“Introduction to and Ending” (1966) Charlie Barnet with Jack Wilson,Jr., Max Bennett, Willie Smith, Pete Candoli and Jack Sperling

“Introduction to an Ending”

Composed and arranged by Bill Holman.

Recorded by Charlie Barnet and His Orchestra for Vault on November 2, 1966 in Hollywood.

Charlie Barnet, alto saxophone, directing: Al Porcino, first trumpet; Pete Candoli, Conte Candoli, and Larry McGuire, trumpets; Bob Fitzpatrick, Dick Hyde, Ernie Tack and Pete Myers, trombones; Willie Smith, first alto saxophone; Allen Lasky, alto saxophone; Willie Maiden and Lennie Mitchell, tenor saxophones; Bob Jung, baritone saxophone; Jack Wilson, Jr., piano; Max Bennett, bass; Jack Sperling, drums.

The story – Part One “Mabness”:

What so often amazes me about many of the musicians of the swing era is their all-consuming desire to perform, often in the face of daunting challenges. The history of the swing era is replete with stories of performers dragging themselves to gigs and performing well when they were ill, or in serious trouble, or indeed, on the brink of death. In some of these instances, the musicians involved really needed to work to earn some money. But as often as not, they simply wanted to do what they did best: to make music.

In addition, musicians who were fortunate enough to achieve some measure of success during the swing era invariably found themselves confronted by the endless dilemma of balancing their musical integrity with the demands of the marketplace: Art versus commerce. I have heard many stories over the years about young, idealistic musicians asking the leader of the successful bands they worked with,  “…man, why do we have to play this …garbage (or synonyms)”? The bandleader, depending on the amount of tact he had, would usually reply like this: “Do you like working every day, and getting paid on time and in full each week? If you do, then play what I ask you to play. If you don’t, then I can replace you with someone who will.” Rarely did the sideman quit after one of these exchanges. He knew that if he was in a band that generally played music that he liked, with musicians whose ability he respected, the opportunity to play music he liked would be there sometimes. He had to adjust his expectations to accommodate how much “bad” music he had to play in order to play some “good” music. It was a question of balance. In music as in life, there are no perfect situations.

Curiously, money alone was not always the determining factor in what music bands were required to play, though it almost always was. Bandleader Charlie Barnet, for example, came from a wealthy family. In his early years as a bandleader, his reckless idealism and hedonism, among other of his peccadilloes, often got him into financial trouble. Invariably, he was bailed out by his doting mother, Charlene. To say that Charlie was spoiled by his mother would be an understatement. I have often suspected that Charlene Barnet truly understood her son’s seemingly endless desire to seek thrills. As an adolescent and young man, some of his escapades were truly breathtaking. But contrary to the attitude of most parents, Charlene seemed to have been amused, not disturbed, by her son’s misbehavior. I doubt that she ever reproached him for anything he did.(1) What caused Charlie Barnet to modify his wildness was not parental disapproval, it was his increasing experience as a bandleader.

Like all bandleaders, Charlie Barnet spent several years working in various bands, learning about music and the business of music. When he decided that he was ready to lead his own band to satisfy his desire to make music the way he thought best, he was still a very young man, in his early twenties. He tried to be a bandleader, and essentially failed, with a number of bands over a number of years. Like all other bandleaders during the swing era, he got knocked around by the music business. But one thing happened to Charlie Barnet while he was learning how to be a successful bandleader: He became intoxicated by the thrill of making music with his own band. For this thrill seeker, that was a more powerful drug than alcohol, marijuana, sex or anything else he indulged in.

Through most of the 1930s, Charlie Barnet led bands that were increasingly good musically. By 1939, when he became known as “The Mad Mab” because of his dedication to partying, he began to achieve some amount of commercial success, largely as the result of a hit record, his nicely swinging Bluebird disk “Cherokee.”(2) He continued working with very good big bands through World War II, and in the postwar years. By the early 1950s, Barnet was working with smaller groups, though he occasionally put together big bands toward the end of the 1950s for specific purposes and limited times. He worked sporadically through the 1960s, but in 1966 decided to put together a band of high-quality musicians, but again only for a limited time. This band was to be Charlie Barnet’s last hurrah as the leader of a big, swinging band that existed for a period of time – about two and a half months, with a few interruptions.

Part Two – Introduction to an Ending:

By the mid-1960s, Charlie Barnet was not seeking employment in the music business. He was living in Palm Springs, California, and also spending time on his custom-built fishing and cruising boat off San Diego. Nevertheless, offers continued to come his way, most of which he rejected. In the late summer of 1966, a good bit of big band excitement was created when Buddy Rich brought his exciting new band into a club in West Hollywood, California called The Chez. The Chez was located at 8265 Santa Monica Blvd., and was operated by Jerry Ranieri and Mike Carozza. Rich’s two-week engagement there in September was extended to four weeks. At some point in the summer of 1966, Barnet was contacted by The Chez management, and booked for a one-week gig there, to run from October 14 – 23, 1966. Barnet’s idea was to commission several new arrangements on old tunes and originals, and mix them in with updated versions of the most famous tunes that he was associated with from the halcyon days of the swing era. His presentation would have little to do with nostalgia, and a lot to do with presenting music he wanted to perform with musicians he liked and knew could do the job. The arrangers he tapped to write the new charts included Billy Byers, Don Rader and Bill Holman.

The musicians Barnet chose for this band chose included many Los Angeles studio heavyweights like lead trumpeter Al Porcino, and the Candoli brothers Pete and Conte; trombonists including Dick Hyde, Bob Fitzpatrick and Ernie Tack; the legendary lead alto saxophone player Willie Smith; Willie Maiden on tenor saxophone; Max Bennett on bass and Jack Sperling on drums. He also had a few arrangements prepared to feature vocalist Ruth Price. Barnet himself would play solos occasionally on alto and soprano saxophones. The band was a very good one, and of course, it got better as it played through its successful week at The Chez.

Shortly after the Chez engagement ended, Barnet recorded the band at his expense in Hollywood. He wanted to record as much of the new book of arrangements the band had played at The Chez as possible. Sessions were scheduled around the other work his band members returned to after The Chez engagement ended, on October 29, November 2, and November 12, 1966. This particular Barnet band then passed into history.(3)

But Charlie himself, with his book of new arrangements, and Willie Smith, went to New York and organized a band there. It was also comprised of top-notch New York free-lance musicians. The specific engagement Barnet played with this band there was at Basin Street East, 147 East 48th Street. The club was operated by Charlie’s old friend, Ralph Watkins. After that engagement was over, Barnet essentially retired as the leader of a regular, standing band. His few forays into bandleading in coming years would be limited to specific recording projects.

The music:

“Introduction to an Ending” reflects Charlie Barnet’s musical preferences, developed over decades as a bandleader. He wanted to communicate with his audiences directly and simply, whenever that was possible. Although he appreciated and enjoyed the more esoteric offerings some of his bandleading colleagues presented, he understood that he was selling music, not buying it. And that the buyers of his music were his audiences, generally comprised of non-musicians. This is not to say that Barnet pandered to his audiences. He invariably presented stimulating music which was performed with precision and verve by bands of very talented musicians. This rousing performance exemplifies all of that. (Above right: drummer Jack Sperling.)

Things begin in swinging fashion as pianist Jack Wilson, Jr. plays the band on with a tasty, bluesy chorus. Notice the support he gets from his rhythm colleagues, bassist Max Bennett and drummer Jack Sperling. There follows a succession of choruses spotting the saxophone quintet led in dynamic fashion by Willie Smith. Then the open trombones provide a foil for the rolling saxophones, and a bit later the open trumpets along with the trombones. Trumpeter Pete Candoli then chimes in with some high-notes, topping the molten-hot ensemble. (Below left: Conte and Pete Candoli.)

Mr. Sperling handles the brief transition from this shouting ensemble to Maestro Barnet’s alto saxophone solo, during which he refers obliquely to Duke Ellington’s “Things Ain’t What They Used to Be.” A reprise of the shout sequence follows, with Jack Sperling once again playing a crackling drum solo at the interlude which leads to the explosive finale.

P.S. 

Although I have listened to this recording many times, and my ears told me it was a blues, I found that the more I listened to it in preparation for this post, the more confused I became. I then turned to my friend, Dennis Roden, who is a well-schooled and experienced musician, to allay my confusion. Here is what he said about “Introduction to an Ending”: “Mike, yes, that is a blues, 12 bars to be exact. Starts in the key of C, then after the intro about four choruses of blues in D flat. Modulates again to D, and then to E flat. After the first drum break, with the saxophone solo, the form is suspended as the chord goes back-and-forth between I the IV, returning to the blues form with the screaming trumpet.”  When it comes to music, Dennis has ears like an X-ray machine. Thanks Mr. Roden for your expertise.

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

Notes and links:

(1) Charles Daly Barnet was the only child of Willard Barnet and Charlene Daly Barnet. Willard left Charlene two years after their son was born, and sued Charlene’s father, Charles Daly, a wealthy railroad executive, for alienation of his wife’s affections. This series of events undoubtedly shaped Charlene’s attitude toward her son. The Swing Era – 1944-1945 (1970), 36.

(2) Here is a link to the story and music of Charlie Barnet’s recording of “Cherokee”: https://swingandbeyond.com/2018/09/09/victors-24th-street-new-york-recording-studio-cherokee-1939-charlie-barnet/

(3) Details of Charlie Barnet’s career included in this post come from: Charlie Barnet – An Illustrated Biography and Discography, by Dan Mather (2002).

Here are links to other great performances by Charlie Barnet:

https://swingandbeyond.com/2016/08/11/harlem-speaks-1941-charlie-barnet/

https://swingandbeyond.com/2020/06/10/afternoon-of-a-moax-1940-charlie-barnet/

https://swingandbeyond.com/2022/01/14/the-dukes-idea-1939-charlie-barnet-with-bill-miller-and-bob-burnet/

https://swingandbeyond.com/2020/01/21/the-sergeant-was-shy-1939-duke-ellington-and-charlie-barnet-billy-may-1940/

https://swingandbeyond.com/2017/10/07/swing-and-swing-redux-pompton-turnpike-1940-charlie-barnet-and-billy-maxted-1967/

https://swingandbeyond.com/2023/06/09/the-right-idea-1939-charlie-barnet-with-bill-miller-and-bob-burnet-1941-with-bill-miller-and-bernie-privin/

https://swingandbeyond.com/2021/08/10/night-and-day-1940-charlie-barnet-with-bernie-privin-and-bill-miller-1942-frank-sinatra-1956-ella-fitzgerald/

https://swingandbeyond.com/2023/11/16/good-bye-1935-benny-goodman-with-bunny-berigan-and-jack-lacey-1958-charlie-barnet-with-chauncey-welsch-and-charlie-shavers/

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