Ken Sebesky, son of Don Sebesky, announced on April 29th that his father has passed on to the great orchestra in the sky. Doug Payne has the first of what I understand is a two-part tribute, click the image below for his full part-1.
Born December 10, 1937, Perth Amboy, New Jersey; Died April 29, 2023, Maplewood, New Jersey.
I don’t intend to rush out a long piece on Sebesky, his influence on the CTI sound deserves more than that. Suffice to say I have some 72 albums he contributed to, although a few of those will be duplicate vinyl/CD combos.
When I looked through my Sebesky folder a found a number of text and audio interviews with Sebesky from the 2010-2011 timeframe when he did some of the publicity for the “CTI Records: The Cool Revolution” 4x CD compilation https://www.discogs.com/master/912488-Various-CTI-Records-The-Cool-Revolution. It’s probably the best of the interviews and comes from Jason Crane’s “The Jazz Session” https://thejazzsession.com/2010/10/11/the-jazz-session-207-don-sebesky-cti-records/.
Sebesky won 3x GRAMMY awards for his work, although none for his CTI arrangements. These though did receive 6x of his 20x nominations. His “Giant Box” CTI album was nominated twice.
His first album for Creed Taylor as an arranger was in 1965, the result a lightly orchestrated album “Bumpin'” by Wes Montgomery recorded in March that year https://www.discogs.com/master/82185-Wes-Montgomery-Bumpin. Later that year, Sebesky arranged Montgomery’s Grammy winning “Best Jazz Instrumental Album, Individual or Group.” for “Goin’ Out of My Head” album https://www.discogs.com/master/82168-Wes-Montgomery-Goin-Out-Of-My-Head and it essentially signaled the direction he would take under Creed Taylor’s stewardship, carefully crafted covers mixed with jazzed classics. Sebesky recorded two albums under his own name both popular and somewhat controversial.
The first was 1973’s “Giant Box” https://www.discogs.com/master/500789-Don-Sebesky-Giant-Box. It was a lavishly packaged, double album sold in a box with a 20-page booklet. The album featured all the CTI stars of the time, on what Sebesky described as a “concept album with a beginning, middle and end”. The recording sessions took about 150 hours, and with editing, production etc. it took 6-months to finish. Sebesky denied there was such a thing as the Sebesky sound, but this was as close as anything for CTI. Sebesky said of the album, if you had to apply one label to the album, it would be jazz Giant Box, CTI CTX 6031/32 Booklet.
The booklet contained photographs of the lead artists taken by Steve Salmieri at the The Lotos Club, New York City, July 1973. Just getting the artists together for the photo-shoot would have been expensive. All-in, this would have been the most expensive album Taylor would produce, probably until the laserdisc films some 17-years later when Taylor made a number of films in the Bahia region of Brazil..
The album was nominated at the 17th GRAMMY awards in 1974, for both “Best Jazz Performance By A Big band” and the track Firebird/Bird Of Fire for “Best Instrumental Arrangement.”
In a 2010 interview with Marc Myers (Jazzwax) “I have mixed feelings about it. Firebird was a good track, particularly with the crossover between Stravinsky and the John McLaughlin sound. But I wasn’t entirely happy with everything on the album.” and “In my heart, I’m a big-band guy. I would have preferred to have done a straight-ahead big band album. But it wasn’t considered sell-able at the time. You have to remember that jazz-rock fusion was everywhere in 1973.” https://www.jazzwax.com/2010/12/interview-don-sebesky-part-1.html
As well as being available in stereo, the album was also one of a handful issued by CTI in 1972 and 1973 in Quadraphonic sound. This is my preferred pressing, even though I don’t have a quad deck etc. If you are open to buying a CD version, the King Records 2013 Blu-spec is also excellent.
I would highly recommend the Dutton Vocalion SACD Hybrid Multi-channel CD version. It is available here https://www.duttonvocalion.co.uk/proddetail.php?prod=CDSML8557 for £12.99 / USD: $16.38 / EUR: €14.96 / 2,217 JPY – Michael Dutton remastered from the original analogue tapes.
If you have the equipment for SACD playback the reissue includes both the original stereo and discrete quadraphonic mixes. Additionally, the SACD multi-channel layer includes the original SQ-decoded quadraphonic mix [tracks 8-14]. The original discrete quadraphonic master no longer exists; Dutton used the best available discrete quadraphonic sources have been used.
This album deserves to be heard in as best quality as possible.
The Rape Of El Morro
In 1975 as the rumble of disco was starting to be felt worldwide, Sebesky did a second CTI album, “The Rape Of El Morro”. It’s review in the October 11th, 1975 Billboard magazine described it as “one of the most alluring jazz albums in some time. As an arranger, there are not many competitors to Sebesky, and while he’s put out some great records in the past, this one is very special.”
Originally, as Leonard Feather’s liner notes discuss, the album was going to be called “Spanish Blood”. Why it was changed, and what the title refers to is something of a mystery. My bet it is related to either the siege of the El Morro fortress in San Juan, Porto Rico in 1624 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Castillo_San_Felipe_del_Morro; or it’s related to gold and an the move north from the world’s biggest gold mine, El Morro in Chile to what is now the El Morro National Park in Albuquerque, New Mexico. In Spanish, el morro means some form of high point or cliff. The inscription rock at the park is exactly that and is thought that settlers from South America built a town on top of inscription rock in 1275 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/El_Morro_National_Monument. Both places were subject to severe and violent battles.
As a teen’ in London when the album came out, I’d always imagined the album title has some historic literary reference, but I can find no such thing. “Skyliner’ and even “The Entertainer” were huge dance tracks in London in 1976. To be fair, “The Entertainer” was popular with the hustle couples, especially at the Gold Mine in Canvey Island. “The Entertaner” was invariably followed by Mike Felder and Bill Daniels “Somebody’s Gotta Go (Sho Ain’t Me)” on Arista 45RPM https://song.link/s/1e2xrZJY21VdfLFejqBChN.
Both tracks though were not the album cuts, they were much shorter single/45RPM edits. “Skyliner” ran only 2:43 compared to 5:41; “The Entertainer” ran 3:24 on the single/45RPM edit and 4:11 on the album. Making the album a must have.
Contrary to Sebesky’s own website, both current and archived, “The Rape Of El Morro” was not GRAMMY nominated as far as I’ve been able to see http://donsebeskymusic.com/discography.htmhttps://web.archive.org/web/20211204191718/http://donsebeskymusic.com/discography.htm.
Don Sebesky bought a seamless, fluid link between the jazz and classical world. It served him well when he started orchestrating and arranging music for films and theatre. As Doug Payne writes “This makes Don Sebesky one of the greatest contributors to jazz in the last half of the twentieth century.” Read his review http://dougpayne.blogspot.com/2023/05/don-sebesky.html.
5/11/23 9:55 realized I’d left out the Dutton Vocalion SACD, added.
6/1/23 1:30pm rewrote section on Sebesky’s first arrangements for Taylor, added links.