b. Robert Florence, 20 May 1932, Los Angeles, California, USA, d. 15 May 2008, Thousand Oaks, California, USA. On discovering that he had perfect pitch, Florence’s mother started him on piano lessons at the age of five and two years later, he gave a piano recital. Intent on a career as a concert pianist, he later studied at Los Angeles City as a music major. In addition to courses on harmony, counterpoint, and music appreciation, he took a class in arranging and orchestration from Bob McDonald, who had a jazz background. This changed Florence’s direction and he joined the college jazz band. He was still in college when he formed his first rehearsal band, a prime objective being to allow him the opportunity to hear the things he was writing.
Florence first attracted widespread attention among big band fans when he wrote elegantly crafted arrangements for Si Zentner’s popular recording band in the early 60s. After leaving Zentner, with whom he sometimes played piano too, he wrote for several west coast-based musicians, including Bud Shank and Frank Capp but also varied his technique happily to accommodate blues singers Jimmy Witherspoon and Big Miller, Joanie Sommers, Sue Raney and Sergio Mendes.
Although an accomplished pianist, Florence’s chief talents were his arranging skills and especially his ability to write for big bands. Like many other arrangers he discovered that the only way to hear his charts (many of which were for his own compositions) played the way he wanted them was to have his own big band. Following upon the idea behind his college rehearsal band, in the late 50s he formed a new rehearsal band that continued through succeeding decades to great acclaim, providing object lessons in big band writing and playing. In subsequent decades he called upon outstanding musicians such as Bob Cooper, Nick Ceroli, Bob Efford, Steve Hufstetter, Bill Perkins, Kim Richmond, Buddy Childers, Pete Christlieb and Warren Leuning.
Although his roots were clearly in the post-swing era style of big band writing, Florence comfortably accommodated bebop and many latter-day fusions. In atour de force on ‘The Bebop Treasure Chest’ (on 1986’s Trash Can City) he demonstrated his skills by seamlessly blending phrases and quotations from 16 tunes. From 1981, his band was known as the Bob Florence Limited Edition.