Larry Elgart deserves respect, and it looks like he’s finally receiving some with the release of a new two-fer from Blue Moon Records—Larry Elgart and His Orchestra: Sophisticated Sixties (1960) and The Shape of Sounds to Come (1961). I’ve never been a huge fan, but then again I never gave Larry Elgart or his bandleader brother Les much of a chance. Instead, I was more fond of the Maynard Ferguson band during this early ’60s period, an orchestra that still sounds like tigers leaping out of trees. Larry Elgart always sounded a little safe—with fairly straight-up easy-going arrangements like those recorded by Enoch Light and Les Brown during this time period. But listening to this new CD, I realize now I have to revisit the Elgarts, particularly Larry.
These two Elgart albums exhibit the band’s abilities at its best. They also show off the band’s signature sound—the reeds playing tip-toeing staccato notes in the manner of someone sneaking home at a late hour holding a pair of shoes. The staccato reed notes are reminiscent of the Hal Kemp Orchestra’s punctuating muted trumpets in the 1930s.
To give Larry Elgart his just due, his bands were strong and agile. The arrangements on Sophisticated Sixties were by Ernie Wilkins, John Murtaugh and Roger Middleton, and they weren’t easy. The same goes for The Shape of Sounds to Come, with arrangements by Murtaugh, Marty Holms, Bill Finegan, Bobby Scott and Lew Gluckin. Unfortunately, the musicians on both albums were never credited by MGM so they don’t turn up in jazz discographies.
Larry Elgart grew up in New London, Ct., and learned to play piano from his concert pianist mother. Then he switched to the clarinet and later studied the flute with the girl next door who would become his wife. When his high school needed a tenor saxophonist, Elgart auditioned and won the chair. He eventually switched to alto saxophone, the instrument on which he would record prolifically. While studying with saxophonist Hymie Shertzer, his teacher placed him with Charlie Spivak’s orchestra. Larry was all of 17. At 23 in 1945, Larry teamed with his older brother, Les, who played the trumpet, to form an orchestra. The band lasted only until 1948. In 1953, the brothers signed with Columbia Records and together began turning out best-selling dance-band albums.
Larry Elgart is still with us at 95. His brother Les died in 1995.
JazzWax clips: Here’s a great arrangement of That’s All on Sophisticated Sixties…
And here’s I’ve Got You Under My Skin from The Shape of Sounds to Come…