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Lazy-i: November 18, 2003

More Preston: Read the December 2000 Lazy-i inteview with Preston Love, conducted on the release of his Omaha Blues CD. 

 

Show me the Love
A new retrospective CD showcases the legend of Preston Love.

by Tim McMahan

 

When drummer Gary Foster began to put together a retrospective of music created by Omaha legend Preston Love, he never meant it to be a tribute CD.

But with illness sidelining the local music legend, the soon-to-be-released compilation, simply titled Preston Love, could stand as a final testament to a career that has spanned six decades.

Foster said the idea for the project began when he and Love completed 2000's Omaha Blues, a 10-track CD recorded at Warehouse Studios that featured Love's then-performing combo and some special guests on vocals.

"We were so high off that one and Preston was playing so well I said 'Why don't we keep recording?' We were in the flow in the studio," Foster said.

Foster and Love's relationship began when Kenny Foster, Gary's father and an avid record collector, played his then-14-year-old son a recording of a Lucky Millinder Orchestra performance broadcast in 1945. The ballad that stood out in the young man's mind was "When Your Lover Has Gone" that featured Millinder's entire saxophone section.

"I thought it was so beautiful, I was enamored with it," Foster said. "My dad told me the guy playing lead alto was from here in town. I'm a big history freak and had corresponded with a number of old jazz greats over the years. My dad said, 'Call him up on the phone' and Preston said come on over."

The father and son paid a visit to Love and played him the rare recording. Gary took the opportunity to get Love's autograph on a Count Basie album recorded when he was in the orchestra. Love has been a friend of the family ever since.

 

 

 

 

 

Foster eventually began playing drums in Love's band when he was 19 and has been a regular member for the past eight years.

That early Millinder broadcast would wind up being the inspiration for the entire retrospective collection. "I wanted to get someone to arrange 'When Your Lover Has Gone' and another song I discovered years later, 'I'll Get By,' neither of which had ever been recorded before except as a radio broadcast," Foster said.

The CD is divided into two sections. Ten songs feature new recordings by Love, including modern renditions of the Millinder songs arranged by Mike Helgesen, while nine more tracks are vintage recordings of Love performing with orchestras and bands between 1945 to 1969, including the recording that turned Foster onto Love's music all those years ago.

"I wanted the originals to be included to show people the difference in Preston's performance from 1945 to 2003," Foster said. "He proves that he can still play like he used to."

The CD starts with all the new stuff, performed by Love and backed by his longtime piano player Orville Johnson as well as a trio that includes Foster on drums, "Guitar" George Laughery, and organist Mitch Towne, who make up the Gary Foster Trio. Through the magic of the studio, Love plays all the saxophone parts except for baritone, which was aptly handled by Dave Polson.

Among the newly recorded material are such chestnuts as "Tangerine," "Summertime," "Take the 'A' Train" and a song penned by Foster called "O-Town Blues."

"We went for an organ trio sound and put our stamp on these tunes Preston likes to do," Foster said. "He knows how to play a pretty melody and make it sound fresh."

Foster played the role of producer for the new sessions, which were recorded at Warehouse Studios with engineer Tom Ware. "At the time, the band was very busy and we recorded whenever we could," Foster said. "Preston has recorded so many times throughout his career, it's second-nature to him. He puts his horn together, sits down and asks 'What tunes are we gonna do?'"

"They used to call me One-Take Preston," Love said over the phone from his North Omaha home. "The recording sessions were very easy. I don't like complications, and no one makes their sessions easier than me."

Love says he developed his discipline in the studio beginning with his first recording session in 1944 through his years in Los Angeles when it wasn't uncommon for him to do four sessions in a day.

The final modern-day track is Love's June 2002 performance with The Michel Pastre Orchestra recorded live in the world-famous Lionel Hampton Room of the Meridian Hotel in Paris, where Love was invited to perform as a special guest. "Those two weeks in Paris showed that I hadn't lost it," Love said.


"I wanted the originals to be included to show people the difference in Preston's performance from 1945 to 2003. He proves that he can still play like he used to."


 

"I didn't want to be known for that part of my career at all. Now looking back, the stuff is much better than I gave it credit for and I'm proud of it."


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The nine vintage tracks that balance out the CD open like a time machine, with announcer Ernie "Bubbles" Whitman introducing the Lucky Milliner Orchestra playing live at the Los Angeles' Orpheum Theater on January 16, 1945. The vintage version of "I'll Get By" is slower and almost plodding compared to the modern-day take earlier in the CD. The common denominator is Love's swinging lead alto sax.

That's followed by Love on lead alto with Count Basie and his Orchestra belting out "One O'Clock Jump" "Jimmy's Idea" and "Take Me Back, Baby" during a live radio broadcast from L.A.'s Avadon Ballroom in December 1946. The Basie segment is capped off by a performance of "Jumpin' at the Woodside" recorded with the orchestra on Aug. 8, 1945.

"I wanted to include some Basie stuff, so I took some radio broadcasts that I've collected over the years," Foster said. "I'm nuts about old radio broadcasts. A band playing in front on an audience is 10 times hotter than something recorded in a studio. You can hear Preston, sitting right up front of the stage."

The CD's final five tracks present a taste of Love's R&B and funk work from the late 1960s, including three tracks from Preston Love's Omaha Bar BQ that featured R&B and rock pioneer Johnny Otis and his 15-year-old son, Shuggie (who would go on to write the Brothers Johnson hit "Strawberry Letter 23").

It's these tracks that may be the most surprising to longtime Love fans who have never heard the funk and soul side of the big band legend. The CD closes with the singles "Cissy Popcorn" and "Funky Chicken" that sound like choice cuts used in a Quentin Tarantino film.

"These are huge underground funk recordings in Europe, so we decided to make them available to everyone," Foster said. "In Europe, Preston is known for his funk, R&B and rock and roll work, including sessions with Big Mamma Thornton, among others."

Love said he had little respect for R&B at the time he recorded the tracks. "I was such a Basie fanatic, I treated this new rhythm and blues stuff kind of lightly," he said. "I didn't want to be known for that part of my career at all. Now looking back, the stuff is much better than I gave it credit for and I'm proud of it."

Foster said he's making the final touches to the CD, which will be available by the end of November and will be distributed throughout the United States and Europe.

"I'm not trying to promote this as a jazz album," Foster said. "This is just the music that Preston grew up with and adored creating. I thought it would be nice to be able to let him do what he wants to do -- the swing, jazz, blues and ballads that he loved to play. We've included all of it to show the diversity of what he can do. I think it's the best so-called jazz CD put out in Omaha."

He said the CD also is proof of a career that many people locally either don't know about or don't understand.

Love's history is renowned well beyond the Omaha city limits. He's played on stage and in the studio with just about every important jazz, swing and R&B legend from the past 50 years. A partial list includes Count Basie, Fats Waller, Lucky Millinder, Dizzy Gillespie, Lena Horne, Ethel Waters, Billie Holiday, Dickie Wells, Snooky Young, Buddy Tate, Jimmy Rushing, Buddy Rich, Diana Ross and The Supremes, Marvin Gaye, Tammi Terrell, Stevie Wonder, The Temptations, Aretha Franklin, Ray Charles, T-Bone Walker, Little Esther Phillips, Frank Zappa, Sonny and Cher, Janis Joplin, Buddy Miles, Smokey Robinson, Gladys Knight, and that's just the beginning.

"I'm saying 'Look, you've got a treasure here,'" said Foster. "Look at Preston and give him his props now, not later. He's the real deal."

Love's contribution to American music isn't going completely unnoticed in the Omaha scene. The 82-year-old will be recognized by the Omaha Press Club Oct. 16 as part of their 'Face on the Barroom Floor' series that honors notable newsmakers. Unfortunately, Love says he won't be able to attend the ceremony because of his physical limitations as the result of his battle with cancer. "I'm wasting away but trying to build myself back up," he said. "I'm usually the life of the party. I'm flattered that they think that much of me. It's beautiful."

Despite his current condition, Love says he has no intention of giving up his saxophone.

"I would hope that I could play again," he said. "I haven't touched a horn since the Fourth of July, so I'm getting out of practice."


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Published in The Omaha Weekly October 2003. Copyright 2003 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.