James Last was a German big-band leader with a large fan base in Europe, although he never had a comparable following in the United States. Last's trademark was arranging pop hits in a big-band style; his series of "party albums" became equally well-known. Over the course of his career, he sold well over 50 million albums.
By the time Oliver Nelson and his big band had recorded Fantabulous in March of 1964 for Argo, the great composer, saxophonist, conductor, and arranger was a man about town in New York. He had released some truly classic dates of his own as a leader in smaller group forms – Blues and the Abstract Truth and Full Nelson among them – and had done arrangement work for everyone from Eddie "Lockjaw" Davis and Johnny Hodges, Nancy Wilson, Frank Wess, King Curtis, Etta Jones, Jimmy Smith, Jack Teagarden, Betty Carter, Billy Taylor, and Gene Ammons, to name more than a few. For Fantabulous, he took his working big band to Chicago for a gig sponsored by Daddy-O-Daylie, a famous local disc jockey.
Musicians like to observe that for all his notoriety as the wellspring of bebop, Charlie "Bird" Parker's music was loaded with the blues. SWEDISH SCHNAPPS is as good a place as any to make that connection with Parker's music, including as it does two of his most enduring bop heads based on the blues, "Au Privave" and "Blues For Alice." While you wouldn't mistake either composition for a Muddy Waters tune, both relate Bird's off-kilter accents and serpentine melodicism at walking tempos that let you hear what's actually going by, instead of leaving you astonished but bemused. To really drive the point home, there's "K.C. Blues," which finds the altoist at his hollerin' best, and "Lover Man," certainly one of the bluesiest 32-bar standards around.
One of the giants of the alto saxophone, Johnny Hodges was perhaps the most important soloist and sideman in Duke Ellington's orchestra from 1928 up to Hodges' death in 1970. The self-taught player made many solo forays during his long career - one of his '50s outfits included a young John Coltrane - but history remembers Hodges for his virtuosic sidemanship, particularly his sensitive rendering of ballads.
Skyliner was one of Charlie Barnet's most exciting hit records, and quickly became as closely identified with his big band as was Ray Noble's Cherokee. This 1996 EPM Musique Jazz Anthology compilation is one of at least six Barnet albums with the word "Skyliner" in the title. Tracks one through twelve were recorded for the Bluebird label between June 19, 1940 and April 30, 1942. Tracks thirteen through twenty follow Barnet's progress through the turbulent wartime years with a trail of Decca sides cut between July 1942 and February 1944. "Skyliner" comes from a V-Disc recorded on July 13, 1944; "E-Bob-O-Lee-Bob," like "Oh Miss Jaxon" a vocal feature for trumpeter Peanuts Holland, was harvested from a Jubilee broadcast on December 6, 1945. Some of this band's arrangements were written by Horace Henderson, Billy May and by the leader himself. Most Charlie Barnet albums are well worth investigating. This one lives somewhere near the top of the heap.