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Interview with the Saxophone Section of the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra
My introduction to live jazz big band playing was hearing the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Jazz Orchestra at the Village Vanguard in 1971. The experience hearing that band with its magnificent saxophone section was life changing. Sitting in front of Jerry Dodgion, Ed Xiques, Eddie Daniels, Billy Harper, and Pepper Adams with Thad leading the band and Mel playing drums was one of the greatest experiences I’ve had in music. I continued to follow the band throughout the years and observed how things changed and yet remained the same—new repertoire written by composers other than Thad; new personnel; and new band titles. However, what has remained the same is the high level of ensemble playing and soloing. The current saxophone section of Dick Oatts, Billy Drewes, Ralph Lalama, Rich Perry and Gary Smulyan have been together for 28 years as of 2019 (certainly a record for a sax section) and still sound as fresh and passionate when playing the music as they did when they first joined the band. In this interview, the camaraderie, admiration and respect they have for one another is palpable. They talk candidly about their love affair with Thad’s music, Mel’s drumming, as well as the joy of playing as a cohesive unit within the greatest big band in the world. One of the must-see attractions when visiting New York City is going to the Village Vanguard on a Monday night to hear The Vanguard Jazz Orchestra play some of the finest big band music ever composed. Don’t miss it! Please check out more information about these artists and the band at:
*During the discussion, I mentioned many famous lead alto saxophonists but neglected to reference the most famous and influential of them all—Johnny Hodges. Hodges is the quintessential alto saxophonist and in a league of his own.