In 1967, when I was sixteen, I saw Harry James perform this tune ten times, on five consecutive nights, with the house band at the Frontier Hotel in Las Vegas. It was perhaps the highlight of my (generally eye-opening) summer package tour chez Smookler in Sin City. Which is to say that my Uncle Gene Smookler played baritone sax in the Frontier Hotel’s house band (see “Forest Flower,” July 2), and with characteristic generosity of spirit, he brought me backstage each evening during my summer visit with him in Vegas. Between shows, we would rocket back to his desert home in his new Porsche, where he would party with friends. Talk about Birth of the Cool, or born again in The Cool. Who was the pudge-bucket nerd now – yeah, okay, as though my high school classmates knew or cared?
Sixty-year-old James was headlining with Nancy Sinatra and a pianist called Kelly Green (surely a stage name?). To my uncle’s amused sympathy, I contracted acute lovesickness from the rather more experienced Green (in an age when human cougars had yet to be bio-engineered), and though I knew James’s music only vaguely, his performance of this “Jump” made me pretty woozy about him, too. Every night, at each of the two shows (dinner and late, on the main stage), I would thrum in anticipation of his appearance, and particularly of those orgasmic trumpet arpeggios – descending fast triplets, the bit that runs from 3:05 to 3:36 on the Youtube video listed first above, emptying out into the “groove” brass chorus starting at 3:37. I’d never heard “Two O’Clock Jump” until then, but that section has reverberated in my head, tumbling like successive water falls in a rapids, all down the 48 intervening years. Who needs drugs?
As for what the drum solo adds, well, if Buddy Rich is in your band, you’re going to feature him. (Regarding Rich’s own band, I have posted simultaneously an essay on his interpretation of “Birdland.”)
As for the date, the ides of March is James’s birthday (1916), and a good time to be dancing on your winter holiday in the desert, with family, far from classmates who could stab you in the back at any minute.