The National Anthem through the eyes of jazz, America’s unique music

By Robert Willmann

From contributions and influences over time, a unique type of music came to be in this country, from the beginning with 13 colonies, to the American Revolution, to the Articles of Confederation, to the U.S. Constitution, to the secession of the Confederate States of America, then back as the United States, followed by the development of technologies for recording, storing, and playing music. In its different forms, jazz kept its sound, and the independence of its compositions and arrangements, and open-ended solo improvisations by the musicians. One type emerged as the Big Band, a jazz-oriented group usually with saxophones, trombones, trumpets, a piano, bass, and drums, and sometimes it featured a vocalist.

Broad public awareness started with the Glenn Miller and Tommy Dorsey bands through the World War 2 era, and the tradition carried on with Stan Kenton, Woody Herman, Maynard Ferguson, Buddy Rich, Thad Jones and Mel Lewis, and numerous others, including smaller groups led by musicians like Miles Davis.

Robert Curnow played and arranged music for the Stan Kenton Band. On a tour to England in the 1960’s, he was asked by Kenton to do an arrangement of the British National Anthem for concerts there. Later, as Curnow explains in the video above, this led to a similar treatment of other national anthems through the release of a Kenton album entitled, National Anthems of the World–

These arrangements were not some juiced-up jazz rendition, but displayed changes in chords, harmonics, and which musical instruments played which parts.

The concert in the video was sponsored by the Los Angeles Jazz Institute, and the band is made up of studio musicians from that area. The players are the real thing. As are the musicians conducting the performances. I think I have mentioned Bill Holman before, in an article or comment. He, too, played in the Stan Kenton Band and arranged music for it. He wrote arrangements for the band led by Doc Severinsen, part of the Tonight Show starring Johnny Carson, and did much, much more. Holman’s contribution to music was extraordinary. He passed away three weeks ago on 6 May 2024 at age 96. Here he is conducting a group at an event sponsored by the LA Jazz Institute, in a performance of a song he wrote for trumpeter Buddy Childers, who plays it–

These nice things we have do not happen by magic. Memorial Days mean something.

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One Response to The National Anthem through the eyes of jazz, America’s unique music

  1. TTG says:

    What a great find. This is a refreshing rendition of our anthem without the weirdness some artists apply to it. I’ve grown accustomed to listening to Sinatra era tunes whenever I drive now. A lot of jazzy big band sounds among the tunes; relaxing, uplifting and moving at the same time.

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