The Troy Street Observer

January 1958: Life Is a Many Splendored Gig for the Pomeroy Band

In late January 1958, after what seemed to Bostonians like an interminable wait, Roulette Records released Life Is a Many Splendored Gig, the Herb Pomeroy Orchestra’s first album (Roulette R-52001), and January 30 was the date the local press first wrote about it.

Photo of Herb Pomeroy
Herb Pomeroy, 1956. Photo Berklee College of Music

John McLellan, in his twice-weekly Jazz Scene column in the Boston Traveler (oh, to have the luxury of a twice-weekly jazz column in a daily paper), summed it up in six words: “the whole album is a gas.”

In The Boston Jazz Chronicles, I wrote about this band being the high-water mark of Boston jazz in the 1950s, and this recording is the proof of it. The band swings and the soloists (especially Joe Gordon) are standouts, but I give extra credit to the arrangers—Pomeroy’s band had the reputation of a writers’ band, and they’re in evidence here. Band members Everett Longstreth and Boots Mussulli contributed two arrangements each, as did Pomeroy himself, and Jaki Byard and Ray Santisi each wrote one. Byard’s “Aluminum Baby” became the band’s most requested tune. Bob Freedman, who replaced Byard in the saxophone section in September 1957, also contributed a chart.

The album was recorded in New York in June 1957, while the band was at Birdland. Leonard Feather heard them there, and reviewed them in the June 27 Down Beat. He concluded: “Pomeroy’s band provides another reminder that the shortage of big, swinging orchestras is in no measure due to any lack of able and spirited musicians and arrangers. One can only hope earnestly that it will not return to local two-night-a-week obscurity, for coupled with its will to succeed is the no less important fact that it deserves to.”

Down Beat’s Dom Cerulli gave the album a five-star review in the March 20, 1958 issue, but he devoted too much space to cataloging the shortcomings of the liner notes, written by Robert Sylvestor, a New York Daily News columnist. Sylvester failed to mention, for instance, that Zoot Sims was the album’s guest soloist on a half-dozen tracks, and although Zoot’s solos are uniformly good, Cerulli wondered why Roulette added him at all, given the saxophone talent in the Pomeroy band. But they added Zoot, and they didn’t tell anybody, so quite a few listeners probably thought Varty Haroutunian was just a Zoot Sims copycat…

The Pomeroy Orchestra on this recording included Herb Pomeroy, Lennie Johnson, Augie Ferretti, Everett Longstreth, and Joe Gordon, trumpets; Joe Ciavardone, Bill Legan, and Gene DiStasio, trombones; Dave Chapman and Boots Mussulli, alto saxophones; Varty Haroutunian and Jaki Byard, tenor saxophones; Deane Haskins, baritone saxophone; Ray Santisi, piano; John Neves, bass; and Jimmy Zitano, drums.

Here are two tracks from the album. First up is “Wolafunt’s Lament” (I once heard that the lament concerned a dreaded trip to the dentist), arranged by Longstreth with solos by Sims and Gordon.

Next is “Theme for Terry,” composed and arranged by Bob Freedman and featuring solos by DiStasio, Haskins, Haroutunian, and Gordon.

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