Friday, March 31, 2006

Odd Spin 3/31: The Gene Norman Group’s Dylan Jazz

Title: Dylan Jazz
Flute & saxophones: Jim Horn
Guitar: Glenn Campbell
Piano: Al Delory
Bass: Lyle Ritz
Drums: Hal Blaine
Label: GNP Crescendo

The set-up: Gene Norman, proprietor of GNP put together a group to perform jazz arrangements of Dylan songs. Their renditions are range from competent to pleasant, but the group includes some notable names. Yes, that is the Glenn Campbell. Jim Horn would become well known for his studio work and some halfway-smooth jazz recordings. Blaine and Delory were first call musicians for Spector’s Wall of Sound. Lyle Ritz on bass, would later become known as the leading jazz ukulele player. Yes ukulele.

Jazz versions of folk material were not as uncommon as one might think. For instance, there also was Bud Shank’s Folk & Flute. Probably the best jazz Dylan cover was Lou Donaldson’s take on “Blowin’ in the Wind,” from the non-theme album of the same name.

Dylan’s contact with the jazz scene has been limited, but he did have a controversial booking with jazz impresario George Wein. Renown for producing the Newport Jazz Festival, during the 1960’s Wein also produced a Newport Folk Festival for several years. Dylan had just gone electric, and the combination of his new rock sound, and poor amplification system nearly sunk the festival. At Wein’s urging Dylan did toss off a few acoustic tunes to forestall rioting, but the party was over. As Wein wrote in his autobiography Myself Among Others: “Several other artists followed Dylan, but the night had been derailed. Everyone was exhausted. (p. 334)” As a jazz man himself, Wein understood asking him to play the old Dylan was like asking Miles or Trane to revive their past sound rather than playing their current explorations. However the near riot of Dylan’s night at the Folk Fest would take a toll on Festival Productions.

The bottom line: I just paid $10 for my copy, so I don’t want to hear of anyone finding a clean copy for less.