February 28, 2024

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Harry James is one of the most underappreciated bandleaders of the late 1940s, ’50s and early ’60s: 10 Video

Harry James is one of the most underappreciated bandleaders of the late 1940s, ’50s and early ’60s. While plenty has been written about bands led by Count Basie, Stan Kenton, Les Brown and Maynard Ferguson during this period, James has received little or no praise or recognition.

Maybe it’s because his band sounded so much like Basie’s in the LP era, thanks to his passion for Ernie Wilkins’s arrangements. Or perhaps it’s because he clung to his stodgy 1940s hits far longer than most bandleaders. Or maybe it’s because the former circus trumpeter had the same sound on his horn on virtually everything he recorded. Hard to tell. What we do know is that he was an extraordinary power player and had a knack for consistently assembling superstar bands and commissioning hair-raising arrangements.

Rather than go on about James, let me illustrate the quality of his bands, arrangements and trumpet in 10 audio clips. Again, listen to the bands and the arrangements first, then his trumpet:

Neal Hefti’s Leave Us Leap-like arrangement of Or Words to That Effect in 1949…

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Hefti’s blistering arrangement of Except February, Which Had 28 in 1949…

Wilkins’s arrangement of Blues for Harry’s Sake in 1957…

Wilkins’s arrangement of Just for Fun in 1958…

Wilkins’s arrangement of Fair and Warmer in 1958…

Wilkins’s arrangemetn of One on the House. in 1958..

Bill Holman’s arrangement of Here’s One in 1958…

Bob Florence’s arrangement of Eyes in 1960…

Neal Hefti’s arrangement of Hot Pink in 1961…

Wilkins’s arrangement of A Swingin’ Serenade in 1962…

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