Legendary Roger Kellaway with Jay Leonhart and Peter Erskine – on Volume 3 of Carl Saunders’ original music
Roger Kellaway, piano
Jay Leonhart, bass
Peter Erskine, drums
All compositions by Carl Saunders.
Grammy Award winner and Academy Award nominated Pianist/Composer, Roger Kellaway, has recorded more than two hundred and fifty albums. He’s worked with everyone from Ellington to Elvis, Carmen McCrae to Barbra Streisand, and Quincy Jones to Yo-Yo Ma.
Kellaway has done it “all”…In the ’60s arranging and conducting Bobby Darin’s album of songs for “Dr. Doolittle” to his most prized television credit of writing “Remembering You”, the closing theme for the groundbreaking “All in the Family”, to 29 film scores including “A Star is Born” – to the 2000s as Tony Bennett’s musical director…Roger’s credits are too many to single out…an incredible history indeed!!
Here he ‘strolls’ through “new jazz standards” created by critically acclaimed journeyman, Carl Saunders, who’s writing skills are undeniable. This, the third in his series (the first played by Sam Most, the second by Scott Whitfield), is highly listenable and a wonderful addition to both his and Kellaway repertoire!….
Jazz listeners living in the Los Angeles area and musicians worldwide have long known that Carl Saunders is one of the great trumpet players (and writers) around today.
During the ’60s-’80s played with a countless number of show bands, including lead trumpet with Ella Fitzgerald, Tony Bennet, and Frank Sinatra. Saunders also traveled as a lead player with Paul Anka and Robert Goulet and with such bandleaders as Si Zentner, Harry James, Maynard Ferguson, Benny Goodman and Charlie Barnet.
Asked to define jazz, Carl says, “It’s a combination of intellectual funk and hypnotic swinging”. His five recordings show that not only is he a prolific composer but he is one of the finest jazz trumpeters of the 21st century.
Trumpeter Carl Saunders is best known for his contributions to jazz orchestras, having put his mighty horn to good use for Stan Kenton, Bill Holman, Maynard Ferguson, Benny Goodman, Gerald Wilson, and numerous other big band leaders of note over the past half-century. Yet his work as a composer may end up being his lasting legacy. Saunders has amassed a considerable body of work—more than three hundred of his tunes appear in a Real Book-style collection titled New Jazz Standards—and he’s been showcasing these compositions by handing them off to notable performers for a series of albums for Summit Records. The late Sam Most’s final date—also dubbed New Jazz Standards(Summit Records, 2014)—kicked off said project, and trombonist Scott Whitfield took the baton and delivered a second volume of material in 2016. Now, top-notch pianist Roger Kellaway is taking his turn with the Saunders songbook.
Fronting a first-rate trio with bassist Jay Leonhart and drummer Peter Erskine, Kellaway delivers a set that alternately swings and soothes. “Prudence,” one of Saunders’ better-known compositions, opens the album by cutting against its name. There’s nothing cautious about this sunny swinger. Then there’s “Dees Blues,” a number dedicated to lyricist Michael Dees. Erskine, aligned perfectly with Leonhart’s buoyantly shuffling bass, sets that train in motion with a Mel Lewis-worthy feel that perfectly supports Kellaway’s excursions, which include some Gene Harris-esque tremolos. The aptly titled “Calming Notion,” where Kellaway overdubs a second piano, provides a marked shift in direction, but the laid-back pseudo-bop of “Noodlin” puts the trio back on its cheery track while showcasing Kellaway’s remarkable chops and split- handed brilliance.
As the program continues, Kellaway and company deliver more of the same along with a few surprises. Leonhart puts his voice and bow to good use in a humorous blues setting on “Is That Asking Too Much,” “Valtzing” calmly bounds along in line with the titular dance, and “Sweetness” proves to be the standout ballad on the set. Add to that a “Hurry Up & Wait” that finds Kellaway and Leonhart syncing up before the trio goes to serious swing town, a solo piano episode of optimistic quietude in “A Verse,” and a skulking-turned-cooking blues finale in the form of “Minor Infraction,” and then you have a real work of art. But Saunders goes one better, tacking on a balladic bonus track recorded by the trio of Kellaway, bassist Buster Williams and drummer Santo Savino at the 1994 sessions for his first solo album. It may or may not have been necessary, but it’s most definitely the cherry on top.
Whether or not these and other Saunders songs will take their place as new jazz standards remains to be seen, but they certainly have merit. And there’s plenty more from where these came from: a fourth volume in the series—with guitarist Larry Koonse taking the reins—is already in the works, so we’ll be hearing more of Saunders’ music in no time.
-DAN BILAWSKY for AllAboutJazz.com, April 5, 2018