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SERGE CHALOFF SEXTET - What's New ?

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Published on Oct 21, 2009

Recorded in 1955. Serge Chaloff-baritone sax, Boots Musulli-alto sax, Herb Pomeroy-trumpet, Ray Santisi-piano, Everett Evans-bass and Jimmy Zitano-drums. Serge Chaloff was born November 24, 1923 in Boston, Massachusetts. Both of his parents were prominent musicians and music teachers. His father Julius was a pianist and composer who played with the Boston Symphony. Julius wife Margaret taught piano, both privately and at such local institutions as the New England Conservatory of Music,Serge learned piano from both his parents between the ages of six and twelve, and also took clarinet lessons with Manuel Valerio of the Boston Symphony.By the early 1940s, he was playing tenor saxophone professionally with a Boston-area big band led by Tommy Reynolds, but he committed himself to the baritone soon afterwards. Both Harry Carney and Jack Washington, who played baritone sax with the Count Basie band in the 1930s were early influences on Chaloff as he worked as a sideman in various bands, including those led by Jimmy Dorsey, Shep Fields and Boyd Raeburn, whose orchestra was among those experimenting with carrying jazz instrumentation beyond swings conventions. While touring with Dorseys band in Los Angeles in September, 1946, Chaloff made his first recording as a small-combo leader - Blue Serge, an extended variation on Cherokee - for Ross Russells Dial Records. Already, Chaloff was demonstrating what he had learned from Charlie Parker and the bebop revolution, which at the time was only a few years old. Chaloff would continue honing his modernist chops with the Georgie Auld Sextet, whose ranks included such notable bop role-players as Red Rodney, Curley Russell and Teddy Reig. Chaloff was gigging with the Auld ensemble on New Yorks fabled 52nd Street when he got the call to join Woody Hermans new orchestra, which was forming in Los Angeles. This group became known as Hermans Second Herd, whose ranks included Rodney, Shorty Rogers, Oscar Pettiford, Gene Ammons, Stan Getz, Jimmy Giuffre, Al Cohn, Zoot Sims and Shelly Manne. Chaloffs legend began in earnest as one the original Four Brothers on the Herds 1947 recording of Giuffres hard-driving composition of the same name, featuring an all-sax frontline of Getz, Sims, Chaloff and Herbie Steward, playing in the cool, agile, free-swinging style of Lester Young. Chaloffs fame, mostly a result the Herds radio broadcasts and live performances, increased during his two-year stint with Herman. So did his addiction to heroin, which led to frequent clashes with his boss and others over Chaloffs erratic, sometimes abusive behavior during this period. Despite his personal excesses, Chaloff was playing with greater energy and imagination with Herman and in small group sessions with such Herd members as Rodney, Cohn, vibraphonist Terry Gibbs and arranger-pianist Ralph Burns. He was winning polls in music magazines as top baritone saxophonist and, in early 1950, led a quintet that included trombonist Earl Swope and pianist Bud Powell. Chaloffs recorded output trailed off between 1951 and 1954. He spent most of those years back home in Boston, forming various small groups throughout New England and on tour through the Midwest, frequently accompanied by Dick Twardzik. Chaloff returned to the recording scene in early 1954 with George Weins Boston-based Storyville label. His work reached a new peak later that year with The Fable of Mabel, a suite composed by Twardzik and dominated by dramatic shifts in tone and tempo. Chaloffs command of his instrument, especially in his fluent, assertive expressions of mood and color, is almost as stunning as the audacity of Twardziks concept. Chaloff kicked his drug habit for good by the end of 1954 and, with other Boston-bred musicians such as saxophonist Boots Mussulli and trumpeter Herb Pomeroy, led a Stan Kenton-produced recording session in April, 1955 released as Boston Blow-Up. He continued to tour and jam throughout the country with different combos and bands, returning to the West Coast in 1956 where he recorded what many believe to be his masterwork, Blue Serge, which doesnt include that Cherokee variation recorded under that name a decade before. An elegiac mood permeates this session, which includes among its many gems, rapturous, probing renditions of Stairway to the Stars and, especially, Thanks for the Memory, whose melodic invention places it at or very near the finest ballad performances of the decade. It was sometime during this L.A. stay that Chaloff was diagnosed with spinal cancer. Though debilitated by terminal illness and forced to work from a wheelchair or crutches, Chaloff continued to play, recording a Four Brothers reunion date with Cohn, Sims and Steward a few months before he died in Boston on July 16, 1957.

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