Aaron Sachs: Quintet, Septet and Octet Ensembles

The too often unsung woodwind man gets due recognition from Fresh Sound for his late 50s work with Urbie Green, Jimmy Raney et al


Raised in the Bronx, Sachs acquired a youthful proficiency in clarinet, alto and tenor sax, befriending local resident Shorty Rogers and landing his first job in 1941 with Babe Russin, whilst still a teenager. Over the following years he gained valuable experience with Red Norvo, and recorded in 1944 with Eddie Heywood, Flip Phillips and Sarah Vaughan (in her first recordings).

He won the Esquire new-star award in 1945 and progressed with spells in the Benny Goodman, Charlie Ventura and Buddy Rich orchestras. In 1946 he formed his short-lived Manor Re-Bops, making him an early pioneer of bebop clarinet. A busy schedule with Earl Hines in 1952 stimulated greater proficiency on tenor. Sachs cited Lester Young as a prime influence on both instruments.

The tracks selected here are taken from three albums Sachs fronted for the Bethlehem, Dawn and Rava labels in the mid-50s. His tenor is light-toned and mellow, with clean-cut, articulate phrasing, and the clarinet style, avoiding Dixieland showboating, is  elegantly cool with reflective, interesting phrasing. Urbie Green makes a positive impact in solo and ensemble. A 21-year-old Quincy Jones contributed the spirited Kingfish and Bullfrog, plus a further fine arrangement of the moody ballad If You Are But A Dream.

A different sextet in 1956 uses Joe Roland on vibes in another interesting and varied set, again excellently arranged and continuing to feature a fresh, unhackneyed repertoire. The 1957 octet tracks (mainly septet, actually) are in more of a big-band bluesy style, and trumpets and piano appear (on one track only) for the first time on the album. Just Sick Blues, Wiggins (by Billy VerPlanck) and Mona’s Kimona (Nat Pierce) are arranged in raunchy, riffing Basie style. The arrangements throughout are first class, especially by VerPlanck. In the final quintet tracks, Sachs gets excellent support from the fine guitarist Jimmy Raney, both establishing tightly cohesive rapport.

Posterity has not been kind to this talented, creative and versatile musician. Aaron has receded into the shadows behind the giants of his day, and is now seldom remembered. Jordi Pujol’s full notes provide much necessary detailed information about his long career. Sachs died in 2014 aged 90. A decade on, this fine album is a long deserved reminder of his artistry.

(1) One Track; Helen; Kingfish; Conversation; The Bullfrog; If You Are But A Dream; (2) Aaron’s Blues; You’re My Thrill; Platter Pie; Why Shouldn’t I?; Ah! The Pain; (3) Rondo Blues; Just Sick Blues; (4) Mona’s Kimona; (3) Conversation; Blue Sophisticates; Countryfied; Wiggins; (5) Gorme Has Her Day; I Can’t Believe; Hall’s Loft; Nancy (73.21)
Sachs (cl, ts) on all tracks with:
(1) Sextet. Urbie Green (tb); Danny Bank (bar); Barry Galbraith (g); Clyde Lombardi (b); Osie Johnson (d). NYC, November 1954.
(2) Sextet. Jimmy Cleveland (tb); Joe Roland (vib); Dick Garcia (g); Bell (b); Johnson (d). NYC, 1956.
(3) Octet. Phil Sunkel, Bernie Glow (t); Frank Rehak (tb); Gene Allen (bar); Bell (b); Johnson (d). NYC, 18 and 21 February 1957.
(4) as (3). Add Nat Pierce (p).
(5) Quintet. Hall Overton (p); Jimmy Raney (g); Bell (b); Johnson (d). NYC, 4 March 1957.
Fresh Sound Records FSR-CD1143