10 Tracks I Can't Do Without

10 Tracks by Marty Paich I Can’t Do Without…by Charles Rees

In our growing series in which jazz musicians do a deep (and entirely personal and selective) dive into the music of their idols, saxophonist, pianist, composer & arranger Charles Rees looks at the legacy of one of the cornerstones of the West Coast scene in the US of the 1950’s, Marty Paich (1925-1995).

Marty Paich (*)

California-born composer, arranger, producer and pianist Marty Paich began his career as Peggy Lee’s musical director in the early ’50s. After catching the attention of contemporaries Shorty Rogers and Shelly Manne, he started playing with their bands and – occasionally – penned charts for them. By 1955, Paich had blossomed into a proficient arranger and was recording his own records, most notably with Art Pepper and Mel Tormé. It is from these recordings that he is probably best known. 

After the West Coast jazz scene dried up in the early ’60s, Paich moved his work solely to the LA studio scene. He fast became one of the most prolific artisans of his field, arranging for everyone who was anyone – from the members of the Rat Pack to Aretha Franklin. (Other notable chapters of his star-studded career include: producing Barbra Streisand’s “The Way We Were”; writing the string arrangements for Ray Charles’ Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music; conducting and orchestrating the scores for the motion pictures Pretty Woman and The Fugitive; musical director for the Glen Campbell and Sonny & Cher shows. The list goes on… )

I was properly introduced to his work during my middle-school years when my father played me The Picasso of Big-Band Jazz – one of Paich’s finest recordings, made in 1957. I was beginning to pen my own large-ensemble arrangements at the time, having been inspired by Kenny Wheeler’s music a little earlier. Paich’s crisp, bluesy ensemble sound instantly captivated me, sending me down the rabbit-hole of his other recordings, some of which I unwittingly knew already. My immersion in his sound eventually gave my personal music a brand new sound and angle, for which I owe him a huge debt.

Paich died of colon cancer in 1995, aged 70. His longtime friend and colleague, composer John Williams, eulogised him, saying that “Marty was one of the treasures of the music industry”. But today this seems to have been mostly forgotten – his legacy confined to the memories of a few surviving veterans of the Hollywood studio scene. His son David – a founding member of Toto and composer of their hits “Africa” and “Rosanna” – still works to promote his father’s legacy, but I felt an article highlighting some of the Senior Paich’s work was long overdue…  

1.“Tenors West” from Tenors West by Jimmy Giuffre & The Marty Paich Octet (1955)

The three-tenors-and-baritone sax sound was first introduced in 1947 by Woody Herman and His Orchestra in their smash hit “Four Brothers”. It was then reintroduced in 1955 by Marty Paich for his Tenors West recording. Who better for him to have recruited for this project than the composer of “Four Brothers”, tenor saxophonist Jimmy Giuffre; alongside an octet comprised of some of the finest players in California, including Bob Cooper and Conte Candoli. Although the writing was solely tackled by Paich, the album is as much Giuffre’s, with the bulk of the improvising falling on the tenorist – an important reminder that his playing, though overshadowed by his aforementioned composition, is among the finest of any era. My choice, the title track, composed by Paich himself, opens the album and superbly sets the tone to come.

2. “Lulu’s Back in Town” from Mel Tormé with the Marty Paich Dek-Tette (1956)

A small number of recordings in the ’50s established the sound-world that has come to be known as West Coast jazz. Mel Tormé with the Marty Paich Dek-Tette (Bethlehem, 1956) should be considered among them. Marty Paich’s ‘Dek-Tette’ lineup, a staple of the era and its musicians’ infatuation with mid-sized ensembles, was first recorded here. Note the ensemble’s similarity to the one Miles Davis used on his Birth of the Cool sessions, which influenced the line-up of this band, as well as The Gerry Mulligan Concert Orchestra and Shorty Rogers and His Giants. But what separates the Dek-Tette from those bands is Mel Tormé, particularly his rare ability (especially for the time) to blend with the timbres of the band and match the horn phrasings exactly. It is a testament to Paich that he identified this ability in Tormé and wrote the charts in such a way as to accentuate it. I chose “Lulu’s Back in Town” over the other tracks because I feel it best illustrates these points; and because I could never grow bored of listening to it.

3. “Over the Rainbow” from Marty Paich Quartet featuring Art Pepper (1956)

This little-known gem was the first of many wonderful recordings made by Marty Paich in collaboration with Art Pepper. Paich once recalled his first encounter with Pepper, that he was ‘the greatest saxophone player’ he had ever heard; he would always go above and beyond to work with altoist, despite his infamous substance abuse issues. Of all the musical traits Pepper possessed, the way he played a ballad is second to none in my opinion. So, though “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” has received countless covers, I think this version is very special because of that. Uncharacteristically of a Marty Paich recording, there is little in the way of arranged sections other than a brief, beautiful descending introduction. My only gripe is that I wish someone would clean up the audio – sadly the sound quality leaves much to be desired.

4. “New Soft Shoe” from Marty Paich Trio (1957)

Paich’s credentials as a pianist became an increasingly peripheral aspect of his career as it progressed. This is unfortunate as he was an accomplished player and certainly could – perhaps should – have pursued it further than he ended up doing. There are elements of Ellington in his style, and a Basie-like quality to his comping. Those influences produced a pianist perfectly suited to large ensemble settings. But he was also more than proficient in small group settings. Marty Paich Trio, recorded with Red Mitchell (bass) and Mel Lewis (drums), serves as a much-needed reminder of that. I have chosen from it a track called “New Soft Shoe”, my favourite Paich original (also recorded on The Picasso of Big-Band Jazz).

5. “What’s New?” from The Picasso of Big-Band Jazz (1957)

The tutelage received by Marty Paich from contemporary classical composers Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco and Arnold Shoenberg shines through in this arrangement of “What’s New?”. The colours and shapes he uses are far from typical of jazz writing up to that point, with such unorthodox techniques enabling him to achieve near-orchestral textures from a mere 13-piece ensemble. Jack Sheldon is featured on trumpet and gives a heartfelt interpretation of the song in his characteristically warm fashion; Vince DeRosa (still alive at 101 years old!), hornist of choice for Paich and later John Williams, perfects his beautiful, sweeping lines despite their demanding nature – a recurring feature in Paich’s writing. Such perfection from the players enhances this already brilliant chart, taking the track (and its album) all the way into the stratosphere.

6. “I’ve Never Been In Love Before” from The Broadway Bit (1959)

Marty Paich’s arrangement of “I’ve Never Been In Love Before” is an exciting experience for listeners. Check-ins along the way include wonderful solos from Art Pepper, Jimmy Giuffre, Bill Perkins, Bob Enevoldsen, Scott LaFaro and Victor Feldman (yes, the ensemble is something out of a West Coast jazz fan’s dreams), interspersed with moments of writing which are best described as crisp and minimalist. Paich judged the pacing of this arrangement flawlessly, putting ego aside and doing what many arrangers cannot: shutting-up and leaving the musicians to do their thing, in the knowledge that it will produce the best results – a sort of free-market approach to orchestration. Judging purely by the way the band sound together, I imagine the playing experience was as gratifying for them as it is for me to listen to this track.

7. “Things Ain’t What They Used to Be” from I Get a Boot Out of You (1959)

“Things Ain’t What They Used to Be” is an Ellington Orchestra classic, composed in the early ’40s by The Duke’s son, Mercer. In many respects, Marty Paich’s version pays homage to the original, keeping the alto sax feature, with the daunting task of filling Johnny Hodges’ shoes entrusted (yet again) to Art Pepper. The primary featured artist though is Russ Freeman on piano – that chair having been relinquished to him for this session – who executes his role in such a way that, before I checked the liner notes, I assumed was Paich himself (much to both of their credit). Features of the arrangement, such as the slower tempo, as well as the call and response between the piano and horn section in the head, ideally capture the blues roots of this composition, all the while simultaneously encapsulating the spirit of its archetype. For those reasons, I believe – perhaps controversially – that this is the definitive version of the song.

8. “‘Round Midnight” from Art Pepper + Eleven (1960)

Art Pepper + 11 was the absolute peak of the sessions Paich recorded with Pepper, not to mention (arguably) the climax of both their careers. Each and every track is flawless in concept and execution, so it was difficult to single out just one… but, going back to my earlier comments about Pepper’s relationship with the ballad, “‘Round Midnight” narrowly edges out the others for me. Perhaps it’s because of the orchestral nature of the arrangement, which Paich achieved with just 12 musicians; or the standout horn-work of Vince DeRosa, singing out behind the alto. All in all, Pepper’s bewitching interpretation of Thelonious Monk’s tune, coupled with the characteristic ambition and perfectionism of Paich and his ensemble, produced an unequalled masterpiece.

9. “You Don’t Know Me” from Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music by Ray Charles (1962)

In 1962, Ray Charles introduced mainstream audiences to an eclectic selection of country and western standards with his Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music. One song in particular from the album, called “You Don’t Know Me”, resonated with me from a very young age. It is one of my very favourite songs, and nobody does it like Ray. Yet, only recently did I discover that the orchestral accompaniment was the handiwork of none other than Marty Paich! In the arrangement he pays homage to the original version by Eddy Arnold, borrowing the introduction and converting it from piano into the violins. The rest of the arrangement is his, and I think he found in it an ideal balance of easy-listening appeal to the mainstream listener and, channelling his own religious upbringing, a gospel element to match the inherent soul of Ray Charles. Vocalist Michael McDonald once called Paich “the greatest string arranger of all time”… I now see why.

10. “California Suite” from Sammy Davis Jr. Sings Mel Tormé’s California Suite (1964)

Another of the great Paich-Tormé collaborations was California Suite (1957, Bethlehem), featuring a collection of 12 songs about the Golden State, composed by the Velvet Fog himself. Even greater still (I think) is the cover recorded by Sammy Davis, Jr. in 1956. Paich re-orchestrated the entire work for Davis: it is a bespoke score, tailored exactly to his magnificent vocal talents. Yes, there are a couple of recycled themes – Tormé called these “extensions that brand him (Paich) a composer [of the suite] in his own right” – so he could hardly leave them out of this rework. It is a masterclass in orchestration, and what is particularly fascinating is the maturing of his techniques between the two versions. While the overall track takes some getting used to – particularly the corny dialogue that is interspersed periodically; not to mention the 25-minute run-time! – I grow fonder of it with every listen.

(*) Photo widely used uncredited and therefore believed to be in Public Domain

LINKS: Marty Paich’s website

Bluenote biography

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