“In the late 1970’s/early 1980’s, I had the honor and privilege to hold down the lead trumpet chair in The 92nd Street Y Studio Orchestra, conceived of and conducted by a dear, and sorely missed, friend and musician extraordinaire, Harvey Estrin.”—Dean Pratt
By Dean Pratt
“We agreed that it would not be brass and saxes all over again. We’d had that. We wanted a different combination of instruments. We came up with one that gave us lots of latitude—from piccolo to tuba. It gave us space to make the lines come out so you don’t always have a wad of sound thrown at you.”—Eddie Sauter
Author’s Note: My friend Audrey Mannes Mosello put this (vinyl) ball in motion when she asked me to post my favorite albums—my “essential jazz listening list”—on my Facebook wall over a specified period of time. Or something like that. Audrey, you know what you asked of me, but I doubt you expected the deluge that would follow on as a result.
PENDLETON South Carolina—(Weekly Hubris)—1 January 2021—In the late 1970’s/1980’s, I had the honor and privilege to hold down the lead trumpet chair in The 92nd Street Y Studio Orchestra, conceived of and conducted by a dear, and sorely missed, friend and musician extraordinaire, Harvey Estrin.
The orchestra was formed specifically to play the compositions and arrangements of Eddie Sauter and Bill Finegan. We rehearsed on Sunday mornings at the 92nd Street Y and put on two concerts a year there. It was one of the most satisfying experiences of my life to play that lead trumpet book.
Having been an original member of the Sauter/Finegan Orchestra, Estrin not only loved the music but knew just how to get the most out of us younger musicians and bring it to life. Many of our concerts were attended by Eddie and Bill and we were humbled and blessed to perform this magnificent music in front of its creators.
Luckily, as you will see by the LP’s listed here, I had been a devoted fan of this music for years before my tenure in The Studio Orchestra and this made the experience doubly special for me.
“Inside Sauter-Finegan” opens up with a favorite of mine, “Four Horsemen,” featuring Bobby Nichols, Al Maiorca, Nick Travis (tpts), and Harvey Estrin. As usual, this orchestra was filled with New York’s finest. In addition to those just mentioned, there are Sonny Russo, Tommy Mitchell, and Jimmy Thompson (tbns); Jay McAllister (tuba); Al Block, Wally Kane, Gene Allen, and Ray Shiner (woodwinds); and Ralph Burns, Max Bennett, Joe Venuto, Park Hill and Mousey Alexander in the rhythm section; with Andy Roberts and Sally Sweetland (vocalists). There is plenty of solo space for Travis, Russo, Venuto, Nichols, Allen, and Hill.
“The Sound of The Sauter-Finegan Orchestra” comprises the first half of the pair’s Extended Play Suite—”Child’s Play,” and “Horseplay,” originally issued by RCA on a 45 (“Dream Play” and “Holiday” were on Volume 2). Three of the four compositions have made it to CD, but “Holiday” remains unissued, as far as I can tell. This LP also includes the wonderful vocal stylings of Joe Mooney on “Love Is A Simple Thing,” “Time to Dream,” and the stunningly beautiful “Nina Never Knew.”
“Concert Jazz” opens up with “The Loop,” dedicated to Chicago’s grand thoroughfare. It’s a swinger with solos by Nick Travis, Gene Allen and Joe Venuto (catch the reference to Woody’s “Northwest Passage”). Gershwin’s “Concerto In F” is beautifully arranged by Bill: Andy Roberts shines in his tour-de-force on “John Henry,” and the orchestra concludes the festivities with Andy Roberts and Anita Dorian as they take us on a musical excursion with “Pictures From Sauter-Finegan Land.”
“New Directions in Music” would be a fitting title for all of the LP’s here. It opens up with the band’s theme, “Doodletown Fifers” as well as “Midnight Sleighride,” “Camptown Races,” “Moonlight On The Ganges,” and “Doodletown Yankee.”
For me though, the highlights of the album are “April In Paris” and “Azure-Te,” with the trombone duet of Bill Harris and Vern Friely.
“Under Analysis” starts out with a swinging version of “Avalon,” Don Redman’s “Chant Of The Weed,” and Finegan’s lush arrangement of “Stardust” with Bobby Nichols on trumpet and Andy Roberts’ vocal. So much good music here: “Rockin Chair,” “Liza,” “In a Mist,” “It’s A Lonesome Old Town,” and “How Am I To Know.”
Next is “Straight Down the Middle,” which starts out with Eddie’s arrangement of “Surrey With the Fringe On Top,” “Paradise,” featuring Nick Travis, Bill’s “Alright Already,” a romp featuring Gene Allen and Sonny Russo, and “Have You Met Miss Jones?” with soloist Rex Peer on trombone. Eddie’s original, “Whirlpool,” has solos by Sonny Russo and Nick Travis.
“Scotch and Sauter” has Gene Allen in the spotlight. Bill’s arrangement of “These Foolish Things” features solos by Rex Peer and Nick Travis, and his original, “Straight Down the Middle,” has solos by Allen, Travis, and Russo; with Milt Hinton, Mundell Lowe, Barry Galbraith, Moe Wechsler, Joe Venuto, and Don Lamond in the rhythm section.
Finally, there is Eddie and Bill’s tribute LP, a nod to the bands that helped establish their careers, “Memories of Goodman And Miller.” Bill is up first with “Little Brown Jug,” with solos by Nick Travis, Phil Woods, and Al Klink. “Sunrise Serenade,” “Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto” (Walt Levinsky, clarinet), and “Swing Low Sweet Chariot” (with the stellar trombone section of Sonny Russo, Rex Peer and Tommy Mitchell) follow. “Moonlight Sonata” (Lou Stein, piano), “Song of The Volga Boatman” (solo Woods alto) are next; then, it’s Eddie’s turn, with his original, “Benny Rides Again,” featuring Walt Levinsky on clarinet and, in the sax section, Woods, Wally Kane, Al Block, Al Klink, and Gene Allen. Next are “Soft As Spring,” “Ramona,” and “Clarinet a la King” (Levinsky), and Eddie’s original, “Superman,” featuring Nick Travis and Joe Ferrante on trumpets, Gene Allen, baritone, Lou Stein, Mundell Lowe, Joe Venuto, George Duvivier and Don Lamond in the rhythm section.
Thanks, Eddie, Bill and, especially, Harvey Estrin for the memories! All essential listening.
Here are the only extant videos (released for the holiday season) of the artistry of Sauter & Finegan:
- “Midnight Sleighride.”
Here are some audio recordings, via Youtube, of Sauter & Finegan:
1. “The Sound of The Sauter & Finegan Orchestra.” (full album)
2. “Scotch and Sauter.”
3. “The Loop.”
4. “Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto.”
5. “Four Horsemen.”
6. “Benny Rides Again.”