“Loose Lid Special”
Composed and Arranged by Sy Oliver
Recorded by Tommy Dorsey and His Orchestra
for Victor Records July 15, 1941 in New York
Personnel: Tommy Dorsey, lead and solo trombone, directing: Chuck Peterson, lead; Ziggy Elman, Jimmy Blake, Al Sterns, trumpets; Trombones: George Arus, Dave Jacobs, Lowell Martin, trombones; Freddie Stulce, lead alto saxophone; Heinie Beau (clarinet & alto sax); Mannie Gershman and Don Lodice, tenor saxes; Bruce Snyder, baritone sax; Joe Bushkin piano; Clark Yocum guitar; Sid Weiss bass; Buddy Rich drums.
The music and story:
One of the great instrumental blockbusters of the swing era, “Loose Lid Special,” as performed by Tommy Dorsey and His Orchestra, is a perfect example of the direct, colorful, and always swinging arranging of Sy Oliver, and of the ensemble and soloistic virtuosity of the Dorsey band at its zenith. With eight brass, including the brash Ziggy Elman, one of the loudest trumpeters of those years, Chuck Peterson, an excellent all-around trumpeter noted for his high-note work and minimal vibrato, and Tommy Dorsey, “The Old Man” as he was referred to by his band members, even though he was only 34 when this recording was made, on trombone, who could play as loud as anyone, and drummer Buddy Rich, the Dorsey band, when it chose to be, could be one of the loudest in the business. Despite the fact that TD was one of the most strict musical disciplinarians of the swing era when it came to rehearsals and performances, his 1941 band, with a perfectly meshed rhythm section headed by Buddy Rich, ably supported by pianist Joe Bushkin and bassist Sid Weiss, was capable of great swing.
“Loose Lid Special” comes on with a blasting introduction. Note how Oliver cleverly creates a musical see-saw effect employing groups of different instruments in short bursts. Big-toned tenor saxophonist Don Lodice, who handled the TD jazz tenor solos in the years 1940-1943, sets forth the “melody” of “Loose Lid Special,” such as it is, for 16 bars. The trumpet behind Lodice’s last few bars is played by Chuck Peterson, who also leads the trumpets in this performance. From that point on, Oliver’s sorcery is evident in his kaleidoscopic use of the trumpets, trombones and saxophones both as discrete sections and blended together. Oliver’s sudden key change and use of the four trumpets in unison is marvelously inspired. All of this rests on the rocking rhythmic foundation supplied by Rich.
The forceful, burry-toned trombone solo is by is by TD, and it demonstrates that even though his fame had been secured and maintained as the sweet-toned, ballad playing “Sentimental Gentleman of Swing,” he was capable of creating rambunctious music with his slip horn when required. (Hear Oliver’s brilliant use of the surging saxophones behind Dorsey.) Trumpeter Ziggy Elman (pictured at left) follows with some inspired blasting, including a dramatic leap into his upper register, which causes Rich, one of the most vocal of drummers, to exclaim “Yes Ziggy!” The band quiets down to allow Peterson to return to play a few bars of Harmon-muted (with stem removed) trumpet (with no vibrato–extremely unusual for jazz in 1941), and wrap up this bracing performance.
If any big band today would perform “Loose Lid Special” as the Tommy Dorsey band did on this classic recording, it would set its audience’s ears a-twitter. This is not only a superb example of swing, it is creative jazz arranging at its best, performed with consummate instrumental virtuosity by the musicians in the Dorsey band. This is timeless music that should be heard, and should be played by bands exploring the music of the swing era.