Sunday, December 6, 2009

Billy Butterfield: "Conniff Meets Butterfield"--"Just Kiddin' Around"

Our recent Bob Crosby post (11/1/09) lauded the talents of trumpeter Billy Butterfield (1917-88). Billy was a consummate jazzman, lead and section man which made him extremely valuable in the world of big bands, traditional jazz and swing.

These two albums recorded for Columbia in 1959 and 1963, respectively, show his beautiful tone and jazz feel, even in a more commercial setting. Conniff Meets Butterfield reunites Billy with his old buddy from the Bob Crosby band, Ray Conniff (1916-2002). Ray, an excellent trombonist (more on that later) and arranger, had hit it big at Columbia with a simple but effective series of vocal albums featuring his Singers backed by tasty arrangements usually with rhythm section backing.

The 1959 session is a trumpet showcase for Billy playing a series of popular standards backed by Ray's rhythm and catchy charts. Many of the tunes utilize the shuffle rhythm made so popular by Jonah Jones over at Capitol records. The one constant is Billy's huge, gorgeous tone whether muted or open. His jazz ideas are given free reign even though this is essentially an easy listening album. Personally, this album was an early exposure to great trumpet playing and still evokes happy memories. Here are some highlights:

Most of the tunes have Billy either cup muted or open playing some great standards backed by a rhythm section. Despite the commercial nature of the album Billy gets in great jazz phrasing and licks on all the tunes.

The opener Beyond the Blue Horizon gets off to a great start with shuffle rhythm and Billy's pungent cup muted horn. Billy goes open for the second chorus with nice variations before going up high for a classic ending. The rest of the album doesn't disappoint. Ray's arrangements are sparce, but clever. On You must have been a Beautiful Baby, Billy plays open and has a nice jazz chorus with a catchy riff before reprieving the melody with cup.

Time on my Hands has cup mute melody then Billy plays a nice unison riff with the rhythm. What a Differance a Day Makes opens with Billy in cup then a nice open passage over shuffle rhythm with Louis-like glisses before going out up high.

South of the Border is another swinger with shuffle rhythm, more trumpet-rhythm unison and some more Louis high ones. Billy uses the Ay-ay-ay strain as a coda. Rosalie also swings nicely over shuffle with more glisses (Billy sure knew his Louis) and a repeated ending with a hint of Salt Peanuts. Ray's original A Love is Born (Song of the Trumpet) , is a beautiful, haunting theme , just perfect for the great Butterfield horn. Only one chorus, the theme shows off Billy's control and gorgeous tone. A highlight of the album, for sure. The other tracks , I Found a Million Dollar Baby, Can't we be Friends, All the Things You Are, Oh What a Beautiful Morning and Something to Remember You By all have wonderful Butterfield solos.

The only drawback to the album is a gimmicky echo in the rhythm section that sounds like the drums and guitar are behind the beat. This was the era of hifi/stereo and these effects are very annoying-Too bad it wasn't omitted on the reissue. (It would get worse on the next album).

The follow-up album was Just Kiddin' Around (1963)
and this time Ray added his trombone work to his arranging talents. Ray had broken in as a trombonist with Bunny Berigan, followed by stints with Bob Crosby(where he met Billy), Vaughn Monroe, Artie Shaw and Harry James. His work with Shaw, especially his chart on 'Swonderful, established him as a top arranger and soon his trombone had to take a back seat. (He reworked the sWonderful chart for the Singers and had a hit with it.) Ray was a fine jazz player. His work on a March 1944 Blue Note session with Art Hodes, Max Kaminsky and Rod Cless show what a fine trad/dixie player he was. If he hadn't met with so much success as an arranger, he could have been a major player in the trad circles.

Ray and Billy only team up on 2 selections, the rest of the album has them splitting solo features. On Alexander's Ragtime Band, Billy and Ray duet the first chorus with Billy getting off some nice licks, Ray handles the verse and Billy wails up high on the outchorus with Ray sliding underneath. We even get some quotes from Cornet Chop Suey and Muskrat Ramble-A Great Opener! Just Kiddin' Around is a riff tune from Ray's Artie Shaw days with unison playing by the horns, more shuffle rhythm, trading fours a nice Basie-ish piano bridge and back to the unison. Now on to the features.

Billy's features are in the same format as the earlier album. Put your Arms Around Me is a standout with shufle rhythm and Billy getting off great drive and phrasing. After a modulation he wails the second chorus with a long held note on the coda. This Love of Mine has soaring open horn with a lot of Louis and Bunny like phrasing. On You'll Never Know, Billy gets in some nice Harry James licks in tribute to a fellow trumpet great. Louise and But Not for Me are both tasty renditions.

Ray's features are tasty but not as jazz oriented. However he plays strong and percussive-He obviously had been keeping his chops up. Heartaches, When I Grow Too Old to Dream, You Oughta be in Pictures and Peg O' My Heart are all nicely played with his patented tasty charts.
The lovely ballad I See Your Face Before Me has more of a Teagarden feel and is a jazz highlight.

All in all , these two lps show the greatness of Billy Butterfield as an all-round trumpeter and the dual talents of Ray Conniff. The CD versions are available on Columbia thru Amazon.

Till next time-Keep Swingin'

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