Saturday, September 09, 2017

LARRY ELGART goes the way of LES - Dead at 95

    There are not too many Big Band musicians left. Larry Elgart has “swooped the planet,” to use a Lord Buckley phrase. He was 95. He and his brother Les were one of the most famous brothers in popular jazz. They didn’t exactly rival the Dorseys, but they stamped a lot of wax in their day, and continued to do so into the 60’s. Larry actually had his best success on his own in the early 80's when the retro antics of Bette “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy” Midler, and the disco singles by Cab Calloway and other vintage stars had the campy crowd revved up for a dance revival of vintage Big Band music. People were actually dressing up and going dancing again, getting "Saturday Night Fever" and buying Larry's “Hooked on Swing” platters. 

    Sax playing Larry Elgart: (March 20, 1922 – August 29, 2017) and his trumpet playing younger brother Les (August 3, 1917-July 29, 1995) first found success as sidemen in the 1940’s, both working with Charlie Spivak. Larry also worked with and learned from Woody Herman and Tommy Dorsey among others.  Les seemed to have the upper hand, releasing quite a few singles under “The Les Elgart Orchestra” name, with Larry just part of the band.

    The Elgart brothers did work as an equal team for a while. Their first spate of hit albums came out between 1953 and 1956, and included “Sophisticated Swing,” “The Dancing Sound,” “For Dancers Only,” and “The Elgart Touch.” They had another good streak when they switched to MGM in 1960, putting out six records between 1960 and 1962 including “Sophisticated Sixties,” “The Shape of Sounds to Come,” and “Music in Motion.”  Another bunch of releases came out via Columbia, trading in on the craze for the kind of mellow-hip stuff that Herb Alpert was doing; the kind of jazz you’d hear on quiz shows, as background party music in James Bond and Peter Sellers films, and in chewing gum commercials. The Elgart albums for Columbia, up through 1967, include: “Half Satin, Half Latin,” “The Twist Goes to College,” “The New Elgart Touch,” “Elgart au Go-Go,” “Warm and Sensuous” and “Girl Watchers.”

     Below are a few samples of their style, as they hep up “As Time Goes By” (some may be appalled by the quacking trombone and the gooney Glenn Miller winds) and do a butt-shaking cha-cha for any bitch saying “Adios” as she swivels off to try and pick up Xavier Cugat. Why these two songs? “As Time Goes By” and “Adios” both have titles that relate to the passing of Larry Elgart. Clever? No, I don’t think so either. But there you have it, if you want it.

    The brothers were known for “The Elgart Sound,” a sophisticated swing which some would say was a bit too smooth, pop-oriented, homogenous (no flashy solos) and commercial. Larry sometimes surprised jazz fans with experimental work (his “Impressions in Outer Space” album) but the big money was in catering to the “easy listening” crowd. As pop and jazz ceded to rock, Les didn’t want any more, and broke up the act and moved to Texas.

    On his own, Larry had surprising good luck in the late 70’s and early 80’s with his “Flight of the Condor” album and those “Hooked on Swing” releases in 1982 and 1983. He and his New Manhattan Swing Band put the disco beat to some of the most irritating Big Band songs of all time, including the horrible Andrews Sisters hit “Don’t Sit Under the Apple Tree,” the inane “Sing Sing Sing” (which could also be called “Dance Dance Dance” considering how many corny tap dancers have used it for routines on America’s Got Talent") and the irritating Glenn Miller classic “Little Brown Jug.” Larry of course did not neglect “In the Mood,” which was a song much hated by Peter Sellers, so much so it was inflicted on the mourners at his funeral.

    Big Band has never completely died off, and you can pick out its influences over the years in both groups (Blood Sweat and Tears, Chicago etc.) and in some hit songs (including Bill Conti's "Rocky" theme, which had one of the most vivid trumpet riffs in many a year). There was also "The Tonight Show Band," reminding everyone of the glitter and power of brass, topped by Doc Severinsen's trumpet. Doc still issues albums, and once in a while, Elgart returned to the studio. “Live at the Ambassador” came out in 1998, and “Latin Obsession” arrived in 2000. Larry also played whatever venues were available for Big Band music, which was mostly Florida venues and cruise ships. And, fittingly, in an amphisbaenic sense, his last album was “Bandstand Boogie” in 2003. 

  Les and Larry Elgart ADIOS    Instant download or listen on line. No Zinfart passwords where you have to humiliate yourself by typing in some egotist’s name, malware or spyware anywhere.
  Les and Larry Elgart AS TIME GOES BY    Instant download or listen on line. 

No comments: