Kristian St. Clair & Michael Benedict critique the latest work of The Gary McFarland Legacy Project, 'Circulation: The Music of Gary McFarland'. Michael Benedict directed and produced the dedication CD, as well as played drums. The CD features early compositions from the jazz legend's repertoir in company to ballads and selections from McFarland's myriad albums.
Sharel Cassity, saxophones
Bruce Barth, piano/arrangements
Mike Lawrence, bass
Michael Benedict, drums
KRISTIAN ST. CLAIR'S LINER NOTES
If the name Gary McFarland is unfamiliar to you it is because he and his musical legacy have been far too neglected in the years after his premature death in 1971. An “adult prodigy” as coined by Gene Lees, McFarland had dabbled in everything from minor league baseball to being a wine sommelier, when in 1959, at the urging of bandleader Santiago Gonzalez, he applied for a Downbeat scholarship to Berklee School of Music. He won the scholarship and was off and running.
Drummer and leader of this recording, Michael Benedict, who married Gary McFarland’s widow Gail in 1981, has peppered his previous recordings with McFarland originals, so it is only natural that we now find him leading a date featuring material exclusively composed by McFarland. He and McFarland’s daughter Kerry continue to advocate for greater exposure of his rich legacy.
The opener on this album Dragon Head along with Summer Day, Notions and Circulation are all early compositions from McFarland’s time at Berklee. Pianist Steve Kuhn remembers McFarland giving him Dragon Head when he was briefly a member of Stan Getz’s group and Summer Day was recorded by McFarland for an early Berklee compilation LP. Notions was recorded by John Lewis, who was an early and enthusiastic advocate for McFarland’s music.
Why Are You Blue? and Blue Hodge were both first recorded by Johnny Hodges for Verve in 1961. McFarland had this to say about Hodges, “I get so hung up just from the sound that he produces, a lot of times I don’t even care what he plays.” Why are you Blue? has been recorded by the Modern Jazz Quartet, Bob Brookmeyer, and singer Nancy Harrow among others.
The Sandpiper was originally recorded by McFarland in 1963 for his Impulse record “Point of Departure” and was inspired by the sight of the titular birds dodging the waves on the beaches of Long Island where he divided his time between Manhattan and the recording studios.
One I Could Have Loved was a theme McFarland revisited many times in his career, first surfacing as the main title of the 1967 David Niven/Sharon Tate thriller Eye of the Devil. Additionally, McFarland recorded it with Steve Kuhn on the classic The October Suite, on his own Soft Samba Strings album for Verve, and for Cal Tjader’s Skye Records debut Solar Heat. It is a haunting and lovely ballad that never gets old and stays in your head long after the final notes have faded.
Both Chuggin’ and Bridgehampton Strut were originally recorded by the Gerry Mulligan Concert Big Band. Mulligan gave McFarland his first big break when he recorded two of his arrangements in 1960. Not long after that, he caught the attention of Verve’s Creed Taylor and soon landed such plum assignments as Anita O’Day’s All the Sad Young Men and Stan Getz’s follow-up to Jazz Samba, Big Band Bossa Nova.
Last Rights for the Promised Land is given a stunning solo interpretation by vibraphonist Joe Locke. Originally appearing on McFarland’s 1968 masterpiece America the Beautiful, it is a poignant finale to this record.
Gary McFarland’s prodigious output came to an abrupt end on the afternoon of November 2, 1971 when, under murky circumstances, he ingested a methadone-spiked drink. He was only 38 and no doubt had much much more music to share.
Michael Benedict, Bruce Barth (also the arranger on this album), and Mike Lawrence have played together for quite some time in and around the New York area and it really shows. They have a strong empathetic bond and shine a fresh light on McFarland’s material. With Joe Locke and Sharel Cassity along for the ride, this group is, to steal the title of one of Gary McFarland’s records, Simpatico.
Michael Benedict - Notes
This recording has, in a sense, been in the making for over thirty-five years. I became acquainted with Gary McFarland’s music when I met my future first wife and Gary’s widow, Gail, in 1979. After being introduced to his music I immediately became enchanted with the sounds. It was unlike anything that I had ever heard before and thus began a life long journey into the study and promotion of Gary’s music. I knew that eventually I would produce a full album of his work.
With the help of my producer, Thomas Bellino, I assembled what I believe to be the perfect band for this small group recording. The group, which includes vibes, piano, bass, drums and saxophone, was a common instrumentation for Gary especially in the middle of his career. With Bruce Barth’s arranging talents, I believe that we stuck a perfect balance of honoring the integrity of the compositions while adding a modern touch to the performance of the scores. It just proves that Gary’s writing is timeless and sounds as current today as when they were written five decades ago.
The Gary McFarland Legacy Project will be an ongoing entity that will hopefully show the genius of the man who had a professional career that was just over a decade long and bring back a name that was once being talked about in the same vein as Duke Ellington.
I would like to thank Thomas Bellino for his vision, Joe Locke, Bruce Barth, Sharel Cassity and Mike Lawrence for their artistry and passion, Scott Petito for his ears and technical expertise, Kristian St. Claire for his liner notes and devotion to all things McFarland, Alek Speck for the CD layout and Rudy Lu for his photography. Also, special thanks to my wife Ginger Benedict for keeping me on the right path and always supporting and encouraging my dreams.
This album is dedicated to Kerry McFarland and to the memories of Gary, Gail and Milo McFarland.
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