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Purdue jazz concert pays tribute to Billy May, Nelson Riddle
Friday, October 10, 2008
When composer and arranger Billy May formed his own big band, the swing era was almost over. But it wouldn’t end silently as May’s tunes, known for their screaming trumpets and slurping saxophones, excited and energized fans.
May and Nelson Riddle, who followed in his May’s footsteps, both won Grammies. Both wrote TV and film scores. Both arranged for Frank Sinatra and Nat King Cole. And both will be featured in Purdue Bands’ “Tribute to Billy May and Nelson Riddle” at 8 p.m. Friday, Oct. 17 at Loeb Playhouse in the Purdue Stewart Center.
Admission is free.
“May and Riddle were THE guys in the 1950s and 60s. As arrangers, they were sought out by all the big name singers of the day,” says M.T. “Mo” Trout who directs Purdue’s American Music Repertory Ensemble, a big band with singers, and the Lab Jazz Band on the concert.
Dedicated to historical interpretations of music, AMRE will present several tunes that legendary crooner Frank Sinatra made famous including May’s arrangement of “Day In, Day Out” and Riddle’s arrangement of “Night and Day.” It also features May’s arrangement of “When Your Lover Has Gone” recorded by Nat King Cole and “The Very Thought of You,” arranged by Riddle for Ella Fitzgerald.
“May also had a real knack for writing mambos in the style of Perez Prado,” Trout says, and the Lab Jazz Band will perform one of his best – “La Chucaracha.”
Trademarks of the Billy May sound are the “screaming trumpets and the slurping saxophones where players execute deep bends on the notes,” Trout says. A good example of the bluesy glissando produced by a “slurping” saxophone comes in AMRE’s presentation of “Lean Baby” while the “Mayhem” focuses on the power of the trumpet section.
“May considered (the younger) Nelson Riddle to be the newcomer or the kid,” Trout says. Riddle’s strength lay in his ability to arrange tunes so they amplified the strong points of a singer’s voice.
In many ways “they had similar careers but Riddle was more successful because he didn’t have the drinking problems that plagued May,” Trout adds. “Riddle’s tune were a little less hard hitting than May’s, a little sweeter and more towards the popular taste” of the times.
Riddle’s film, TV and show credits include “Laugh In,” “Pal Joey,” “Paint Your Wagon,” “The Great Gatsby,” “The Untouchables” and “Route 66.” Into the early 1980s he came back into the musical limelight, arranging jazz standards for three popular Linda Ronstadt albums including “Lush Life.
May, who also wrote for film and TV, will probably be best remembered for his meticulously transcribing and arranging of jazz standards for two Time-Life record sets honoring the big band era – “The Swing Era” and “As You Remember Them.”
The May and Riddle show concludes with a contemporary tune Sammy Nestico wrote as a musical tribute, “Billy May for President.” “It contains all of May’s favorite ‘isms’ from the swinging, stinging trumpets to the slurpy saxophones,” Trout says.
The concert is sponsored by Purdue Bands & Orchestra which offers a series of jazz, concert band, orchestra and percussion events throughout the year.
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