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Norman Granz always loved jam sessions. A talented concert promoter who developed into a major force in the jazz world, Granz most enjoyed freewheeling sessions in which trumpeters and saxophonists battled each other. In 1944 he organized a concert billed as “Jazz At The Philharmonic,” a fund-raiser in Los Angeles. With such notables as tenor saxophonist Illinois Jacquet, pianist Nat King Cole, and guitarist Les Paul in the lineup, the music (which was recorded) was a success. By 1946 Granz was organizing extensive annual tours featuring greats from the swing and bop worlds playing medium-tempo blues, standards and ballad medleys. And thinking ahead to the world of LPs (which had not yet been invented), Granz recorded many of the concerts in hopes of releasing them someday.
JATP was at its prime between 1946 and 1957. While most of the recordings were originally issued by Granz’s Norgran, Clef, and Verve labels, in more recent times unissued concert dates were put out by Granz’s Pablo label. Frankfurt, 1952 has heated moments provided by tenor saxophonists Lester Young and Flip Phillips and trumpeter Roy Eldridge. Hartford, 1953 features a 15-minue version of “Cotton Tail” plus features for the Oscar Peterson Quartet and Lester Young. Tokyo: Live at the Nichigeki Theatre 1953 is a two-CD set with numbers by the Oscar Peterson Trio, Gene Krupa, and Ella Fitzgerald plus an exciting set by the JATP All-Stars, climaxed by a trumpet battle between Charlie Shavers and Roy Eldridge. Also not to be missed is The Exciting Battle: Stockholm ’55, which has a medium-tempo blues that is topped off by a remarkable Eldridge solo.
After 1959, Norman Granz ended JATP but there were occasional revivals. In London, 1969, a double CD, has a dazzling all-star lineup; At the Montreux Jazz Festival 1975 has Roy Eldridge, Clark Terry, Zoot Sims, and Benny Carter playing joyfully; and Return to Happiness, Tokyo 1983 also has its great moments.
Jazz At The Philharmonic was one of Norman Granz’s great accomplishments and the excitement of these all-star events can still be experienced through the priceless recordings.