Emmanuel “Manny” Albam (June 24, 1922 – October 2, 2001) was a jazz baritone saxophone player who eventually became a composer, arranger, producer, and educator and was well known for his association with United Artists-Solid State Records. The son of parents who were emigrating from Lithuania to New York, Albam was born in Samana, Dominican Republic, when his mother went into labor en route to the United States, and grew up in New York City. He grew up listening to his mother’s opera record collection, but became interested in jazz on hearing Bix Beiderbecke, and was immediately taken with jazz. He studied clarinet and saxophone, and at the age of sixteen dropped out of school to become a professional musician, playing weddings and Bar Mitzvahs.
Albam played with Dixieland trumpeter-leader Muggsy Spanier and big bands led by Lee Castle and Herbie Field. However, it was his membership in a group led by Georgie Auld that turned Albam’s career around. The Auld group included saxophonist Budd Johnson, then a primary arranger for the group, and Johnson mentored Albam as an arranger. 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. After serving in the U.S. Army during World War II, Albam returned to the Barnet stable. 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, which coincided with the last gasps of the big band era, Albam had put down his saxophone and began to concentrate strictly on arranging, writing, and leading. He 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. Within a few years, he became known for a bebop-oriented style that emphasized taut and witty writing with a flair for distinctive shadings. Flute-led reed sections became something of an Albam trademark. One of his most popular works from that era was an Afro-Latin composition that he did for the Stan Kenton Innovations Orchestra entitled “Samana,” named after his birthplace in the Dominican Republic. After becoming known for his work for bandleaders Barnet and Spivak, he moved forward to collaborate with various jazzmen as his compositions appeared in the books of Woody Herman, Count Basie, Stan Getz, Bob Brookmeyer (who frequently appeared on Albam’s own albums as a leader), Coleman Hawkins (particularly the tenor saxophone pioneer’s late-life but spry recording of “I Love Paris”), Dizzy Gillespie, Freddie Hubbard, Hank Jones, Mel Lewis, Art Farmer, Urbie Green, and Milt Hinton, among others, on their recordings and on his own recordings as a leader for several labels.
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. 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. Albam also found an entree into the classical music world when he arranged Leonard Bernstein’s score for West Side Story in 1957—Bernstein was said to have been so impressed that he invited Albam to write for the New York Philharmonic itself, an invitation that led Albam to study classical music for a time with Tibor Serly, who had been an associate of composer Bela Bartok, and, in due course, write such works as Concerto for Trombone and Strings.
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. By 1964, Albam became musical director for Sonny Lester’s United Artists-Solid State Records. Albam recorded “Brass of Fire,” an album with an orchestra of all brass instruments. His jazz suite “The Soul of the City,” that has become a classic, was released on that label two years later. He also did the score for a few films and television programs; a song of his was included in Waking the Dead. 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.
Following that, Albam turned increasingly to teaching, a pursuit he continued until his death. With the encouragement of close friend Rayburn Wright, Albam started teaching summer workshops at the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, New York, in 1964. He later joined the faculties of Glassboro State College (now Rowan University) in New Jersey and the Manhattan School of Music in New York. In 1988, he helped establish the BMI Jazz Composer’s Workshop to foster young composers and arrangers. In 1991 he eventually took over as director from Bob Brookmeyer. He has as long list of former students throughout the music industry and in higher education. Also 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 of cancer on October 2, 2001 at his home at Croton-On-Hudson, NY. Albam had an impressive career as a composer-arranger that spanned seven decades. 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. He collaborated with a who’s who of jazz greats including Count Basie, Dizzy Gillespie, and Stan Getz and also developed successive generations of new talent as co-founder and musical director of the BMI Jazz Composers Workshop.
My collection includes the following work by Manny Albam
Nostalgico (for saxophone and jazz orchestra, 1981)