There are numerous fine biographies written for Manny, and his outstanding reputation is well established. The following was written by Jeff Sultanof of ejazzlines.com:
World-class bassist Bill Crow has written of Manny Albam, “Manny was one of the good guys. His sweet nature endeared him to everyone who met him, and he wrote music that we loved to play.”
Albam had an impressive career as a composer-arranger for over fifty years. His music ran the gamut of jazz, pop, and classical music, and his ensembles were usually filled with the top musicians on the scene. Several of his albums are required listening for arrangers and composers, and are still getting radio airplay. In later years, in addition to his writing and conducting, Albam became a respected educator at colleges and summer workshops.
Albam’s parents were emigrating from Lithuania to New York when Emmanual Albam was born on June 24, 1922 en route in Samana in the Dominican Republic. He grew up listening to his mother’s opera record collection, but at the age of seven, he heard a record by Bix Beiderbecke, and was immediately taken with jazz. He studied clarinet and saxophone, and by the age of 16, he left school and became a professional musician, playing weddings and Bar Mitzvahs (“I can still taste the chicken,” he wrote in a liner note for one of his albums).
He played with trumpeter Muggsy Spanier and big bands led by Lee Castle and Herbie Field, and later joined saxophonist George Auld’s big band as a baritone saxophonist. One of Auld’s arrangers was Budd Johnson, who was a veteran saxophonist/arranger who’d been the musical director for Earl Hines’ big band, and Johnson became Albam’s mentor. Now part of the New York jazz scene, Albam was surrounded by the leaders of the modern jazz movement. In 1947, he was the baritone saxophonist in Neal Hefti’s studio big band backing Charlie Parker when the saxophonist recorded “Repetition.”
After writing for trumpeter Pee Wee Erwin’s short-lived big band, Albam joined the Charlie Barnet Orchestra, where he got his first major exposure as a composer/arranger. By 1949, Barnet was leading an ensemble of young musicians playing bebop and ‘progressive’ music, and Albam’s pieces such as “Charlie’s Other Aunt,” “Claude Reigns,” and “Swell and Super” were popular with audiences and with the leader himself. By 1950, Albam put down his saxophone and became a composer/arranger full time (except for a 1953 recording with Ella Fitzgerald), writing two arrangements a week for the Charlie Spivak band for almost two years. His compositions appeared in the books of Woody Herman and Count Basie. He also wrote “Samana” for the Stan Kenton Innovations Orchestra.
In December of 1955, the first of Albam’s landmark albums was recorded for RCA Victor. “Jazz Workshop” was part of the “Jazz Workshop” series produced by Jack Lewis. The LP was a mix of originals and standards written for an all-star octet of two trumpets, two trombones, two reeds, bass and drums. The personnel included Al Cohn, Bob Brookmeyer, Milt Hinton, Billy Byers, Urbie Green, Joe Newman and Nick Travis. Manny was still proud of this album when he made a presentation at an International Association of Jazz Educators convention, in which he used three tracks as examples of jazz ensemble music using smaller forces.
Albam followed that up with a collaboration with Ernie Wilkins for RCA called “Drum Suite,” recorded in March of 1956. Albam contributed three of the six tracks for an album that featured drummers Gus Johnson, Osie Johnson, Ted Sommer and Don Lamond.
He wrote arrangements for Stan Getz, Jackie Paris and Coleman Hawkins during this period. By 1957, he was signed to the Coral label and recorded several albums under his own name and for others such as Larry Sonn, Hal McKusick and Tommy Shepherd. Many were excellent, but two were outstanding. In September and October of 1957, Manny recorded “The Blues is Everybody’s Business,” a four-part suite; two with big band, and two with orchestra. Ambitious and yet down-home (it is an album of music based on the blues after all), it has become a classic, studied in composition classes in colleges all over the world. He followed this with an album of music from the Broadway musical “West Side Story.” Composer Leonard Bernstein was so impressed with the settings of his songs that he invited Albam to compose something for the New York Philharmonic. He felt that he needed further training in composition, so he began studying with Tibor Serly, who had been an associate of composer Bela Bartok.
The sixties were particularly busy for Albam; he continued to work on album projects for RCA-Victor, Impulse (an album with Curtis Fuller of the music from the show “Cabin in the Sky” is particularly impressive) and United Artists, music for Broadway, and advertising jingles. In 1964, he became the musical director of Sonny Lester’s record label Solid State. Liner notes for its early albums boasted that the music was recorded with the most up-to-date equipment in the world, and the legendary producer Phil Ramone was the engineer for these sessions. Albam recorded “Brass of Fire,” an album with an orchestra of all brass instruments, and another album that has become a classic, “The Soul of the City.” Using sound effects such as audiences cheering, and children playing, Albam composed music of various moods and styles played by the finest musicians in New York. One track in particular, “Museum Pieces” with a solo by Phil Woods, received quite a bit of airplay on New York jazz station WRVR.
By 1964, Albam began to devote time to teaching. He was co-instructor with Rayburn Wright in week-long summer workshops at the Eastman School of Music, where students had the opportunity to write for a studio orchestra. He taught at Glassboro State College (now Rowan University) in New Jersey, and the Manhattan School of Music. In 1988, he helped to establish the BMI Jazz Composers Workshop.
He continued to write for recordings and the concert hall. He arranged for Meredith D’Ambrosio, Judy Niemack, Eileen Farrell, Nancy Marano, Hank Jones (with string quartet), and an album with Joe Lovano featuring the music of Frank Sinatra. Both Bud Shank and Phil Woods recorded his “Concerto for Jazz Alto Saxophone and Orchestra,” and Phil Woods recorded “Nostalgico” with the American Jazz Philharmonic. He wrote music for the WDR big band of Germany and for the Metropole Orchestra of Holland.
Manny passed away on October 2, 2001 at his home at Croton-On-Hudson. He is survived by two daughters and a son. He left a huge legacy of great music and many composer/arrangers who were his students. Happily many of his finest albums have been issued on CD and are available so that his music can be heard by new generations. And the Albam estate will soon sign an exclusive agreement with Jazzlines Publications so that in the coming years, much of his wonderful music can be studied and performed, assuring that his work will never die.
---- Jeff Sultanof
Editor, Jazz Historian
Born: June 24, 1922, Dominican Republic.
Childhood home: New York, NY
Known Major Awards: Grammy Nomination, 1959, Westside story (Jazz version)
Marriages: 1) Nancy Albam, 2) Ann Albam and, 3) Betty Hindes.
Children: Katie Crane (Oakland, CA); Amy Albam (Nyak, NY); Evan Albam (Maine); Michael Casagranda (North Carolina) Grandchildren (Sophia Albam, Ross Richter, and Alexa Albam, 2 by Mike Casagranda).
Step Children: Paul Hindes (Kenoza Lake, NY), Andrew Hindes (CA); 4 Grandchildren, Kate, Samuel, Coleman and Lina.
Close Friends/Colleagues: Bob Brookmeyer, Phil Woods, Dan Morgenstren, Van Alexander, Johnny Mandel, and many, many more.
Personal music Archivist: Anita Brown (arranger, composer, educator), Nyack, NY
Archive location: Institute of Jazz Studies, Dana Library, Rutgers University