By the 1970s, the number of Swing Era big bands that were still touring and recording on a regular basis was comparatively small. The orchestra led by trumpeter Harry James was one of them. An excellent musician with a keen ear for quality music with commercial potential, Harry was there at the very inception of swing, playing trumpet with Benny Goodman at the landmark Carnegie Hall concert of 1938, and when he struck out on his own and began leading his own band, he successfully mixed hard-rocking flagwavers with the sweet ballad sounds of vocalists Frank Sinatra and Dick Haymes, both of whom had their start singing with James, and Helen Forrest, who had a huge hit with the band in 1942 with "I Don't Want to Walk Without You." Three decades later, James had not changed much. In an undated piece that draws at length from interviews with James probably carried out in the '70s and included in his book The Big Bands, George T. Simon quotes the bandleader as counting himself among the earliest enthusiasts of the rock group Blood, Sweat and Tears: "I got them into Las Vegas. I loved the fact that they were all such good musicians" (537). In that same interview, James also states that public interest in the sound of the big bands had increased by the seventies:
You can see it in the bigger bands the kids are using and listening to. But there's more to it than that. There are the adults, too. They're coming out more again. It seems like they're saying, 'To hell with the kids having all the fun. Let's us have some too!' And they are—thank goodness! (537)
|Harry James in the 1970s|
|Thad Jones provided some arrangements for these sessions|
|Harry James performing in Frankfurt, Germany, in 1970|
The Sheffield Lab sessions have been hard to find on CD for a very long time, but fortunately, the company has made them available again on the 2-CD digipack set The Harry James Sessions 1976 & 1979 (Sheffield Lab Recordings, 2013). The set includes the three original albums (The King James Version, Comin' from a Good Place, and Still Harry After All These Years) in their entirety, with informative liner notes, some photos, and the excellent sound that one has come to expect from Sheffield Lab. While not necessarily essential, this is highly recommendable for listeners wishing to complete their Harry James collection or simply for those interested in hearing the trumpeter at the twilight of his career. And many of these tracks clearly show that in the mid-to-late 1970s James was far from his twilight in artistic terms.
|'The King James Version' (1976), one of the original albums James cut for Sheffield Lab|