Al Belletto (as, cl, vcl), Jack Martin (tp, Frh, b, chief arr, vcl), Danny Conn (tp, mellophone, b, vcl), Willie Thomas (tp, vcl), Jimmy Guinn (tb, ts, b, arr, vcl), Fred Crane (p, bs, arr, vcl), Skip Fawcett, Kenny O’Brien (b, vcl), Ray Brown (b), Charles McKnight (d, vcl), Tom Montgomery (d, tp, vcl), Louis Marino (d), Jerri Winters (vcl)
Reference: FSRCD 988
Bar code: 8427328609883
Once upon a time —back in the second half of the 50s— the Al Belletto Sextet enjoyed great popularity for playing “modern jazz for listening and dancing.” Today, though, not many remember them.
Their story began in December 1952, when New Orleans-born Belletto, who was already an accomplished alto saxophonist and clarinet player, decided to form his own quintet. In just two years, and with the enthusiastic support of bandleader Stan Kenton, Belletto’s fine formation was immortalized by Capitol Records in its series “Kenton Presents Jazz,” because they played—in Kenton’s own words—“as one voice with a seemingly infinite variety of colors and shadows.”
Each musician performed skillfully, and except for the drummer, they all doubled on more than one instrument. In addition, although Jimmy Guinn was the group’s featured singer, each member also pitched in for some interesting five-way vocals remindful of the Four Freshmen. The group became a sextet early in 1955 with the addition of a bass player. “The bass was swapped too often, and the outfit’s driving arrangements required a constant in the rhythm backing,” Belletto mentioned. “We tried for the sound of a big band, using a six-piece lineup.”
All their versatility, combined with the group’s obvious eagerness to succeed and please, sat very well in many music spots over the country, and the charts by Mel Tormé, Nat Pierce, Neal Hefti, Johnny Mandel, and Shorty Rogers, plus some excellent material from band members, paved the way for the commercial success they went on to enjoy.
**** RINGER OF THE WEEK ****
"Got your recipe book out? OK-take a dash of Count Basie-Woody Herman Swing, add a heaping amount of West Coast Cool and throw in The Four Freshmen and you’ve got the tastiest collection of sounds coming your way.
Al Belletto plays an Art Pepper-inspired alto sax (and clarinet) while leading a hip team of Jack Martin/tp-fh-b, Jimmy Guinn/tb-ts-b, Fred Crane/p-bar and Charles McKnight/dr, sometimes replacing players with Skip Fawcett/b and Tom Montgomery/dr-tp and Willie Thomas/tp. As instrumentalists, they take a mix of originals and jazz standards and give some of the cleverest arrangements this side of Pete Rugolo, going slow and greasy on “Broadway” and taking a trip to Kansas City on “ “Relaxin” and “Foam Rubber” . Guinn delivers a rich solo on ”I Got It Bad and That AIn’t Good” while the team gives vintage Chet Baker a run for his money on “Russ Job” with the team bopping its brains out on “The Way You Look Tonight”. Belletto himself glistens on his aria for “Whisper Not”. Where was this guy hiding?!?
That’s one side of the band. Then, you’ve got all of these guys doubling as vocalists, making some of harmonies that would make the Four Freshmen or the Hi-Los green with envy. Joyful innocence oozes with optimism on pieces like “When My Sugar Walks Down The Street” or “Jeepers Creepers” and rich textures rise to the top on”You’d Be So Nice To Come Home To”.
And if I haven’t captured your attention yet, wait until you hear the 1957 edition with guest vocalist Jerri Winters! She’s got this vulnerable yet come hither husky voice and milks it like a Holstein on ”All Or Nothing At All”, “I Can’t Believe That You’re In Love With Me” and “Crazy In My Heart” (with no less than Ray Brown sitting in).
This band is enjoyable on a plethora of levels. I just am disappointed that this is essentially everything that Balletto released. The formidable liner notes and session info answer most of the questions, with the music itself the surprise joy of the year. If you don’t love this album, I’ll personally give you a refund!"
George W. Harris (February 27, 2020)
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