Philadelphia native Charlie Ventura was born Charles Venturo in 1916. Following in his father's footsteps, he worked at first for the Stetson hat company. Inspired by tenor saxophonist Leon "Chu" Berry, he took up the sax on his own and eventually made his first appearance on records as a member of Berry's ensemble. After extensive nocturnal gigging while working at the Philadelphia Navy Yard, Venturo sat in with Roy Eldridge and soon began recording with Gene Krupa's orchestra. It was Krupa who first brought Venturo to Los Angeles. This wonderful compilation presents a wealth of precious material recorded between March 1945 and March 1946 in both L.A. and New York. These are the first records that Venturo issued under his own name, and they all used the original spelling. He wasn't presented on records as "Charlie Ventura" until September of 1946. Teamed at first with Howard McGhee and then with Buck Clayton, Venturo cut eight sides for the small-time Sunset and Black & White labels. These were followed by five episodes for tenor and rhythm section recorded in New York for the rapidly rising Savoy label. While Chu Berry was his prime influence, Venturo's progress paralleled that of Coleman Hawkins as swing evolved rapidly into bop. Here Venturo demonstrates his remarkable prowess as both balladeer and front burner. The drumming of Gordon "Specs" Powell enhances and fortifies the two sessions from August of 1945. A loose-limbed live "Jam Session Honoring Charlie Venturo" resulted in extended versions of "The Man I Love" and "Stompin' at the Savoy," and were brought out on the Lamplighter and Crystalette labels by producer Ted Yerxa. The omission of Ventura's famous performance at Town Hall in 1945 -- issued on Commodore and reissued by Atlantic -- is puzzling and somewhat disappointing, but the rest of the material is so rare and excellent as to compensate for the gap. Back with Black & White in March of 1946, Venturo led a sextet including trumpeter Red Rodney and Jimmie Lunceford's star alto saxophonist, Willie Smith. There are several contenders for "best Charlie Ventura compilation," but this one, documenting his first year as leader of his own recording ensembles, rates among the very best.
AllMusic Review by arwulf arwulf