Magic City Jazz Orchestra

Instrument: Band/ensemble/orchestra

THE MAGIC CITY JAZZ ORCHESTRA (Pictured above at a recording session for the CD, “Lou's Blues,” Lou Marini, Jr. conducting. Founding Director Ray Reach, seated at keyboard, on right. Photo by Eugene Bates.)

Ray Reach, Founding Director


MCJO Founding Director Ray Reach recently announced (January, 2010) that he has begun work on a new CD by the MCJO, titled “Spinning Wheel - The Magic CIty Jazz Orchestra plays the music of Blood, Sweat and Tears.” The recording will feature several of the former members of BS&T as soloists, including Lou Marini, Lew Soloff and Tom Malone, among others.

The Magic City Jazz Orchestra (MCJO) was founded in 1999 by pianist / guitarist / arranger / composer / producer Ray Reach for the purpose of recording and performing cutting edge big band jazz. Ray directed the UAB Jazz Ensemble from 1998 to 2005, and taught courses in Music Technology and Jazz for the UAB Music Department. He is now Director of Student Jazz Programs at the Alabama Jazz Hall of Fame (, and is director of the “Fun With Jazz” Educational Program, which was begun through UAB's Alys Stephens Performing Arts Center, and is now administered by the Alabama Jazz Hall of Fame.

MCJO is a spin-off from the SuperJazz Big Band (formerly UAB SuperJazz), a popular group which has been performing for more than 30 years, and was the first musical performing ensemble connected with the music department of the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB). The MCJO has made recordings with saxophonist Lou “Blue Lou” Marini, Jr. and trumpeter Lew Soloff. New recordings are in the works with Marini, Soloff and Tom “Bones” Malone of the David Letterman Show.

Be sure to read the review of the MCJO's recording, “Lou's Blues.” You can go there simply by clicking on the link titled “Review of 'Lou's Blues' CD at” on the right of this column. Also, there is another review of this CD included below, along with a reprint of Bob Belden's liner notes for the recording.

For more information, contact Ray Reach at:

Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. / Phone: 205-960-6328 / Alabama Jazz Hall of Fame Office: 205-254-2731.

Below is a listing of the MCJO players, as they appeared on the recording, “Lou's Blues”


WOODWINDS - Gary Hallquist, Gary Wheat, Dave Amaral, Neil McLean, Grady Chandler, Daniel Western, Kim Bain

TRUMPETS - John Taylor, Chris Gordon, Craig Konicek, Mart Avant, Daryl Jones, Bo Berry

TROMBONES - Steve Pryor, Edson Worden, Bob Black, Charles Ard, Jim Moeller

BASS - Chris Wendle, Robert Dickson

GUITAR - Tom Wolfe, Jim Wallis

DRUMS - Steve Sample, Sonny Harris

REVIEW of “Lou's Blues” by Lou Marini and the Magic City Jazz Orchestra - reprinted from the “Mainly Big Bands” Website (

”As ever I need to convey to you the impact of this, I believe, debut recording by an excellent big band that features a musician many may know from his days with Buddy Rich, Doc Severinson, and I know primarily from his days with the University Of North Texas One O'clock Lab Band.”

“Lou Marini Jr. lives in the New York area but this CD apparently was recorded in Alabama. Is Magic City a euphemism for Birmingham? I guess so, but am not sure. He first came to my notice on some old LPs from The University, in the much missed Blood Sweat And Tears, and as himself, Blue Lou, in the cult classic Blues Brothers film.”

“By the way, I do know that B.S. and T. still play but my last information is that they have distanced themselves from their early days, rarely referring to their classic material.”

“Not too much information about the actual orchestra/big band. It's initial impression is that of a big band Blood Sweat And Tears, indeed some tracks will be familiar. The extra colours available to him as a writer enable him to expand his musical palette giving even more depth and intensity to his writing.”

“I have to say if you expect formula writing as for a regular big band you will be hopefully pleasantly surprised by his use of the jazz ensemble. The moods are swinging, ethereal, pensive, edgy and occasionally free.....a total exploration of the big band genre. If the 'free' comment bothers you, it should not. As for me I hear the music illustrating life in the real world, getting excited, angry, sad then gathering its thoughts and moving on with even more intensity. Avante-garde this is not. Think of his influences, Don Ellis, BS & T, Coltrane, the blues, and expect and enjoy an extravagant adventure, courtesy of the Magic City Jazz Orchestra.”

J.R. Killoch - “Mainly Big Bands” Website (


The following is a reprint of the liner notes from the “Lou's Blues” CD, written by Grammy Award winning saxophonist / arranger / composer Bob Belden:



What can you say about an artist whose musicianship is so defined, so well tuned and focused that one may find two or three others on the planet who have the same breadth of experience and imagination. What can you say about someone who, when they are involved in the performance process, are 100% directed to the positive results of the efforts, whether it be a jazz recording or a television commercial, a concert with James Taylor or a jazz club gig with Joe Beck or a CD devoted to his own music It’s all the same. 100% musicianship. 100% taste. 100% honesty. Have I said enough? Now who is it that I’m talking about? Lou Marini, Jr., the son of Lou Marini, Sr. Lou Marini, Jr. is a one-of-a-kind person, a bon vivant, a renaissance man, a connoisseur of the finer things in life; good food, good friends and good music. Lou Marini, Jr. lives in Manhattan’s elegant Upper West Side, a neighborhood that is the last refuge for the sophisticated bohemian. Miles Davis lived ten blocks away.

Lou, Jr. was born in Charleston, SC, in 1945 (while his dad was in the Navy). But Lou eventually ended up in Ohio, where he studied with his father, an accomplished musician. (Note: a disclaimer. I too studied with Lou, Sr). Lou, Jr (from this point on I will refer to him as ‘Lou’) made his way to North Texas State University in 1963 and studied clarinet as well as played, at first alto and then tenor sax (as well as all of the flute family and clarinets) in the Lab Band Program. By the end of his senior year, Lou had reached the highest levels of performance at the school and he began composing for the famous One O’Clock Lab Band. To understand what this means in today’s language, Lou had to now assimilate the library of the One O’Clock band as a soloist and as a composer, and the mountain top of that endeavor was indeed lofty. Lou was exposed to compositions and arrangements by Bill Holman, Bill Russo, Oliver Nelson, Thad Jones, Billy Byers, Nelson Riddle and on top of that were the amazing writers at the school, Marius ‘Butch’ Nordal, Dee Barton and Bill Stapleton just to name a few. His arrangement of Eddie Harris’s “Freedom Jazz Dance” set Lou far apart from his peers in the ability to expand the orchestration possibilities with that arrangement. It was of Straussian proportion, so difficult that it is rarely played by any band at NTSU. The arrangement was an amalgam of all of his influences that he had at the time, but fleshed out in an entirely fresh and exciting way. During the 1960’s, there was much debate about what was called free (or avant guard) music. By the late sixties, a lot of free music elements were incorporated into rock music. Now, it is commonplace, but Lou took the ideas expressed by Don Ellis and made them his own, while still in college. Because of this distillation of sources and an applied to composing, you will hear in this recording all of those influences weaved into one expressive voice. Lou also has the advantage of having a distinct solo voice on all three saxophones (soprano, alto and tenor) as well as a tasteful style on flute and with that personal touch he is able to wrap his ‘orchestral voice’ around his ‘instrumental voice’, with beautiful results.

After leaving NTSU, Lou played with Doc Severinson and Blood Sweat And Tears before settling down in Manhattan. Lou became overnight one of the in demand players on the scene, both in the studios and in the clubs. His long association with the Saturday Night Live Band led to his being cast as “Blue Lou” in “The Blue Brothers.” But underneath the veneer of this Hollywood attachment, was the Blue Brother’s Band, and primarily, Duck Dunn and Steve Cropper. Dunn and Cropper were charter members of Booker T. and the MG’s., the definition of saxophone soul music in the sixties. Lou had become a member of the Texas Tenor club from his years playing around the state and it was natural for his soul-lo style to fit into the context of the movie and band. It was the sound of that band that gives the funk on this CD a spicier flavor, not cliche, but honest. So now add this soulful tinge to his orchestral leanings and his instrumental prowess and this CD is what you will hear.

There is a silent tip to Oliver Nelson in the way Lou put together the sound palate for “Lou’s Blues”. As Oliver did with “Stolen Moments”, Lou distilled the elegance of Miles Davis’s “So What”, a modal blues of sorts, and crafted a new modal blues of his own. After a short blast of an introduction, Lou plays the melody with just the bass and drums, echoing Coltrane’s vibe. The band enters with the second appearance of the melody, with strong trombone counter lines, and just as the momentum builds up, a strong accent leads into an impressive solo by bassist Robert Dickson. At the end of the bass solo (with a beautiful background behind the soloist), an ensemble figure announces the guitar solo by Tom Wolfe. He plays a beautiful solo, filled with bursts of eighth note joy (dig the trumpet backgrounds behind his second chorus). After the guitar, Lou comes in full force on tenor, playing a whole lot of soul and a whole lot of finesse. The ensemble chorus is strong and lets the drummer fill in before there is an octave ensemble that builds and builds until it reaches the penultimate moment, and then Lou reappears silently, subtly, as if this music had been this quiet all along. The flutes and muted trumpets vamp out behind Lou to end the piece.

“Looking With New Eyes” was written by Lou in 1972 and was instantly made a classic by its inclusion for many years into NTSU lab band concerts. The trombone soli even became the audition material for trombone sections at the school. The melody, played by the flutes and flugelhorn, is pop flavored with a light bossa nova beat, and with its use of major seventh chords creates a happy, carefree ambiance. But when the trombones enter with their famous break (imitating a funk rhythm section) things begin to heat up. The sax section counters with some lines straight out of Thad Jones. After the ensemble climax Lou (on soprano sax) and Bo Berry (trumpet) duet over groove changes leading up to an exciting band climax with a repeat of the funk melody compressed into one chorus. The composition ends with a reprise of the bossa nova melody, ending in rubato. This composition and arrangement reflects Lou’s ability to create exciting, new music that embraces rock and the most advanced ideas of jazz music.

“Hip Pickles” is a composition that interchanges free jazz intro and rock music effortlessly. The melody is played by screaming trumpets and a Clapton-ized guitar. After the exposition of the melody, Lou and guitarist Tom Wolfe duet against a hard rock groove. The guitar comps and solos behind Lou, pushing his saxophone to challenge the electric guitar. The control of the soprano sax demonstrated by Lou is virtuosic, and his forays into the extreme register are handled with skill and taste. After the solos reach their natural climax, the melody is repeated with screaming trumpets and screaming guitar (this is a totally unique sound in ensemble writing today) setting up a hot guitar solo. The melody reappears again, one more time, before ending together (in octaves). A strong chart and a strong band to play it.

“Odalisk” begins in a somber mode, with the melody being played sotto voce. Soon, the percussion enters in clave as the melody continues until settling into a mysterious latin beat, with Lou’s soprano singing over the band. The composition moves into darker terrain and then, suddenly, a moment over ‘implied rubato’ (the use of bell-chord orchestration) shifts the music into a slinky, soulful minor groove. Lou takes over on tenor, and solos against a lush synth background (and a funky guitar rhythm pattern to guide the beat). Lou’s solo is filled with passion and his tone is so dynamic, his phrases often tailing off into air. As the melody returns, Lou uses it as an point of reference to continue soloing. Again, abruptly, the band shifts gears into a quasi- rubato section (distinguished by tight voicings in the upper brass and winds). The last section is a re-orchestration of the melody (bringing to mind Gil Evans' mid-fifties work) using muted trumpets and flutes against a static piano accompaniment. The piece ends with a freely improvised moment, and fades into the atmosphere.

The late Weldon Irvine composed the funk instrumental standard “Mr. Clean”, made famous by Freddie Hubbard. Lou approaches the song literally, using the tune as a vehicle to get funky. His soprano dances around the groove and in between the keyboards and guitar. The arrangement shows how strong the Magic City Jazz Orchestra really is, tackling the intense ensembles. The lead trumpet player Chris Gordon deserves credit for keeping the feel all the way through the chart, and caps off the performance with some stunningly effective high note work.

Lou finally brings out his flute for “Song For John”, and after his monologue, a mix of quiet and muted trumpet state the melody. The composition is exotic in flavor, and the orchestration is very soft and delicate, allowing for the intricacies of Lou’s harmonic language to be highlighted. The ensemble phrases that launch Lou into his soprano sax solo spot are beautiful and heavy at the same time, establishing a mood of restraint and delicacy that comes to fruition with a surprisingly unexpected ending.

There is an air of optimism and beauty that envelopes “Dangerous Cargo”. The composition also demonstrates the total command of the arrangers language by Lou Marini. The exposed melody is developed slowly and carefully until a small ensemble passage sets up a romantic excursion by pianist Ray Reach. Halfway through the pianist's solo, the rhythm section shifts into a double time samba, that leads into another short ensemble passage that transitions to Lou’s tenor solo. Lou floats over the changes and creates new melodies from one phrase to another. As the band shifts into double time Lou takes off in a flurry of ideas that express the urgency of the arrangement. It is one of the best compositions for modern jazz ensembles that has surfaced in recent years. Hats off to the band for being able to conceptualize the difficult twists and turns that Lou presented to them. The piece ends in mirror form, with the orchestration being recapitulated, dissolving to a bare minimum of flute, guitar and drums, and then, in a burst of emotion, big ensemble chords with a touch of Lou’s flute on top.

We're back to the blues with “Rena/Country”. The chart showcases the band’s fluid swing feel and tight sound. The arrangement features Bo Berry on trumpet, who shows that he’s not afraid to play the blues, sounding at times like Blue Mitchell. The rhythm section of Ray Reach on piano, Robert Dickson on bass and Steve Sample on drums really dig in. The ensembles behind the soloists are swinging, and not in the way. The transition passages between the trumpet solo and the next section again features the ensemble pushing really hard to set up a round of choruses by Neil McLean on tenor sax, and Dave Amaral on tenor sax. After the tenors finish their battle, there is a killing ensemble that shows just how strong the trumpet section is. The band ends up strong, and then after a pause, and a sonic alteration, a real old style jump blues (“Country”) is stomped off. Lou switches to alto for this one. This is the sound of real rhythm and blues, bringing to mind Eddie ‘Cleanhead’ Vinson. The ensemble break reminds one of “What'd I Say” in its intention, and sets off two trombonists battling it out for a chorus. Then the band immediately starts into the melody done at a frantic tempo and bringing to mind Armstrong’s band of the thirties. To top it off, there is a fake ending. Very creative.

This CD represents not only the music on the mind of Lou Marini, Jr. but also the collaborative efforts of The Magic City Jazz Orchestra, the co-producer Ray Reach, and the great engineering by Eric and Eugene Bates. The sound is as clear as if Rudy Van Gelder had recorded it. It should be. It has to live up to the standards set by Lou Marini, Jr. And it truly lives up to those standards. And then some. Enjoy....

~ Bob Belden

Source: Magic City Jazz Orchestra at All About Jazz

More info: Magic City Jazz Orchestra - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Magic City Jazz Orchestra - Bhamwiki

Magic City Jazz Orchestra | Free Music, Tour Dates, Photos, Videos

Lou Marini - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Lou's Blues

Listen: Lou Marini: Songs, Albums, Pictures, Bios








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