Today, we take a break from previewing upcoming shows to pay a slightly belated birthday tribute to one of St. Louis' all-time jazz greats, the late saxophonist, arranger, and composer Oliver Nelson, who was born here on June 4, 1932.
Best known these days for the classic album The Blues and the Abstract Truth, which featured his now-standard tune "Stolen Moments," Nelson was one of the most prolific and in-demand jazz arranger/composers of the 1960s and early '70s, and, along with Quincy Jones, one of the first African-Americans to get significant work in Hollywood scoring TV and films.
He wrote music for hit TV shows including Ironside, Night Gallery, Columbo, The Six Million Dollar Man and The Bionic Woman, reaching tens of millions of people every week. Nelson also wrote the score for the film Death of a Gunfighter and arranged Gato Barbieri's music for the movie Last Tango in Paris.
In addition to his work in TV and film, Nelson recorded numerous jazz albums as a leader, and also did arrangements for well-known musicians such as Cannonball Adderley, Sonny Rollins, Johnny Hodges, Wes Montgomery, Buddy Rich, and Jimmy Smith, as well as for singers including Nancy Wilson, James Brown, the Temptations, and Diana Ross.
Tragically, Nelson died of a heart attack on October 28, 1975, when he was just 43 years old. While he left behind an extensive catalog of audio recordings, there seems to be very little video or film or him performing available online (or anywhere else, for that matter), but we are fortunate to be able to share parts of at least one Nelson performance with you here today.
The Berlin Dream Band was something of a pet project for Nelson during the last few years of his life, providing a vehicle to get his original jazz compositions before the listening public.
Drawing personnel from all over Europe as well as the USA and Canada, the band's members during the 1970 gig seen here trumpeters Milo Pavlovic (Yugoslavia), Ron Simmonds (Canada), Carmell Jones (USA), Manfred Stoppacher (Austria) and Harry Samp (Germany); trombonists Ake Persson (Sweden), Barry Ross (USA), Slide Hampton (USA), Jean Orieux (France), and Kurt Masnick (Germany); saxophonists Leo Wright (USA), Klaus Marmulla (Germany), Rolf Roemer (Germany), Adi Feurstein Germany), Freddy Lhost (Belgium), and Jan Konopasek (Czechoslovakia); and a rhythm section featuring three Germans, pianist Kai Rautenberg, bassist Hajo Lange, and drummer Heinz Niemeyer.
In the first video, they're seen playing Nelson's composition "Berlin Dialogues." After the jump, the second clip features a Nelson arrangement of the old spiritual "Down by the Riverside," followed by his original work "Self Help Is Needed."
Then, there's a hyper-speed take on Duke Ellington's "Rockin' In Rhythm," followed by "Black, Brown and Beautiful," another Nelson original that also features him as soloist.
The final Berlin Dream Band clip is a version of "Milestones" that would seem to confirm a certain fondness for fast tempos, while featuring solos by Leo Wright and Klaus Marmulla on altos and Rolf Roemer on tenor.
Rounding out the admittedly small collection of Oliver Nelson videos is a clip made in 1965 in which he basically makes only a cameo appearance. It features Dutch singer Rita Reyes performing "It Could Happen to You" for a TV broadcast in the Netherlands, accompanied by her husband/pianist Pim Jacobs' trio plus horns arranged by Nelson, who can be seen briefly at several points during the clip.