Lennie Niehaus


Vol. 5: The Sextet

  • Release Date: 07 Mar 1996
  • OJCCD-1944-2

In the mid-1950s, Lennie Niehaus avoided cliché, incorporated audacious harmonic ideas, and distilled the essentials of big band writing into arrangements for small groups. His recordings are still notable in the 21st century for their freshness and daring. In this fifth of his series of albums for the Contemporary label, Niehaus set himself the chamber music challenge of achieving proportion among four horns, bass, and drums, without piano to cushion the sound, delineate the harmonies… MORE


Back in the heyday of West Coast jazz, alto saxophonist Lennie Niehaus (best known recently as musical director of the film Bird) led… More

The orchestrating skills that made Lennie Niehaus a prolific writer for Hollywood films can be heard clearly in this 1955 encounter of… More



Best known for his soundtracks, particularly for Clint Eastwood films such as Bird, Lennie Niehaus (b. 1929) is also a fine cool altoist and a skilled jazz arranger.

Shortly after graduating from college, Niehaus joined the Stan Kenton Orchestra, playing alto and contributing occasional arrangements. To his dismay he was drafted within a year but, after his discharge in 1954, he rejoined Kenton for five years before becoming a freelance arranger.

During 1954-1956, Niehaus led five record dates for Contemporary, all of which have been reissued in the Original Jazz Classics series. Vol. 1: The Quintet has three different four-song sessions and matches Niehaus’s alto with either tenor saxophonist Jack Montrose and baritonist Bob Gordon or Stu Williamson on valve trombone and trumpet and pianist Hampton Hawes. Zounds!, also known as Vol. 2: The Octet Pt. 1, has concise selections utilizing the instrumentation of alto, tenor, baritone, trumpet or French horn, trombone, piano or tuba, bass, and drums, performances that helped to define West Coast jazz. Vol. 3: The Octet #2 has a more conventional instrumentation and such all-stars as Bill Holman on tenor, baritonist Jimmy Giuffre, valve trombonist Bob Enevoldsen, pianist Pete Jolly and drummer Shelly Manne.

Vol. 4: The Quintets & Strings showcases Niehaus’s alto with a string quartet and a rhythm section on some numbers and jamming in a quintet on others. Finally, on Vol. 5: The Sextet, he teams up with Williamson, tenor saxophonist Bill Perkins, and baritonist Jimmy Giuffre in a pianoless sextet. Throughout each of these projects, Niehaus’s writing uplifts the music beyond that of a jam session, giving the performances meaning, direction, and a forward momentum along with subtle surprises.

By the 1960s, Lennie Niehaus had deemphasized his saxophone in favor of writing film scores, but during the last decade he has returned to active playing while continuing to be one of jazz’s top arrangers.