Vanguard Jazz Orchestra - Monday Night Live At Village Vanguad

On February 12, 1966, John Wilson wrote in The New York Times:
One band that is not likely to leave New York is The Jazz Band, an 18-piece group led by Thad Jones, a former Count Basie trumpeter, and Mel Lewis, a drummer who has served with Woody Herman, Stan (Kenton) and Benny Goodman…This all-star band (it includes Bob Brookmeyer, Hank Jones, Richard Davis, Snooky Young and Jerome Richardson, among others) ripped through Thad Jones’ provocative, down-to-earth arrangements with the surging joy that one remembers in the early Basie band or Woody Herman’s first Herd. Those were young bands whose skills sometimes could not keep up with their desires. But these are old pros, having a wonderful time and rising to each other’s challenges, even to such adventures as three-part improvisation…

What was obvious to everyone present at the Vanguard on the night of February 7, 1966 was that an exceptional ensemble had been born. What no one could have predicted was that the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Orchestra would become one of the most acclaimed and innovative big bands in jazz history, that it would tour extensively throughout three continents, and that its offspring, the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra, would still be in residence on Monday nights twenty-eight years later.

Bill Kirchner - February, 1994


For over four decades the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra has been committed to engaging audiences in jazz and related American music experiences. The orchestra serves as a creative outlet for some of the nation's foremost performers, composers, and arrangers. One of the driving forces behind the longevity and artistic excellence of this ensemble is a commitment to the original Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Orchestra precepts of sound and the nurturing and encouragement of creativity and experimentation in the creators, performers and listeners of jazz.


Sixteen as One Music Inc., a not-for-profit 501(c)(3), was created by the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra to promote the development and growth of jazz music through education and community outreach programs. The goals of this endeavor are: To provide world-wide performances, workshops, lectures and symposia about jazz and related musical genres; To commission new arrangements and original compositions for jazz orchestra; To document historical and innovative projects through audio and video recordings; To initiate partnerships and collaborations with cultural, education and corporate institutions; To help build and sustain an international jazz audience; To foster and promote jazz education in schools and under-served communities.


History of the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra: The Vanguard Jazz Orchestra is the current title for a band that began life as the Thad Jones-Mel Lewis Orchestra in 1966 and has performed continuously ever since.
The story is familiar but bears repeating that in 1966 cornetist, composer, arranger, Thad Jones and drummer Mel Lewis founded a band in New York. Having settled in New York after leaving their respective touring jobs with Basie and Kenton, Thad and Mel along with many of their colleagues needed an outlet for their creative energies and relief from the tedium of the studio work. With a handful of arrangements they approached legendary club owner Max Gordon and were booked at the Village Vanguard for 3 Mondays in February. Critical acclaim, awards and international success followed but in 1979, tired of frequent traveling and the economic uncertainty that even great jazz musicians endure in America, Thad left the band to accept leadership of the Danish Radio Orchestra in Copenhagen.

Mel decided to continue the band now billed as Mel Lewis and the Jazz Orchestra and enlisted the talents of his old friend and former band member Bob Brookmeyer who, miraculously was just returning to active playing and composing in New York. The band not only survived but with Brookmeyer’s writing continued the innovation and influence that Thad and Mel had began. Bob moved on to other projects and ultimately also settled in Europe, the new material coming from within the band now. In 1990 the band would endure a terrible blow when Mel Lewis died after a 5 year battle with cancer. For the members, all of whom had been there 5 years and several over 10, losing Mel was a deep family tragedy, for great bands invariably become families. They are also teams; and in this spirit decided to continue the band as a cooperative effort. ( When asked who was "fronting" the band one of the veterans was heard snapping "...the music".)

So three weeks have become a permanent gig spanning over three decades and another name change to; the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra. Several of the current key members played for Thad, so the original precepts of sound and swinging are proudly held and displayed while the other original precepts of creativity and experimentation are nurtured and encouraged. The Village Vanguard is still a great place to be on a Monday night no matter which side of the bandstand you’re on.

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Vanguard Jazz Orchestra - Monday Night Live

The Music

SET 1 – DISC 1 1. Mean What You Say: 8:49 2. Say It Softly: 6:51 3. St. Louis Blues: 15:50 4. Body and Soul: 7:09 5. Mornin’ Reverend: 5:00
SET 2 – DISC 2 1. Las Cucarachas Entran: 10:07 2. Willow Tree: 7:06 3. Don’t You Worry ‘bout a Thing: 4:08 4. Kids Are Pretty People: 8:57 5. The Waltz You Swang For Me: 5:57 6. Little Rascal on a Rock: 12:09

The Band
Trumpets: Nick Marchione (lead), Frank Greene (associate lead), Terell Stafford, Scott Wendholt Trombones: John Mosca (lead), Luis Bonilla, Jason Jackson, Douglas Purviance (bass trombone) Reeds: Dick Oatts (lead alto saxophone, soprano saxophone, flute, piccolo), Billy Drewes (alto and soprano saxophones, flute, clarinet), Rich Perry (tenor saxophone, flute), Ralph LaLama (tenor saxophone, clarinet, flute), Gary Smulyan (baritone saxophone) Rhythm Section: Jim McNeely–piano, John Riley–drums, Phil Palombi–Bass Michael Weiss, piano on Mean What You Say, St. Louis Blues, Mornin’ Reverend, Kids Are Pretty People, The Waltz You Swang For Me John Clark, french horn on Las Cucarachas Entran