Oliver Nelson: Sound Pieces (1966) Impulse

Selection: Patterns

.  .  .


Patterns, The Shadow Of Your Smile, Elegy For A Duck (Capitol Studios, NYC, September 7, 1966)

Oliver Nelson, soprano sax; Steve Kuhn, piano; Ron Carter, bass; Grady Tate, drums.

Sound Piece For Jazz Orchestra   (Western Recorders, Los Angeles, CA, September 27, 1966)

John Audino, Bobby Bryant, Conte Candoli, Oliver Mitchell, trumpet; Michael Barone, Richard Leith, Dick Noel, Ernie Tack, trombone; Bill Hinshaw, Richard Perissi, French horn; Oliver Nelson, soprano sax; Gabriel Baltazar Jr., Bill Green, Plaz Johnson, Jack Nimitz, Bill Perkins, sax.

 Flute Salad, The Lady From Girl Talk : (Western Recorders, Los Angeles, CA, September 28, 1966)

John Audino, Conte Candoli, Oliver Mitchell, Al Porcino, trumpet; Michael Barone, Bill Byers, Richard Leith, Ernie Tack, trombone; Bill Hinshaw, Richard Perissi, French horn; Red Callender, tuba; Oliver Nelson, soprano sax; Bill Green, Plaz Johnson, Jack Nimitz, sax; Gabriel Baltazar Jr., Bill Perkins, sax, clarinet; Mike Melvoin, piano; Ray Brown, bass; Shelly Manne, drums.  

Engineers: Jim Lockert and Bob Simpson, no Van Gelder

Artist Profile: Oliver Nelson

Sound Pieces is a half-way stop on Nelson’s journey from talented  tenor saxophonist, exactly the right time and place, 1959 New York, through to 70’s  Hollywood film and TV composer and arranger of choice.

Earlier stops on this trajectory included such classic titles as Screamin’ The Blues, with Eric Dolphy (1960) Blues and The Abstract Truth, with Dolphy, Hubbard and Bill Evans, Straight Ahead, with Dolphy (1961), More Blues And The Abstract Truth (1964) (note: a future post, much under-rated)  and this album, Sound Pieces (1966). From here on, Nelson’s output was dominated by big band/orchestra outings like The Kennedy Dream and Spirit of 67, in which he continued to perform as a soloist, primarily on soprano saxophone.

Then in 1967 Nelson moved to LA to be near the television and movie industry, and took a change of direction, composing and arranging soundtracks for  popular TV series such as Six Million Dollar Man (unadjusted for inflation) and The Bionic Woman (inflated and adjusted).

A TV series required a signature theme tune, variations on the theme running through subsequent scenes and episodes, and instrumental track “cues” for various types of situations, such as romantic encounters (break out the violins), mystery and suspense (tip toe) conflict, danger, pumping action (wake up the drummer please!) So, he/she runs, he/she jumps, he/she runs some more, cue car chase, cut to fight scene, bish bash bosh, bad guy taken away in handcuffs, roll credits, another episode done and dusted.

TV series compositions were also reusable. Nelson wrote a tune Baja Bossa  for a Six Million Dollar Man episode, “The Peeping Blonde”, which first aired December 20, 1974. Nelson later recorded it as a bossa nova track on his 1975 album, Skull Session. The Six Million Dollar Man theme re-appears as a Groove Holmes organ album in 1975.

Nelson’s arranging and conducting skills attracted major assignments such as Gatto Barbieri’s  magnificent existentialist score The Last Tango In Paris.(1972)

The same year, 1972, Nelson was composing/arranging for the TV series Ironside, in which wheelchair-bound SFPD Chief Robert T. Ironside (Raymond Burr, known for his role as burly, impassive defence attorney Perry Mason) wheeled himself around solving detective mysteries.  Popular middle-brow TV programmes had soundtracks composed and arranged by the cream of music arrangers. Oliver Nelson took over the Ironside duties from Quincy Jones, which he later handed over to Marty Paich.

Nelson continued recording for Bob Thiele’s Flying Dutchman label, arranged and produced albums for big-ticket stars like James Brown, Diana Ross and The Temptations, composed several symphonic works, and began a contribution to jazz education. However his discography ended abruptly in 1975, for the usual reason these things end abruptly, Nelson died of a heart attack, at the age of only 43.


The big band tracks are recorded in LA, where there was already a large pool of musicians on tap, to fill the seats, including Bill Perkins, Conte Candoli, Ray Brown and Shelly Manne. The feature big-band composition is Sound Piece for Jazz Orchestra, described by Nelson’s discographer Doug Payne as ” a brilliant, sprawling, complex and wonderfully exciting orchestral composition”.

Vinyl: Impulse AS-9129 – Bell Sound – orange/black label

Recorded in both New York and LA, unusual machine stamped matrix seen very occasionally, not a Van Gelder, but mastered by Bell Sound.

The track selection Patterns was recorded at Capitol Studios, NYC.  Impulse feature many outstanding recordings by Van Gelder, why record at Capitol? A little bit of digging provides the connection. Capitol Studios NYC was the recording venue for at least three Cannonball Adderley titles around that time.


Cannonball Adderley’s album Domination featured  orchestral arrangements by Oliver Nelson. Nelson was arranging and conducting for Cannonball, Cannonball was recording for Capitol Records, at Capitol Studios, the Adderley connection. Capitol will have passed on the mastering and metal prep to Bell Sound, as an all-service shop.


Collector’s Corner

Oliver Nelson’s strength was probably more as a composer than as a performer, and a very good composer (Stolen Moments).  He followed the same route as Benny Golson, and probably many others, from performing and recording  jazz, to writing and arranging for the broader entertainment industry that needed music to enhance televisual story lines, and employing jazz musicians who needed to eat.

And I guess, why not? It was that or on with the gold lame pants and head for the Funk or Fusion genres. Or move to Europe.

Nelson was denied the opportunity to return to jazz performance, as many do in their later years. However he did leave us some excellent Impulse albums, which have weathered better than our bionically enhanced heros, featuring Maximillian, the bionic dog.  Woof! Woof! . . . zzzt…pssshhtt… pfut  … Oh shit, Max has blown a fuse…

1 thought on “Oliver Nelson: Sound Pieces (1966) Impulse

  1. Patterns is a work of art. The first time I heard it was on a Gilles Peterson Impulse collection (Pure Fire). Still haven’t got around to buying Sound Pieces. That piano!

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