These days, if you are looking for big band Jazz, more than likely you don’t have to look any farther than your local community college or four year university.

It seems they all have a Jazz program made up of contingent individual courses that coalescence into a larger performing ensemble.

In addition to degreed music educators, many academic big bands are led by distinguished musicians who have taken on teaching to supplement their income or by musicians who have “retired into” teaching.

Of course there are many exceptions, yet I think this generalization largely holds true.

But there was a time when if you wanted to play in a big band, you could join a local rehearsal band led by a dedicated individual who “always wanted to have my own band.” [Another generalization, but you get the idea]. 

Of course, there also was a time when big bands were everywhere and dispensed the popular music of the nation to a universally adoring populace through recordings, radio broadcasts and ballroom appearances.

Although relatively short lived, the big bands of the Swing Era held sway from about 1930-1950 and shaped the musical tastes of many teenagers who grew up during this era such that their dream was to one day “lead their own band.”

This was an easier-said-than-done proposition as the logistics involved in establishing and maintaining a big band are daunting, especially after the public taste in music moved away from Swing Era music and the commercial opportunities to play at proms, parties and private celebrations were lost to Rock ‘n Roll bands, folk singers and country & western groups.

One of the reasons that big bands migrated to college campuses is that this solves some of the major problems associated with keeping a big band: the students become the band’s personnel; the college band room its music hall for rehearsals; the music department’s budget becomes the source for funding the arrangements the band plays.

But if you were a teenager smittened by the big band bug while coming of age in the 1930s and 1940s, you alone had to solve the problems of staffing a band [and keeping it together once you’ve done so], finding a time and a place to rehearse and generating the arrangements for the band to play - among a lot of other details!

Fortunately, for those able to persevere beyond the Swing Era, there were still opportunities for big bands to become modestly successful through the sale of recordings, television appearances and in performances at local theme parks and outdoor dance pavilions. But it was never easy to keep such bands together and grew less so over time.

You can gain a sense of the trials and tribulations associated with “leading my own band” from the following insert notes booklets to his Fresh Sound recording - The Swinginest Dance Band: Dan Terry and His Orchestra, 1952-1963 [FSR CD 929]. Born in 1924, Dan was one of those starry-eyed youngsters who grew up fascinated with the big bands and never lost his passion for them.

Incidentally, while strictly speaking since it is not labeled as such this recording could be considered one of Jordi’s “Rare and Collectible Albums by Unsung Bandleaders.” Many of these combine two LPs by different bandleaders on one CD and are joyously restored on digital sound replete with old album covers and photos of band members, many of whom were destined to become major figures in Jazz.

I have included a number of the CD covers for this series in the blog sidebar and you can find order information on the Fresh Sound website via this link. 

“Bandleader and trumpeter Dan Terry (his real name was Daniel Kostraba) was born in Kingston, Pennsylvania on the 22nd of December of 1924. His musical background goes back to his childhood, when he picked up a good deal about music from his father, a choir-master and violinist. During Dan's high school days he fronted a small group and took solo spots on the trumpet. After graduation he moved to New York, where from February to May 1943 he played with Muggsy Spanier's big band, a short period in which his trumpet-playing won speedy recognition.

During his service with the Marine Corps, he played with various dance bands, including Dick Jurgens' service group, and when he was discharged in September 1944 he moved to Los Angeles. Once back in the West Coast, he took over the leadership of the Hollywood Teenagers Band, and changed his name to Dan Terry. In 1948 he moved again to New York for eight months, playing with such famous bandleaders as Larry Clinton and later with Sonny Dunham.

In 1949 he decided to further his musical studies and entered the Conservatory of the College of the Pacific in Stockton, California, where he developed and polished many of the musical ideas he would later present in his own bands. While there he led a dance band with two vocalists Ramona Carr, and Tom Kenney, which played in local spots.

Terry was the first to admit that he still had a lot to learn, but he had no trouble accepting what he learned from each new engagement. He was constantly experimenting with the presentation of the band and just as constantly scraping those ideas which were without value. This open-minded attitude, free of the egotistical short-sightedness of others in the business, would be another contributing factor to his success. "I've got a band that wants to rehearse," he said, "they ball me out if I skip a day. The office and the promoters are happy with the business I'm doing and I'm doing just what I want to do. The band does swing." Dan felt that everything they played should be that way.

In July 1951 after playing with his own crew in Chicago and St. Louis, he decided to add some gimmicks. The actor Jack Cathcart staged the band and set up choreography production numbers so that Terry could put in a 60-minute floor show nightly. Charlie Shirley, Billy Maxted and Frank Hunter were the arrangers. He opened with a new band at the King Philip ballroom, Wrentham, Mass. "I like to see lots of action, a whole series of pictures on the bandstand." The crew consisted of six brass, five reeds, three rhythm and one or two vocalists.

Terry was able to lead his audience constantly without making them aware of any pressure. His ability as a front man was unquestionably great. He played a little solo trumpet, and some first trumpet with the section, but he spent most of his time fronting the band. The band was novel in various ways. Operating on the principle that the dancers want to be friends with musicians, Dan and his sidemen circulated around the hall between sets talking to fans and making friends.

Having settled in Los Angeles from the spring of 1952, Dan organized a new orchestra, a 16-piece band, gathering some of the finest players on the West Coast, including trumpeters Pete Candoli and Ollle Mitchell, drummer Larry Bunker, valve-trombone and tenor sax player Bob Enevoldsen, trombonist Jimmy Priddy, and altoists Clint Neagley and Herb Steed, among others. He also hired one of the most prominent new arrangers on the West Coast jazz scene: Marty Paich. The new Dan Terry Orchestra, with girl vocalist Beverly Moran, was engaged to play every night at the Club Oasis, at 3801 Western Avenue, South Hollywood. As a result of the increasing success of its performances, in June, Terry's modern-styled West Coast dance-band recorded two singles, produced by Terry himself, for a small label called Vita, based in Pasadena. There were some changes in the personnel for these recordings; Shelly Manne (drummer of Howard Rumsey's unit at Hermosa Beach Lighthouse), Lloyd Ulyate and Fred Otis, replaced Bunker, Fitzpatrick and the regular band's pianist.

It's very interesting in this CD to hear the band playing these early scores by Marty Paich, because they already show the characteristic sound that would distinguish his style of orchestration. Marty not only sketched the arranging for the session but also contributed two smash original compositions. The opening Wail Tail is a good example of the group's unity, a swinging tune in which the solos are by the talented Bob Enevoldsen on valve-trombone, Pete Candoli on trumpet, and Fred Otis on piano, Terry Cloth, the second Paich original, keeps the orchestra all the way in a stimulating and danceable swinging boppish mood and has some slick ensemble work. The tune became a hit, on which Clint Neagley on alto sax, Terry on trumpet and Otis on piano took full advantage of its swinging structure in their solos. The other Paich arrangements are two ballads, the familiar Autumn in New York and the gentle Free Again. This second one features the band's vocalist Beverly Moran, while Dan Terry keeps the mood mellow in both standards with clean and melodic solo trumpets. After these recordings the band still remained together for about a year, playing some other local gigs but it was difficult to keep the band together financially, and it was finally disbanded.

 

Later in 1953, Dan Terry met the trumpeter and prolific arranger Gene Roland, a native of Dallas, Texas. Roland was a product of North Texas State teacher's college, and was Stan Kenton's arranger for eight years; he also wrote for such bands as Count Basie, Woody Herman and Charlie Barnet. Dan, who wanted to organize a big 18-piece band and take it on the road, asked Roland to build a book with twenty swinging arrangements. The repertory was made up mostly of Roland's original compositions, and was conceived with much more commercial intentions in mind, than the initial Marty Paich book.

To rehearse these extrovert Roland scores, Terry put together a band made up of young West Coast studio musicians and outstanding soloists. The result was a breezy and eminently danceable band, with a modern musical language. In addition to five reeds, nine brass, and four rhythm, the band carried a vocalist, Don Gordon, and a singing group, the Terrytones. "It's the swinginest band," said Terry. "Even the ballads swing. It has the excitement, I think, that characterized the great band period. And today as well, to get people to dance, you have to swing right down the middle."

In January, at the suggestion of pop album boss George Avakian, Terry signed with Columbia Records. The Dan Terry band entered the recording studios in February 1954, doing three consecutive dates handled by the Columbia West Coast a&r staffer Gene Becker. It produced eighteen tracks, all of them included in this CD compilation. Eight of the tunes were first released on a Columbia 10-inch LP entitled "Teen-Age Dance Session", and the rest on a 12-inch Harmony LP called "Teen Age Dance Party". Nine of these titles were also issued on 45rpin singles. Another one, Southern Fried, came out only in that format. These singles became very popular around all the jukeboxes of the West Coast. There is a freshness and vitality in these Roland's arrangements, and in the playing, that kept modern dance music in the solid tradition. Led by Terry, one of the foremost exponents of growl-style trumpet (Denim Blues, Jelly Bean, Seventeen), the band offered a clean, neat style set off by its irresistible rhythms. A clear example of Terry's youthful enthusiasm and excitement with his big band is Terry's Tune, the orchestra's theme song, a fine driving number that shows off the entire band and its swinging touch.

The lead trumpet section was the great Conrad Gozzo, who had been for a considerable period a leading light of the West Coast school of jazz. Under Gozzo's direction the brass marches with his own special brand of floating ease and inescapable power. The solid togetherness of the trombone section features Milt Bernhart (Losy Alley and Seventeen) and Jimmy Knepper (Levi Leap). The sax section is composed of altoists Herb Geller (Saddle Shoe Shuffle and White Buck Special) and Bud Shank (Seventeen), tenorists Gil Bernal and Joe Maini, and Dave Madden on baritone. It was a potent team enhanced by Herb, a leader who adds fire and drive to the band with his freely swinging solos (Saddle Shoe Shuffle, White Buck Special, Levi Leap and Southern Fried). On tenor sax Gil Bernal creates enormous excitement with his solo work (Terry's Tune, Saddle Shoe Shuffle, Goofin' Blues, White Buck Special and Teen-Ager) as well do Joe Maini (Saddle Shoe Shuffle-second solo-, Goofin’ the Blues, Totem Pole). Dave Madden (Levi Leap) on baritone gives a strong bottom to the ensemble. The rhythm section comprises pianist Fred Otis, extremely effective on simple rhythmic solos, while bassist Joe Mondragon and drummer Alvin Stoller are the ones who provide the band's strong beat.

That band achieved a compact rather than a blasting sound on the up-tempos, and played slow dance tempos with imagination and variations in color. "A band must have a live, exciting sound; nothing ethereal; a big, fat ensemble with a simplicity that you can sell. That's why I'm always looking for young musicians and arrangers - that's where the basis of an orchestra is."

Most of the deejays all over the country were happy with the big band albums Columbia released that year by Les Elgart, Pete Rugolo and Dan Terry. And thanks to its recordings, the Dan Terry new dance band began attracting the attention of teenagers and the college set.

In April, with Margie Reaburn, Don Gordon, the Teen Agers, Vickie Young and KMPC disk jockey Dick Wittinghill, Terry's band nabbed an engagement at the highly sought Easter dance at the Balboa's Rendezvous Ballroom, where hundreds of teenagers converged.

 

That summer Terry's orchestra was featured on the Universal-International musical short film "Birth of a Band." It was a modest story of Terry and his band auditioning for a date at a swanky club. They played I Can 't Give You Anything But Love, I've Got the World on a String, with vocals by Connie Raines; and the instrumental, Totem Pole, Southern Fried, and Mr. Flamingo sung by Don Gordon.

In July, a band with different personnel started a West Coast summer tour billed as the "The Swinginest Band in the Land." After a successful tour around California campus, they traveled East, where the reaction was tremendous among teenagers when the band played such places as the New England and Pennsylvania campuses, and in Washington. "We're trying to do away with those record hops. We give the kids swing and personality. That's what they want'' said Terry.

Back in Los Angeles, and after little success trying to get engagements with the local ballroom operators, Dan Terry gave up his California residential status and moved to New York in October 1954.

"Successor failure doesn't stop you, or it shouldn't." Once there he organized an eastern band. The Dan Terry New Dance Band. "I think that finally we're getting what I want. I say we, because I'm including the guys in my band and the arrangers. When you're charting a style for a band, you have to surround yourself with men who see things your way. The guys who are writing things for this band - Ernie Wilkins, Marion Evans, Osie Johnson, Quincy Jones, Al Cohn, Phil Sunkel, Billy VerPlanck and George Handy - they see it my way. You must have sidemen who feel your way - guys who know what the band business is like on the road, and who are willing to put up with that just because they love the business. They have to understand the industry's changes. Everybody in the band has to be personable. And everyone in the band should be able to take a jazz solo. That's the way my band is now. It's the only way to have a really vital band." Among the great jazzmen in the band were Phil Sunkel (trumpet), Eddie Bert (trombone), Gene Quill (alto sax), Al Cohn (tenor sax), Sol Schlinger (baritone sax), Dick Katz (piano), Wendell Marshall (bass), and Osie Johnson (drums).

Terry, who was until then under the booking agency of Willard Alexander, decided to change and, in November 1954, signed with General Artists Corporation. The band would do a string of one-nighter break-in dates in December and opened at the Savoy Ballroom in the latter part of the month.

 

After that Terry's band was engaged to open at Birdland on January 13 to the 26 in 1955. From its debut, the Dan Terry 18-piece band proved to be a swinging success as one of the most pulsatingly alive new bands to come to the scene, and its arrangements and originals were cleanly scored, unpretentious, and often of considerable linear interest. Above all, there was a buoyancy in the beat and in the solo work that is refreshingly reminiscent of the days when big, swinging bands were a natural part of the music scene. As Terry said, "I think that we've finally found our groove. Now it takes that little break and we'll be in. The only trouble is that nobody knows what the break is going to be or how to get it."

Unfortunately this band never recorded any commercial sessions and now we can't enjoy it. Bill Coss, the well-known Managing Editor of Metronome magazine said: "Dan Terry's band, in its Birdland debut last month, came on swinging, thus putting to shame the previous debuts of Chico O'Farrill and Pete Rugolo." After the Birdland engagement the band went into the Savoy ballroom for a week, but they worked so well that the band was rebooked starting February 26. In May they moved into Birdland again for one week starting the 19th, and for three additional weeks starting July 28th. Encouraged by his success there, Terry continued building his book, through scores by Bill Holman and Wayne Dunstan, but once again the band was disbanded, because the ballroom operators didn't want to hire an 18-piece band, and the booking agencies said "Your band's too hip."

In 1958 he organized a new band which was called the "Hi-Fi Sound Band", a tag which he and chief arranger Gene Roland pinned on the band's distinctive hook, "I got so tired of hearing A&R men tell me the public isn't interested in bands," said Terry. "Certain bands are selling lots of albums. Rock and roll is an entirely different thing than bands. It's a different groove. There's room for both." The band, which featured such names as Billy Byers, Willie Dennis, Jimmy Knepper (trombones), Dick Meldonian, Gene Quill (alto saxes) and Gene Allen (baritone sax), among other great players, recorded a 45 rpm single for the Devere record label. The two titles were very eloquent: the driving Coca Cola Rock, with the Freddie Martell singers coming through with a vocal, and Bull Fiddle Rock, in the Count Basie style.

 

After this new experience Terry became active as a copyist in the late 1950s, occasionally gigging with a band and playing with Buddy Rich and others. In December 1960 Terry opened at the famous New England dance spot formerly owned by Vaughn Monroe, The Meadows, in Framingham, Mass. Terry's 18-piece crew stayed until spring playing five nights a week and for Sunday afternoon jazz concerts. Joe Derise was with the band as pianist, arranger and vocalist. Bix Brent was the girl singer.

Early in 1961, Dan put together a new band. The book included some great new stuff by Ernie Wilkins, and staples by Marty Paich, Quincy Jones, Gene Roland and Marion Evans. On February 10th, the band recorded a jazz concert at Virginia Polytechnic Institute, which Terry would release on his own Cinema record label. He wrote: "This is my band! It's a happy band, and a swingin' one, I feel. It's a band I'm very proud of. The concept of this album is relatively simple. I wanted to achieve the realism of a live date, with the freedom that you feel and hear only in a live performance. I think that the music on this record contains that freedom. It has that 'good feeling blues.'"

It's when I have a band that I'm really the happiest. There is something about standing in front of a band, and playing with it when it's really happening, that is more gratifying than anything else I know. That massive sound gets to you!

"I feel very happy about a lot of things that happen in this album. There's a lot going on, both in the ensemble playing and in the exciting solo work. This is a band which rehearses a great deal, which is the only way to achieve the cohesion and presence of sound and feeling that a good road band gets. Everybody really extended themselves for this date and a lot of sweat went into what you are about to hear."

The main soloists are trumpeter Bobby Nichols, who is the featured trumpet, and is consistently interesting and fluent in three tunes, except on Sophisticated Lady, where it is Dan Terry who takes a tasteful solo. We can also hear stimulating solos by the tenor saxophonist, Max Robinson on Good Feeling Blues, Catalina Crawl, and Trailways Five Star, where he shares the solo spot with the second tenor Ronnie Jannelli. On It's a Wonderful World, the alto sax solo is by Aaron Sachs.

"Writing is one of the most important factors in a band, and I've always devoted a lot of time to getting the best arrangements I could. The overall sound of the band, and some of the combinations of sounds, mute-effects and blends have come about through many years of one of the nicest associations I've ever had with anyone. I was lucky enough to get to know a guy by the name of Ernie Wilkins the first time I played Birdland with my band in 1955.I can honestly say that besides being one of the greatest musical talents, this is one of the nicest guys anyone could ever know, and a man who, I feel, has been terribly misused and not given credit for his writing. Ernie Wilkins has been responsible for the music on countless recording sessions with nothing less than the top talent in our industry, I never had to say much to Ernie, whether it was about the kind of sounds I wanted to hear, or about the feeling I wanted from the band. He seemed to know, and everything was always there. It has always been there in my association with my good friend Ernie Wilkins, and it's still there today, no matter what came up, and plenty did!"

That same year, Terry appeared leading a Dixieland Band in the famous 20th Century Fox movie, "The Hustler", where he composed and arranged the music for the party sequence featuring Paul Newman and Jackie Gleason.

 

At the end of 1962, with Gene Roland again as chief arranger, Terry built a new band, The New Yorkers. It was an experimental orchestra that featured four saxophones, four rhythm, and in place of a trumpet section, four soprano saxophones and a fluegelhorn. Some of the outstanding musicians of the band were Rolf Ericson (fluegelhorn), Eddie Bert, Jimmy Knepper, Willie Dennis (trombones), Jerome Richardson, Budd Johnson (soprano saxes), Zoot Sims (tenor sax), and Gene Allen [baritone sax), with Don Heller on vocals. On the 25th of January 1963, after a few rehearsals, Terry's band went to the Columbia studios on 30th Street to record four tunes, two of them, Jazzinova and Eclipse included on this CD and originally released on a rare promotional 7-inch 33 rpm record on the Metronome Records, a label of which Terry was President.

"Of course, you have to be crazy to be a bandleader," said Terry, "You have to be prepared to sacrifice everything. You know, you all of sudden get $5. It can be for diapers. It's got to go toward the new score you need to pay for or taking some guy out to lunch." According to Terry, the biggest battle for the band was, as it was with so many others, to find personnel that would remain with it through thin before getting to some part of the thick. 

As is usual, most bands beginning in New York find it easy to rehearse with every kind of big-name sideman. The long haul out of town must be done without these musicians, who find it too easy to stay in New York. "We have to find the sacrificers, the way it used to be in the better big band days."

 

The band played around the New York area during that year. Sidemen on these gigs included Bill Berry (fluegelhorn), Richie Kamuca (tenor sax) and Bob Dorough (piano). In addition Terry was fronting the hand on fluegelhorn. In summer, the New Rochelle club in New York reactivated its band policy with the new Dan Terry Orchestra, but once again this enthusiastic bandleader did not achieve the success his efforts deserved. Since 1945, Dan Terry had led a number of bands on both coasts, all of which had been high on youth and swing, though always short on lasting success. In 1963, Dan said: "You know how I've been. I've always had bands. Nothing really seemed to suit me though."

In 1965 Dan Terry owned and operated the "Big Daddy's" nightclub, at the Travel and Transportation building at the New York World's Fair. During the following years he settled in the West Coast, where he opened the Club Lido, in Studio City. He also became very active in Las Vegas as president of Copyrite Music, a complete music service which included composing, conducting, arranging and music preparation. In that capacity, Dan worked closely for ten years with the following artists and their representatives: Frank Sinatra, Elvis Presley, Diana Ross, Harry Belafonte, Sergio Franchi, Lena Horne, Robert Goulet, Diahann Carroll, Petula Clark, Vic Damone, and Alan King. Alternating with his business affairs, he continued temporarily heading his own bands up to the early Nineties. 

Subsequently he moved to San Diego, where he stayed living and playing occasionally. He formed the Horns of San Diego and an offshoot, the San Diego Youth Swing Band, a group designed to give high school musicians an opportunity to perform his library of big band arrangements. He produced the band's CD "Bein' Green'' on the Metronome label in 1999. In 2000, retired and almost blind, he decided to go to live at his sister's house on the East Coast. Dan passed away on December 27, 2011 at the VA Hospital in Danville, Illinois, after a short illness. With this CD, Fresh Sound Records wishes to render homage to one of the most indefatigable and underrated bandleaders of the post Big Band Era.”

—Jordi Pujol

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