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An Original and Intelligent ArrangerCopyright © 2001
Manny Albam was a distinguished composer and arranger who produced subtle but swinging charts for many of the major names in post-war jazz, and recorded several significant albums in his own right. His jazz version of West Side Story (1958) earned the admiration of Leonard Bernstein, accompanied by an offer to write something for the New York Philharmonic, which he never took up.
He was born Emmanuel Albam in the Dominican Republic, but brought up in New York City. He took up saxophone in high school, and made his professional debut in 1940. He played alto, but more often baritone saxophone, with a number of bands, including those led by Muggsy Spanier, Georgie Auld and Boyd Raeburn, before serving in the army in 1945-6.
He resumed his professional career in 1947, working with Herbie Fields, Jerry Wald and Charlie Barnet, among others. During this period, he began to write his own music and to work on arranging, and after leaving Barnet's band in 1950, he laid aside the saxophone and concentrated entirely on writing.
He established a reputation as an intelligent and original arranger, and was soon in great demand in New York. He arranged charts or compositions for such major names as Count Basie, Woody Herman, Stan Kenton, Buddy Rich, Coleman Hawkins, Stan Getz, Dizzy Gillespie, Phil Woods, Bob Brookmeyer, and J. J. Johnson, and also provided arrangements for singers like Sarah Vaughan and Carmen McRae, and in later years, Dakota Stanton.
Albam's swing-era background was reflected in the strong swing feel which pervaded even his commercial work and scores for television and film. Another trademark of his style was his tightly arranged choral passages for the brass and reed sections.
The positive response from Bernstein to his West Side Story arrangements encouraged him to seek out a more classical training. He studied with composer Tibor Serly for two years from 1958, and went on to compose chamber music (much of it for tuba player Harvey Phillips) and orchestral works, including scores for "pops" orchestras in Boston, Dallas and Philadelphia.
He arranged classic jazz standards for jazz pianist Hank Jones and the Meridian String Quartet in 1990, and collaborated with singer Nancy Marano and the Netherlands Metropole Orchestra on the album If You Could See Us Now in 1999. He contributed several charts to the repertoire of the Carnegie Hall Jazz Band. In 1997, saxophonist Joe Lovano sought him out to arrange the large ensemble portions of his acclaimed Celebrating Sinatra recording.
Although he never maintained a regular band, he recorded a series of albums under his own name, including an early collaboration with Ernie Wilkins on Drum Suite (1956), and his ambitious extended suite, Soul of the City (1966). He arranged the songs of Steve Allen and the music of Bernstein and Duke Ellington. Other albums included The Blues Is Everybody's Business (1958), Jazz Goes to the Movies (1962) and Brass on Fire (1966).
He was an important pioneer in the nascent period of the now burgeoning jazz education sector. He became involved in that field in 1964 when he established a summer arranging workshop at the Eastman School of Music. He went on to teach at Glassboro State College in New Jersey and the Manhattan School of Music.
He was appointed associate musical director of the BMI Jazz Composers Workshop, set up by the music licensing organisation BMI in 1988 to help composers and arrangers in writing new music for big bands. He took over the position of musical director from Bob Brookmeyer, and retained it until his death from cancer.
He is survived by his wife, Betty Hindes; a son, two daughters, two stepsons, three grandchildren, and four step-grandchildren.
A Source of Inspirationby Bill Kirchner
Copyright © 2001 Bill Kirchner
Bill Kirchner writes:
I have the sad task of informing you that composer-arranger Manny Albam died Tuesday night at his home in Croton, NY after a two-month battle with cancer. He was 79.
For all of us who knew him, Manny was a source of boundless enthusiasm and inspiration. He had a wonderful career for sixty years, and he never stopped growing.
As Bob Brookmeyer put it, "He was the dearest man that could be and an irreplaceable friend and mentor."
A memorial service in NYC is being planned for the near future.
Bill Kirchner^ Top
Bill Kirchner is a musician, producer, jazz historian and educator.