Maxwell Davis

A Tribute to Charlie Barnet

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One of the differing ways jazz artists are commemorated is through a tribute album. There are albums honoring Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Charlie Parker, and many others. Often the musicians are former playing associates, other times they are a group of musicians showing their respect. West Coast tenor man, arranger, and orchestra leader Maxwell Davis heads a large group of excellent big band veterans to pay tribute to Charlie Barnet, who led one of the most enduring and talented outfits of the big band era. Most of the players were with Barnet at one time or another for varying lengths of time, but there are also some ringers like Plas Johnson and Don Fagerquist. Nonetheless, under Davis' leadership, listeners are treated to replays of staples from the Barnet band like "Cherokee" and "Pompton Turnpike," plus some head arrangements Barnet was noted for. Given Barnet's adulation for Duke Ellington, it's surprising Ellington's music or the Barnet tunes he dedicated to the Duke have been ignored. Also, the presence of one of Ellington's favorite singers, Bunny Briggs, might have dictated that some musical reference to Ellington be included. Instead, the singer reprises "East Side West Side," which he did with Barnet in August of 1947. To Davis' credit, he avoids slavishly regurgitating Barnet's arrangements, at the same time, he doesn't stray all that far from the original. This is the bane of tribute albums, finding the right balance between the work of the person being honored and making the album interesting enough for big band fans to purchase, even though they may have the original. Davis does a reasonably good job in striking this balance to the point that this long out of print LP should be considered for transfer to CD.

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