The University of North Texas College of Music was the first school in the world to offer an accredited degree in jazz studies. It is also home to one of the largest music libraries in the country, an excellent symphony orchestra and a world class jazz band.
In fact, it’s One O’Clock Lab Band has performed all around the world, as well as once backing both Duke Ellington and Stan Getz at a White House performance in 1967. The school had a full stage band as early as the mid-20s, but it was not until 1947 that the school’s “dance music” program was codified into its current state, providing an accredited degree and establishing the school’s band into the “Laboratory Dance Band.” It’s first director, Gene Hall, was an associate of Stan Kenton.
“One O’Clock” was added to the band’s name in the early sixties, referring not to the Count Basie standard but to the band’s rehearsal time (the school also had at the time “Two O’Clock” and “Three O’Clock” bands and so on). Every year since 1966, the school has produced an album presenting original compositions, arrangements of standards, and exceptional performances. Several over the years have been nominated for Grammys.
This past winter we purchased the collection of a music educator, which included several of the Lab LPs (each is simply titled Lab 66, Lab 67, and so on). Record collectors are usually dismissive of records produced by colleges and universities, and of so-called “amateur” albums in general — the Lab albums are prized by jazz collectors. Several offer the first recorded performances of well-known jazz musicians, and all of them stand in contrast to the slow decline of the big band. If ever you happen across one of their albums, give it a listen. Here are some favorite tracks from a few that came through the shop this year.
Two alumni heard on Lab 68 are best known as members of the Blues Brothers Band — both Lou Marini and Tom “Bones” Malone appeared in the 1980 film. We have always thought Marini was especially hilarious in the scene set inside the Soul Food Diner, and he’s also highly regarded by jazz musicians, although most of his work as a session man has been on rock and pop albums. Marini performed on albums as varied as Lou Reed’s Sally Can’t Dance and Peter Tosh’s Mystic Man. along the way performing jazz with Deodato, the Brecker Brothers and Bobby Humphrey.
He wrote and arranged three songs on Lab 68 which hint at the influence of diverse composers like Oliver Nelson and Gil Evans. He does not play the tenor solo on the first of these (that’s performed by Ray Loeckle) but it’s a great composition.
You’ll be amazed by the credits on the Wikipedia page for Dean Parks, the guitarist and horn player who wrote this song from Lab 69. He is one of the many “behind the scenes” session men who got their start at the University of North Texas.
“Overture to the Royal Mongolian Suma Foosball Festival”
Lab 75 features a shift into heavier, more groove oriented arrangments. Unlike previous Lab LPs, this one features the work of a single composer, keyboardist Lyle Mays (who is from nearby Wausaukee, Wisconsin, by the way). Most people know Mays for his work with Pat Methany through their long collaboration. Lab 75 is one of the best album in the ongoing series, and was nominated for a Grammy.
“Self Help is Needed”
The Lab albums also visit the work of prominent jazz composers, such as this arrangement of a rarely-performed Oliver Nelson piece on Lab 83 which features Bill Brown on alto. This is the most-recent album we’ve found, but this video shows the band recording the well-reviewed Lab 2009.