The Big 18 was a studio only big band
assembled by RCA Victor Musical Director Fred Reynolds in 1958. Reynold's idea
was to use some of the great songs and arrangements of the big band era while
showcasing some of the star sidemen of the great bands by allowing ample time
for extended solos. There were two releases by The Big 18. They were Live Echoes Of The Swinging Bands and More Live Echoes Of The Swinging Bands.
Hi-fi stereo was of course a post Swing era
invention. Extended recorded solos were not a luxury arrangers and band-leaders
during the Big Band era were afforded as 78RPM records allowed only about three
minutes per side.
Under the leadership of George T. Simon the
Jazztone record label in 1957 had already begun the process of grouping former
Big Band era soloists in an all-star setting and recording them in hi-fi. While
excellent, records like "Cootie And Rex In The Big Challenge" used primarily new
material and a smaller group of ten musicians. In the same year, on Capitol,
Glen Gray was recreating hits of the big band era in hi-fi with larger bands.
The Gray / Capitol recordings are stiff by comparison and not nearly as exciting
as the nineteen issued takes done by The Big Eighteen in the summer of 1958.
The solos, the expert arrangements written by
Charles Shirley, and the incredible personnel line-up sets the RCA Big Eighteen
recordings apart from most other post WWII big band alumni or all-star big band
groupings. A veritable who's who of jazz and swing participated in the five
recording sessions done between June 10th and July 15th, 1958. Not since the
great Metronome All-Star dates during the Swing era was there a group of sidemen
of this caliber assembled for recording purposes.
On the June 10th date
Goodman); Buck Clayton
(Tommy Dorsey, John Kirby); and Rex
Stewart (Ellington); are all playing
trumpet. On bones we hear Lawrence Brown
(Ellington); Vic Dickenson
(Goodman); and Dickie Wells
(Tommy Dorsey) is on clarinet and alto;
Hymie Schertzer (Goodman, Tommy Dorsey)
plays alto; Sam Donahue
(bandleader) and Boomie Richman
(Teddy Powell, George Paxton) work tenor.
(Glenn Miller) plays baritone sax.
The rhythm section for the first four sessions
consists of Johnny Guarnieri
Goodman) piano; Barry Galbraith
(Thornhill, McIntyre) guitar; Milt
Calloway) bass; and
Lunceford) on drums.
(Bradley, Spivak, Miller) was used on clarinet subbing for Levinsky on June 17th
and Yank Lawson
(Bob Crosby) subbed for Butterfield on trumpet for the July 8th and 15th dates.
Levinsky was back in on clarrey for Hucko on July 8th and 15th. Changes to the
rhythm section for 7-15 included Don
Lamond (Woody Herman) on drums and
(Thornhill) on string bass.
At RCA around 15 sessions of what could be considered big band recordings were cut for the entire year 1958. These sessions were lead by artists like Sid Ramin, George Siravo, Henri Renee, Billy Butterfield, Toni Perkins, Vaughan Monroe, Lena Horne, The Sauter-Finnegan Orchestra and Ray McKinley fronting the New Glenn Miller Orchestra. The LPs that resulted sounded at large like syrupy pre-arranged affairs mostly covering old big band standards with arrangements that had little to no oomph behind them.
Only Cootie Williams, Henry Mancini, Shorty Rogers and Red Norvo had swinging outings in big band settings for RCA in 1958. Add recordings by Aaron Bell, John Lewis, Bobby Troupe (fronting a group of all stars), and Art Blakey live at Club St. Germaine in Paris and you have the total recorded output of good jazz on RCA for the entire year! (note:This does not include Perez Prado)
Compare this to the multitude of recordings in the Rock And Roll genre and the schmaltzy vocals that RCA produced in 1958 and it is amazing that this group was recorded on the label at all.
It is really a pity the CDs of this session are still out of print.
The releases had numerous buyers waiting on the Amazon.com "buy
it used" lists as of the original writing of this article in 2003. They are highly sought after by
modern day Lindy Hop swing dancers thanks to instructors like Frankie Manning
who have done a tremendous service in educating a new generation of swing fans.
Below are the recording dates of the songs from
the two LP's by the Big 18. If you like big band jazz and swing music;
these two releases are well worth tracking down if you can find them.