OBITUARY : Marty Paich
Thursday 17 August 1995
It was Rogers and Paich who led the development of the West Coast jazz style in the Fifties, evolving the first new jazz style since Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie had turned jazz on its head with bebop a decade earlier. It was a style characterised by instrumental precision and virtuoso technique. The solo style was "cool" and the passion more under control than it had been before. This led to accusations that the music was limp- wristed and lacked red blood.
Paich, more than anyone else, epitomised the characteristics of the new music. Both his piano playing and his writing were neat and crisp. He was a perfectionist and expected his musicians to be so, too.
Unlike his three contemporaries, it took Paich 14 years from the beginning of his career in 1941 to catch the public ear. He started as a dance hall pianist in his native Oakland and already wrote arrangements for the band. His writing was strongly influenced by the style of the Jimmy Lunceford Orchestra. His arranging talents blossomed in the US Army Air Force band in 1943-46 and, placing the emphasis on his writing rather than on his playing, he spent four years from 1946 to 1950 studying with Mario Castelnuovo- Tedesco, earning bachelor's and master's degrees from the Los Angeles Conservatory of Music.
He toured with the bands of Dan Terry and Jerry Gray before playing with the drummer Shelly Manne and in 1953 worked as conductor and pianist for another perfectionist, the singer Peggy Lee. In the same year he also joined Shorty Rogers' Giants, a burgeoning part-time organisation. When Rogers "borrowed" virtually the whole of Stan Kenton's band to make the classic Cool And Crazy album, Paich's succinct piano work was a vital element. There was a cross- pollination between the two men, with Paich learning much from Rogers. His piano work distinguished many of Rogers's albums, most notably Shorty Courts The Count, where Paich put his finger on Count Basie's spare and brilliant timing with an instinctive exactitude. Art Pepper, the West Coast's most impassioned soloist, was a Rogers regular, and Paich began writing with Pepper in mind. Another altoist, Herb Geller, with similar talents to Pepper's, was often overlooked by historians, but he deputised on the occasions when Pepper was unavailable. Bud Shank was another who added emotional power to the Rogers recordings and later to those of Paich.
In 1956 Paich came to London as Dorothy Dandridge's accompanist, and back home formed his own band, loosely based on the classic 10-piece line- up which Miles Davis had led in the late Forties. As Davis had done, he made use of a seamless flow of melodic line from trumpet and alto down to tenor and French horn and lower still to tuba with the playing and writing so polished that it was difficult to tell when one combination handed over the line to another. This group, immortalised as the Marty Paich Dektette, accompanied Mel Torme on a classic jazz album called Lulu's Back In Town in 1956. This, probably one of Torme's best albums of all, swept the world and immediately followed Cool And Crazy as one of the great style-setting West Coast albums.
Many albums by Paich and Torme, all distinguished by similar craftsmanship and invention, followed over the next few years, and Paich, who had set new parameters in orchestration, became in demand for jazz, television, recording studio and film dates. He arranged and conducted the music for Ray Charles's three biggest hit collections and for the highly successful Lena Horne - Lovely And Alive album.
Art Pepper was the West Coast equivalent of Charlie Parker, an altoist of transcendental passion and imagination. His talent, coupled to Paich's instinctive poise, produced another potent partnership which brought forth yet another classic album, Art Pepper + Eleven (1959).
"When I first met Art he was the greatest saxophone player I had ever heard," Paich said, "Far above anybody else. I couldn't believe how beautifully he played. Art to me was the sound of West Coast jazz, that melodic style he played, rather than the hard-driving New York style . . . When the word got round that we were going to do the album, I had innumerable calls from practically everyone in town, top players wanting to be on the session because . . . it was just electrifying all the time that Art was around."
By now one of the leading figures on the Coast, Paich had trouble keeping up with the calls on his talents and wrote for the bands of Terry Gibbs, Louie Bellson, Count Basie, Buddy Rich and arranged, conducted and led the orchestras on recordings with Ella Fitzgerald, Sammy Davis Jnr, Anita O'Day and other singers. His association with Stan Kenton produced one of his best arrange- ments, of "My Old Flame", for that band, and he wrote for and conducted the huge Neophonic Concert Orchestra which Kenton had created. He created another outstanding arrangement for Kenton, recorded in 1973, of "Body And Soul".
By 1988, when Paich last came to Britain and, at the instigation of the BBC producer Keith Stewart, I had an hour-long discussion with him on Radio Two, Paich was toying with the idea of semi-retirement. His world- wide reputation was so well established that this proved impossible. He had been invited to Britain by Bobby Lamb, an ex-Woody Herman trombonist, who runs a music department at Trinity College, in London. Lamb had organised a Festival Of Music, and as part of it Paich conducted the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra as it played some of his compositions and orchestrations.
Jazz had to take a back seat as Hollywood's demands became more onerous, and Paich orchestrated or conducted the music for many recent films, including all those where the composer James Newton Howard was involved. Paich forgot about retirement until forced into it by illness a year ago.
Martin ("Marty") Louis Paich, pianist, composer, orchestrator and band- leader: born Oakland, California 23 January 1925; married (one son, one daughter); died Hidden Hills, California 12 August 1995.
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