Oliver Nelson

(1932 - 1975)

Saxophones / Composer, Arranger

Although Oliver Nelson was a respected soloist on alto, tenor and soprano saxophone, his composing skills eventually overshadowed his playing career. He turned professional in 1947, playing with big bands in his native St Louis and began arranging and composing almost immediately. In 1951 he arranged and played second alto for Louis Jordan's big band which was followed by a period in the Navy and four years at the Universities of both Washington DC and Missouri, also taking lessons from the respected composer Elliot Carter. After moving to New York, Nelson worked briefly with Erskine Hawkins, Wild Bill Davis and Louie Bellson in addition to periods with Duke Ellington's and Quincy Jones' Orchestras between 1959-61. During this time he also recorded six small-group albums and a big-band date; those gave him the respect he deserved in Jazz circles. His debut recording as a leader is an enjoyable but conventional quintet session "Meet Oliver Nelson" issued in 1959. Nelson's most successful album is without doubt The Blues and the Abstract Truth, a septet session from 1961, on which he is joined by Freddie Hubbard, Bill Evans and Eric Dolphy. An absolutely brilliant album! The opening track "Stolen Moments" remains a classic until this day, but other tracks such as "Cascades" for instance are equally good. The immediate impact this album made established his name permanently and his record company could suddenly afford big-band sessions for him (Afro-American Sketches '61, another highlight). Good as his playing was, Nelson was in such demand as an arranger that by '62-63 he was virtually staff arranger for Verve, writing for big-band dates of Jimmy Smith, Wes Montgomery, Billy Taylor and Buddy Rich amongst others. An attempt to re-create the magic of "Blues and the Abstract Truth" in 1964 with "More Blues and the Abstract Truth" was less successful. By 1967 when he moved to Los Angeles, Nelson spent most of his time in the major Hollywood studios writing for television and movies. Aside from a few festival appearances with all-star big bands, his new career didn't allow much time for Jazz. He wrote a few ambitious works in a more classical style and recorded on an infrequent basis. Oliver Nelson was unfortunately lost to the world of Jazz in 1975 when he died aged 43 from a heart attack.

Recommended Recordings
Meet Oliver Nelson Original Jazz
Takin' Care of Business New Jazz/OJC
Screamin' the Blues New Jazz/OJC
The Blues and the Abstract Truth Impulse!
Soul Battle Prestige/OJC
Straight Ahead (with Eric Dolphy) New Jazz/OJC
Main Stem Original Jazz
Afro-American Sketches Original Jazz
More Blues & the Abstract Truth Impulse!
Sound Pieces Impulse!
Live from Los Angeles Impulse!
Verve Jazz Masters Verve
Plays Michelle Flying
Go to Oliver Nelson's page at emusic for free downloads