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For Lena and Lennie, a jazz tribute like few others


Jazz musicians tend to like each other. Sometimes, they actually love each other.

And when they do, the music they leave behind is magnificent. Listen to Duke Ellington's Orchestra play Billy Strayhorn's "Blood Count" --written by Ellington's alter ego as he got his blood checked during the disease that took him--for one example. Or Benny Golson's "I Remember Clifford" for another example.

Unfortunately, one of the most beautiful jazz tributes to friends I've ever heard isn't avaiilable on CD yet. The tune is Quincy Jones' gorgeous tribute to his friends Lena Horne and her arranger husband Lennie Hayton simply called "For Lena and Lennie." It's very much available on any number of great jazz CD's including Jones' own collection called "Quintessence."

But the most beautiful version I know, by far, was recorded in 1982 by Count Basie's band and guest star Milt Jackson, who always loved the tune. But what made their recording special on the currently unavailable Vol. 2 of the Jackson/Basie Band collaboration, was the guest in the recording studio who was merely there to dig some of her favorite players--Sarah Vaughan. Rather than just let her stay in the control booth soaking it all up, they pressed her into service to do a vocalise on the melody line over the band, along with Jackson. It's one of those great jazz moments where a truly gorgeous melody line has its absolutely perfect presentation. And all from serendipity.

The combination of Jones' tune, the Basie Band, Miilt Jackson and the lusty and rich vocalise by Sarah Vaughan make it, I think, one of the most beautiful recorded tributes in jazz.

It's still available, though, only on some used Pablo vinyl.

With Lena Horne's death still so fresh, perhaps the time has finally come for Concord --which owns the Pablo catalogue--to re-release one of the most beautiful things in its vault.

--Jeff Simon
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