Born into a musical family in St. Louis on this day in 1932, Oliver Nelson is widely considered to be one of the music’s most inventive composer/arrangers. Piano was his first instrument as a child, later he moved to the saxophone and clarinet and at the end of his life (he died of a heart attack at the age of 43) he focused his playing time on the soprano sax. Prolific as a composer and arranger, he worked with many of the music’s greats: Thelonius Monk, Sonny Rollins, Cannonball Adderley, Nancy Wilson to name just a few. He composed not only for jazz players, while leading his own groups, but also for television and film. Ironsides, Columbo and The Six Million Dollar Man bear his signature sounds.
Lee Thomas, your Mid-Day Jazz host on Tuesdays & Thursdays, has some thoughts and listening recommendations to help us get into what made Oliver Nelson the significant figure he is in jazz.
“[Oliver Nelson] was a master with the large ensemble as far as having a unique sound and textures where you could hear the ensemble as though it were one instrument and not a ‘unison’ sound. Plus he could use Eric Dolphy and Phil Woods, two players within very different realms of the musical spectrum. And Oliver was equally good as a player, composer and arranger: That’s rare. Listen to his solo on ‘Stolen Moments.’ He’s playing basically triads and plays a beautifully structured solo of depth with very few notes.”
Lee recommends these tracks to check out:
- Stolen Moments
- Miss Fine on Live from Los Angeles; Oliver Nelson’s Big Band (Impulse)
- Six and Four on Straight Ahead; Oliver Nelson with Eric Dolphy (Prestige)
- One for Duke on Jazz Masters 48; Oliver Nelson (Verve)
- The East Side The West Side on Jazzhattan Suite: Jazz Interactions Orchestra (Verve)
Read more about Oliver Nelson here, Ebony Magazine did a profile on the musician and his family in November 1968. And as always, thank you for keeping your dial at 91.1 FM!