“Belgrade Hangover” (1985) Ashley Alexander/Frank Mantooth

“Belgrade Hangover”

Composed and arranged by Frank Mantooth.

Recorded by the Ashley Alexander Big Band for Pausa Records in Hollywood, California in 1985.

Ashley Alexander, euphonium, directing: Jim Linahon, John Harbaugh, Tom Gause, John Thomas and David Alexander, trumpets; Bill Yeager, Jeff Tower, Charles Stolfus, Lee Gause, trombones, one of which is a bass trombone; Matt Catingub and Bill Sears, alto saxophones and flutes; Mark Henderson and Larry Pannella, tenor saxophones and flutes; Keith Squyres, baritone saxophone; Frank Mantooth, Yamaha DX-7 electric piano; Danny Embry, guitar; Bob Bowman, bass; Steve Houghton, drums; Tim Holloway and Brian Hudson, percussion.

The story:

Ashley Alexander (1936-1988). Unexpected obituaries of a younger person are like a punch to the gut for me, especially if the person who has died was a musician. My experiences with musicians, no matter how vexing they can be at times, is that fundamentally they live to make music, and music makes the world a better place. In my view, making the world a better place is something that is worthwhile and valuable.

In the mid-1980s, I acquired the LP entitled Ashley Alexander …Power Slide, Pausa PR7178 (1985). I knew nothing about Ashley Alexander, other than the little that was written about him on the back of the dust jacket that held the LP record. Basically, he was a trombonist with experience with a number of big band leaders (among them: Ralph Marterie, Tex Beneke, Stan Kenton, and Maynard Ferguson), who performed on that instrument and related instruments, and that he was an music educator. That LP had on it a couple of standards (“That Old Black Magic,” “Cherokee”), a pop hit from the 1960s (“Alfie”), a jazz composition by pianist Horace Silver (“Peace”), and some originals by Frank Mantooth, an associate of Alexander’s, who was a pianist, arranger and educator. Alexander was based in the Los Angeles area, Mantooth in the Chicago area. There were photos of both Alexander and Mantooth on the back of the LP. They both appeared to be relatively young men.

I played the LP and enjoyed the music on it, especially the moody ballad “Belgrade Hangover,” which featured some superb playing by Ashley Alexander on the euphonium. I went back to that recording many times.

In the mid-1980s, I was busy with work and life, and the years passed quickly. There was no Internet in the 1980s, and if there was, it was inaccessible to me as didn’t get my first computer until the year 2000. I got information about musicians haphazardly in the 1980s, sometimes in the form of a benighted one-inch squib buried in a newspaper or magazine, as they then existed, or from radio. (At left: Ashley Alexander around 1980.)

One day I was driving somewhere, and on the local “educational radio” station (what a quaint term that is!), I heard Ashley Alexander’s recording of “Belgrade Hangover.” I was happy to know that whoever programmed that recording was aware of it, and recognized its musical quality. As the music concluded, the announcer said, “…that was ‘Belgrade Hangover,’ played by the late Ashley Alexander.” That announcement shocked me. As soon as I was able, I went to my local library, and eventually found an obituary for Mr. Alexander in the Los Angeles Times dated August 20, 1988. Basically, this is what it said:

Ashley Alexander, a big band trombonist, music educator and recording artist, died on Thursday, August 18, 1988 at a jazz camp in Saskatchewan, Canada at the age of 52. Alexander, who had a history of cardiac issues apparently died of a heart attack. Born in Lucerne, Okla., Alexander studied trombone as a boy and taught music in Oklahoma public schools and then at the University of Northern Iowa and North Texas State University. Over the years he played with Teddy Phillips, Billy May, Stan Kenton and Tex Beneke, and recorded with his own 20-piece band, most recently an album called “Power Slide.” Alexander was also the inventor of the double trombone, a combination of a slide and valve instrument.

Frank Mantooth (1947 2004). Here is an edited news release from the University of Indiana at Bloomington dated March 23, 2018, which provides some background on Frank Mantooth: BLOOMINGTON, Ind. — The Jazz Studies Department at the Indiana University Jacobs School of Music recently received the gift of the Frank Mantooth Jazz Library. Mantooth, a pianist, arranger, composer, author and educator who received 12 Grammy Award nominations, worked closely with Jacobs jazz and percussion professor Steve Houghton during his renowned career.

“Frank Mantooth was an icon in jazz education and a hero among young jazz musicians. His charts could be found in every high school and college band room in the country,” said Houghton. “I was fortunate to work with ‘Tooth’ in countless jazz festivals, and every time, I learned something about music, life and working with young musicians. He truly had a gift. He was a master educator who could explain his music, make the students laugh and get immediate results.”

The collection includes over 200 pieces for jazz ensemble plus music for jazz combos, brass choir and piano. “We are honored to receive this generous gift and be the home of the complete collection of Frank Mantooth’s jazz ensemble compositions and arrangements,” said Tom Walsh, chair of the Jazz Studies Department and professor of saxophone. 

The collection came to the Jacobs School of Music through Carrie Mantooth, Frank’s widow. “My deep and heartfelt gratitude goes to Indiana University for accepting and preserving the Frank Mantooth Jazz Library,” she said. “Never to be forgotten, these arrangements and compositions will continue to be heard, played and studied by future musicians.”

(To celebrate the gift, the IU Jazz Ensemble led by professor John Raymond presented “A Tribute to Frank Mantooth” concert at the Musical Arts Center on March 26, 2018. The concert featured jazz faculty members Pat Harbison on trumpet and Houghton on drums.)

“The music is equally as challenging as it is enjoyable,” Raymond said. “The songs almost play themselves because they’re written so well. As a result, the band has loved learning and interpreting this music, and they’ve begun to find their own voice while staying true to what Mantooth originally had in mind.”

“I love playing his music, as it’s well crafted, inventive and contemporary, while still being accessible to the students,” Houghton said. (Above right: Summer of 1999 at the Skidmore Jazz Institute. L-R: -Todd Coolman; Curtis Fuller; Ed Shaughnessy; Frank Mantooth; Vince DiMartino  and Pat LaBarbera. Photo by Joe Zaffuts.)

Mantooth attended the University of North Texas, graduating in 1969. After performing and arranging with the Air Force Falconaires, he studied at the Hochschule für Musik in Vienna. He returned to the United States in 1980 and worked extensively as a pianist, composer, arranger, author and educator. He recorded five albums: “Suite Tooth,” “Persevere,” “Dangerous Precedent,” “Sophisticated Lady” and “A Miracle.” An additional CD, “Ladies Sing for Lovers,” his last project, was released posthumously. (At left: Frank Mantooth in the 1970s.)

As an author, he published five volumes of “The Best Chord Changes for the World’s Greatest Standards” for the Hal Leonard Corporation. His landmark book, “Voicings for Jazz Keyboard,” has sold over 20,000 copies since it was introduced in 1987.

In 1999, Mantooth received the Florence Crittendon Foundation’s Citizen of the Year award and the Wichita Jazz Festival’s Homer Osborne award for outstanding contributions to jazz education. He also received the 14th Annual Down Beat Achievement Award for Jazz Education–Hall of Fame and the International Association for Jazz Education Hall of Fame Award. He was inducted posthumously into the Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame and the Illinois Jazz Education Hall of Fame.

The music:

This performance begins with Frank Mantooth setting the floating mood at the Yamaha DX-7 electric piano, with some sounds in the background that evoke a quiet seashore, then with a bit of electric guitar and bass played in unison. Ashley Alexander then steps into the spotlight to state Mantooth’s lovely melody playing the euphonium, not an instrument often associated with jazz or popular music. Nevertheless, Alexander plays the euphonium in every respect with virtuosity throughout this performance. His command of the instrument and his use of vibrato in this performance can only be described as perfect, and wonderfully expressive.

The euphonium is a medium-sized, 3 or 4-valve, often compensating, conical-bore, tenor-voiced brass instrument that derives its name from the ancient Greek word εὔφωνος euphōnos, meaning “well-sounding” or “sweet-voiced”. The euphonium is a valved instrument. Nearly all current models have piston valves, though some models with rotary valves do exist.

The euphonium may be played in bass clef as a non-transposing instrument, or in treble clef as a transposing instrument. In British brass bands, it is typically treated as a treble-clef instrument, while in American band music, parts may be written in either treble clef or bass clef, or both. The euphonium is in the family of brass instruments, more particularly low-brass instruments with many relatives. It is extremely similar to a baritone horn. The difference is that the bore size of the baritone horn is typically smaller than that of the euphonium, and the baritone is a primarily cylindrical bore, whereas the euphonium is predominantly conical bore. It is controversial whether this is sufficient to make them two different instruments. In the trombone family large and small bore trombones are both called trombones, while the cylindrical trumpet and the conical flugelhorn are given different names. As with the trumpet and flugelhorn, the two instruments are easily doubled by one player, with some modification of breath and embouchure, since the two have identical range and essentially identical fingering. The cylindrical baritone offers a brighter sound and the conical euphonium offers a more mellow sound.(1)

The mellow sound of the euphonium on this recording might fool some people into thinking the velvety sound we hear is being produced by a trombone. The giveaway however is how quickly and smoothly Alexander is able to articulate notes using the instrument’s valves. He states the four-bar main melody twice (or the main melody has two four-bar sections that differ only in a couple of notes), being accompanied by the sparse background Mantooth used in his introduction. Then on the tune’s secondary melody, the background shifts to gently played open brass and fluttering flutes. Alexander restates the main melody with backing as before, except with a few quiet flute asides added.

Alexander then plays the secondary melody, this time in a higher register and with more muscular backing from the band, including the reed players, now using their saxophones. This is followed by the ensemble increasing its dynamic level dramatically, creating a bright interlude that effectively contrasts with what had come before.

After a pause, the climax of the performance unfolds, begun by a beautifully scored and played ascending orchestral interlude. As the ensemble subsides, Alexander reappears playing the main melody at first, and then the secondary melody. As this sequence ends, arranger Mantooth cleverly uses undulating brass and saxophones to provide the waves of sound behind Alexander. This is jazz arranging of great creativity and sophistication. (Above left: Ashley Alexander playing what appears to be his double trombone.)

The ensemble falls away again to return the performance to the main melody played by Alexander against the quiet piano as the performance drifts to a close.

The recording presented with this post was transferred and digitally remastered by Mike Zirpolo.

Notes and links:

(1) The information about the euphonium comes from the Wikipedia article on that instrument.

Here are some links to other moody performances here at swingandbeyond.com:

https://swingandbeyond.com/2017/11/04/une-lettre-de-jean-1997-the-morpheus-trio/

https://swingandbeyond.com/2019/02/05/blues-for-brando-1953-leith-stevens-shorty-rogers-with-bud-shank-milt-bernhart-and-bob-cooper/

https://swingandbeyond.com/2020/07/21/i-remember-waldo-1964-buddy-morrow-john-woehrmann/

https://swingandbeyond.com/2018/09/15/blues-for-francine-1987-ralph-burns/

https://swingandbeyond.com/2021/07/13/a-flower-is-a-lovesome-thing-1961-billy-strayhorn/

https://swingandbeyond.com/2021/10/19/autumn-in-washington-square-1964-the-dave-brubeck-quartet/

https://swingandbeyond.com/2020/09/12/bolero-in-blue-1956-larry-clinton-with-doc-severinsen/

https://swingandbeyond.com/2020/09/29/campina-1995-chico-ofarrill-with-arturo-ofarrill-bob-franceschini-and-victor-paz/

https://swingandbeyond.com/2021/04/24/april-1959-larry-elgart-al-cohn/

https://swingandbeyond.com/2018/12/08/new-blues-1967-buddy-rich/

https://swingandbeyond.com/2019/08/21/round-midnight-1963-gene-rolands-swingin-friends-featuring-clark-terry/

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