Rick Lawn: Remembering Manny Albam

REMEMBERING MANNY ALBAM

I had the pleasure of studying with Manny Albam in the 1970s at the Eastman School of Music and considered him a mentor and a friend. I was among the many who mourned his loss in 2001 shortly after 9/11. For those of you who may not be familiar with his career, a short but accurate tribute by Peter Keepnews was printed in the New York Times at the time of his death: (http://www.nytimes.com/2001/10/06/arts/manny-albam-79-jazz-composer-and-player.html?_r=0)

More detail about his career can be found at: http://mannyalbammusic.com/biography/

Manny was not only a gifted composer/arranger, as confirmed by his peers and several Grammy nominations, he was a wonderful human being and a joy to work with. Looking back, I treasure my time with Manny and his music that I had the pleasure to perform. I’ve come to realize how much his teachings influenced my own writing and philosophy about composing, arranging and teaching.

Recently I embarked on a project to digitize some of the videos I had collected over the years and especially those from my time as Director of Jazz Studies at The University of Texas where we had entertained many guest artists during my 21-year stay.  I discovered a recording of a seminar that Manny presented in “the jazz room” at UT while he was in residence. The residency in the early 1990s culminated in a performance of his “Nostalgico” featuring graduate student Paul Haar on alto sax (Director of Jazz Studies at University of Nebraska) and the UT Studio Orchestra. Throughout the first lengthy segment of this seminar Manny discusses, among other things, the importance of knowing why we compose, the stories we must tell, and how we tell them through music. He used movements from his Soul of the City Solid State recording to illustrate his points. He played examples from Soul of the City in the seminar and, while they are third generation acoustic recordings of substandard quality by today’s standards, they are sufficient to stimulate your curiosity and illustrate his points.

I know other composers will agree that looking back on Manny’s vast collection of work, this suite of pieces stands out as some of his very best work and fortunately is still available from Amazon or iTunes on a reissued recording entitled Sketches of Jazz - Music From the Book of Life (“Soul of the City is the first 9 tracks). Many of his other recordings, including West Side Story that Leonard Bernstein praised, are still available as reissues, often on non-American labels. I invite you to pick up a copy of these recordings while they are still available.

I think one of the amazing aspects of these nine tracks is that so much can be expressed in under 5 minutes and Manny was a master of the short form. I find it astonishing how much ground Manny covers musically in the course of one of these pieces that range from 2:48 to 5:56. By today’s standards these lengths might seem like introductions. In some ways we may have been ruined by digital formats that allow us to run on and on.  Manny was clearly a master of the 3 – 5 minute piece that communicates a great deal of music in such a short time. There may be a message and lesson here for all of us and especially students – try writing a piece that is 3 to 5 minutes long yet flows, tells a full story, provides ample space for soloist(s) and has all the earmarks of a well developed score.  It’s harder than you might think to work under these constraints.

While the Rutgers Institute of Jazz Studies archive offers a catalogue to Manny’s collection of scores and parts housed at the Institute, sadly the scores from Soul of the City and West Side Story are among the missing items. I have been working with his daughter in hopes of resurrecting these scores, and possibly others, so that they can once again might be performed and analyzed for instructional purposes. These pieces also offer an excellent lesson in writing for strings and augmented brass sections, especially French Horns. Nothing in the nine pieces that comprise Soul of the City could be considered outdated by today’s standards. It is timely music interpreted by the most outstanding musicians of the day (1966) including Phil Woods, JJ Johnson, Freddie Hubbard, Richard Davis, and others.

Manny was so attuned to his surroundings and sensitive to the human condition that I have to wonder what he would be writing today. I wish we knew, but somehow I think he would find the humor in it all.

Links to the circa 1992 Manny Albam seminar:

Part 1 -  https://youtu.be/mG2TaEsPqxo

 

Part 2 - https://youtu.be/mNpN-UVV3vE

Rick Lawn 10/9/16

As an addendum to the above, only days after writing this short introduction to the You Tube videos of Manny’s seminar I am happy to report that I have finally found the scores and parts for these classic pieces! I’ll keep the community informed about possible next steps.

About the Author:

Richard (Rick) Lawn

Richard (Rick) Lawn

Richard (Rick) Lawn has received several significant composition grants from the National Endowment of the Arts and, as a member of the Nova Saxophone Quartet, has recorded on the Musical Heritage Society, Crystal and Equilibrium labels. The Sea Breeze record label issued “Unknown Soldiers,” a CD recorded by the Third Coast Jazz Orchestra that features his compositions and arrangements including his arrangement of “Donna Lee” recorded by Bobby Sanabria’s New York Latin big band on his 2001 Grammy nominated CD. In fall 2011 his Philadelphia based little big band Power of Ten10 released Earth Tones that includes his original compositions and arrangements. The CD received coast-to-coast radio play and favorable reviews.

Kendor Music, CL Barnhouse, Walrus Music, Concept Music, Alfred Music, eJazzlines, Warwick Music, Dorn, LawnWorks Publications and UNC Press among others publish his music. Rick’s books entitled The Jazz Ensemble Directors Manual (in its 4th edition), Jazz Theory and Practice in its 2nd edition (that includes interactive ear training software) and Experiencing Jazz now in its 2nd edition have become staples among jazz educators and students.

Rick’s performing experiences outside his own ensembles include extended engagements with Lionel Hampton, Chuck Mangione, the Rochester Philharmonic, and the Austin Symphony others. He has performed in back-up orchestras for Dizzy Gillespie, Ray Charles, Joe Williams, Natalie Cole, Marian McPartland, The Temptations, The Four Tops, Dianne Schuur, Rosemary Clooney, Aretha Franklin and a host of others.

Richard Lawn is the former Dean of the College of Performing Arts at The University of the Arts in Philadelphia where he is now Professor Emeritus and part-time faculty member teaching jazz history online. He also teaches online for VanderCook College of Music in Chicago. Recetly Rick has become involved with the International Society of Arrangers and Composers. Formerly, he was affiliated with the University of Texas at Austin serving as Founding Director of Jazz Studies, Chair of the Department of Music, and Associate Dean for academic affairs. Visit his Web site at: http://www.RickLawn.com.