start on his instrument, deciding to pursue the tenor saxophone at age sixteen. His gift on the instrument was immediately noticeable. Just five years later, he landed a record deal with the Harold Land All-Stars for Savoy Records. According to journalist, Jim Trageser, the record offer was the result of Harold playing with trumpeter, Fro Brigham’s band. When the band was offered a record deal, Brigham pushed Harold Land’s name to the forefront as their bandleader.* He was only twenty-one years old.

Note: Reference: *On-line San Diego Troubador/July 2021

Sometime between 1954 and 1955, Harold Land moved to Los Angeles. That’s where his talent was noticed by a young trumpeter making a big commotion on the bebop scene; the iconic Clifford Brown.

Thus, was born the Brown-Roach collaboration and band. The band members were as close as brothers and Harold even relocated to Philadelphia to live with the group’s pianist, Richie Powell (brother of Bud Powell). However, Harold Land grew homesick and perhaps was concerned about his then pregnant wife, so he returned to Los Angeles. Consequently, he was replaced by Sonny Rollins.

That move to Los Angeles could have saved Harold Land’s life. Just a year after he returned to L. A., a horrific car crash killed Clifford Brown, Richie Powell and Richie’s wife. In 1956, on a rain-slick Pennsylvania Turnpike, while driving to a gig in Chicago, the three suffered a deadly accident. One of the few, if only known taping of trumpet prodigy Clifford Brown, was from an appearance on the Detroit-based Soupy Sales Show. The band is behind the curtain with Clifford out front and interviewed briefly by Soupy after his performance.

Harold Land has a warm, buttery sound on his saxophone. He and Carmell Jones worked together regularly on sessions for Pacific Jazz Records. It’s good to hear their camaraderie on this “Westward Bound” release from Reel to Real. On “Beep Durple” (a take-off of the popular jazz tune, Deep Purple) Carmell Jones penned this original composition. Drummer, Jimmy Lovelace, propels this bebop tune forward on his trap drums and Monk Montgomery sticks with him like Velcro, pumping his walking bass vigorously.

This historic album is made up of various bands and concerts that Harold Land performed in Seattle. The tune “My Romance” issues in a new quartet made up of Hampton Hawes on piano and Los Angeles based drummer, Mel Lee. Montgomery remains the bassist and this lovely ballad unfolds with Hampton Hawes performing an ear-catching introduction on piano. The group continues on the Hawes composition, “Triplin’ the Groove.” This song brings us back to the wonderful blues roots that Harold Land grew from, blossoming into a bright and beautiful flower on his tenor sax.

When bass man, Curtis Counce invited Land to join his band, Harold said yes and worked with them between 1956 and 1958. In January of 1958, Harold Land recorded as a bandleader for Contemporary Records an album called, “Harold in the Land of Jazz.” At that time, he was working with Leroy Vinegar on bass, Frank Butler on drums, Carl Perkins on piano and Rolf Ericson on trumpet. The album cover featured the legendary Watts Towers looming behind Harold playing his tenor sax.

“The Fox” was released in 1959 and is one of Land’s stellar recordings. You clearly hear his hard-bop prowess sparkling on these albums. In 1959, he recorded “Grooveyard” on Contemporary Records and in 1960, for Jazzland Records he made the “Eastward Ho! Harold land in New York with Kenny Dorham” album.

Harold also worked with the Shorty Rogers’ Giants in 1961. All through the 1960s, Harold Land was in demand as a studio session musician. He also worked regularly with Red Mitchell throughout 1961 and 1962. Some of you may remember it was Red Mitchell who helped to advance Ornette Coleman’s early jazz career. As Harold Land’s reputation grew, he answered a number of calls to work with A-list jazz musicians. He co-led a band with Bobby Hutcherson from 1969 to 1971.

One of my favorite albums by Harold Land is “A Lazy Afternoon” released in 1995, conducted and arranged by the great Ray Ellis with our beloved Bill Henderson (Kamon) on piano as part of Land’s specialized rhythm section. These beautiful ballads, (made famous by Billie Holiday) showed the softer, more romantic side of Harold Land.

You can really hear how Harold Land was influenced by John Coltrane on his arrangement of “Invitation” recorded in Germany during a live performance with his “All Stars” group at the Subway Jazz Club in Cologne. His band is stuffed with legendary talent including L.A.’s own, Billy Higgins on drums, Cedar Walton on piano and Buster Williams brilliant on bass.

The final tunes, on this re-discovered “Westward Bound!” project, were recorded with John Houston on piano and the explosive Philly Joe Jones on drums. Monk Montgomery is still on bass and this quartet was recorded on August 5 of 1965 at the Penthouse jazz club. You hear Land’s breathy tenderness on his tenor as he explores “Who Can I Turn To?” Every cut on this album is an individual masterpiece and celebrates the talent and mastery of Harold Land Sr.

Land was a professor at the University of California, Los Angeles. He joined the UCLA Jazz Studies Program as a lecturer in 1996 to teach Instrumental Jazz Combo.

“Harold Land was one of the major contributors in the history of the jazz saxophone,” said jazz guitarist Kenny Burrell, founder and director of the UCLA Jazz Studies Program.

Harold Land left this Earth in July of 2001 after suffering a terminal stroke. This historic album continues to sing his legacy.