Working his way back in.

André Previn Plays Gershwin (RCA Victor, 1954) (recorded May, June 1953)

Previn’s first post-army recording as a leader is very much a transitional document. He returns to the single-songwriter format and the piano-guitar-bass-drums quartet, but with an almost entirely new (and equally transitional) band. Only Bob Bain remains, alternating on guitar with Al Fredrickson; session veteran (and MGM studio orchestra member) Art Shapiro is on bass; Irv Cottler, about to become Sinatra’s favorite drummer, completes the line-up. (Tom Lord’s Jazz Discography has Buddy Clark playing bass for a handful of songs, which is possible, but see the discussion of 1958’s André Previn Plays Fats Waller.) Most of the arrangements have some of the flavor of his earlier efforts, but now they’ve been shorn of pretty-pop decorations: the strings are gone, the Carle-esque nightclub flourishes are dialed down to a minimum. The result is clean, straightforward workouts (especially a closing tear through “Strike Up the Band”) alongside subdued, restrained ballads. 

Previn is starting to work out some new muscles, though. “There’s a Boat Dat’s Leavin’ Soon for New York,” with its Latin percussion and stylized-blues ostinati, distills Previn’s film-arranging style into the new West Coast cool.

(An interesting comparison: the Modern Jazz Quartet’s 1955 recording of “Ralph’s New Blues.”)

(Note: many sources have this album as being released in 1955, but a 1954 mention by editor George Simon in Metronome magazine suggests otherwise.)

Shorty Rogers and André Previn: Collaboration (RCA Victor, 1955) (recorded March, June, September 1954)

Trumpeter and arranger Rogers was a Kenton alumnus who had also spent a few years in Woody Herman’s band before establishing himself as a maven of the new West Coast sound as a member of Howard Rumsey’s Lighthouse All-Stars. This album is built like an arranging-composing cutting contest: side A is three Rogers arrangements alternating with three Previn contrafacts, with the two trading places on side B. It’s a fun record. The writing is busy and detailed, but the nine-piece band (including Hendrickson, Jimmy Giuffre, Bud Shank, and Bob Cooper) finds a relaxed virtuosity. None of the originals attained any of the currency of their bebop forebears, but one could make a case that Previn’s “40 Degrees Below” (built on the harmonies of Irving Berlin’s “Heat Wave”) might be worth a second look.

Collaboration was also Previn’s first recording with drummer Shelly Manne, who, like Rogers, had worked in both Herman’s hard-swinging band and Kenton’s more erudite ensembles. Manne was a prolific and wildly versatile drummer. To say that he and Previn hit it off is an understatement. (These sessions also produced a Rogers-arranged “Lullaby of Birdland”, featuring Previn, that became part of a 1955 RCA Victor release collecting twelve different arrangers and groups playing that same song.)

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