Memories of Manny Albam

In the summer of 1987 after spending about a year arranging for big band at what is now Baldwin Wallace University, Rayburn Wright admitted me to an intermediate summer jazz arranging course at the Eastman School of Music.  He felt that I would only benefit from the experience than sitting at home trying to figure things out on my own based on my limited time composing. He was correct. My teacher for the two weeks was Manny Albam. The highlight of the class was hearing his music with the scores in front of us. Manny held up a pencil on the what was probably the first day of class and reminded us as arrangers that this was our instrument and we needed to practice everyday. At some point in his career he set his saxophone down and focused exclusively on composing. Manny was prolific as a composer.  At one point in his career from what I can recall he mentioned that for a period of five years he had composed two charts a week.  During one class he recounted the grueling work schedule surrounding the making of his West Side Story album.  Manny wrote all night long in order to make recording sessions each morning followed by mixing in the afternoon. By evening, work began writing once again for the next days session.  The album was completed in a week. Manny’s copyist had a dual role of preparing parts from his score and keep him from nodding off before each nights work was done. I gathered from hearing him tell the story that very little sleep of any kind took place that week.  Leonard Bernstein was impressed enough by the recording to invite him to write for the New York Philharmonic.   His Westside Story recording is a nice contrast to the work of Johnny Richards version for the Stan Kenton Orchestra. One day Manny put a score in front of us and described what we were about to hear on the recording. The recording pretty much put my jaw on the floor. He had the three horn sections of the big band playing all 12 notes of the chromatic scale within the range of an octave and they were swinging hard through a series of phrases. It was not as dissonant as I would have expected. His orchestration of each section of the band made that possible. His use of colors in orchestration show great attention to details and sensitivity to his arrangements as a whole. If you are not familiar with his work, I recommend in addition to the West Side Story Album, that you listen to the Brass on Fire  album in which the sax section of a big band is replaced by a french horn section and The Drum Suite which featured four drummers whose parts were mostly written out. You can read more about these albums as well as The Blues is Everybody’s Business and  The Soul of the City on the Thursday, December 29, 2011 entry of jazzprofiles.

Those interested in studying his scores can purchase some of his works from ejazzlines.com or approximately 500 holograph scores and parts for small groups, big band, Studio, Symphony and Chamber Orchestras at the Institute of Jazz Studies at the Rutgers University Libraries. An appointment with Collections Specialists is necessary.

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