[JPL] FW: [obit] Bob Florence
McWilliams, Robert C
radiobob at ku.edu
Mon Aug 25 19:06:23 EDT 2008
Bob Florence: Jazz composer and band leader
Monday, 25 August 2008
Only the best musicians succeed in Los Angeles. The pianist Bob Florence,
who was born there, won on two fronts: he led one of the finest big bands in
the city, Bob Florence's Limited Edition, and he was one of the most sought-
after composers and arrangers of music for the city's commercial studios. His
often complex compositions ranked with the finest jazz writing of the last 50
years. Yet, despite the fact that he was regularly called to work in London, he
was not as well known in jazz circles in Britain as he should have been.
His arrangements were so compelling that he could often rewrite classic
standards like "Laura" or "How Deep is the Ocean" so that they sounded as
though he had written them himself. It's a conceit of many writers to think
that they can write original compositions that rank with the classic songs of
the Gershwins and Irving Berlins. In Florence's case he could, and he ranked
with Bill Holman as the finest composer and big band leader on the West
Coast. He won a Grammy for his big band album Serendipity 18 (2000), and
"Somehow my mother discovered that I had perfect pitch," he recounted,
"and started me on the piano two months before I turned five. I gave my first
full-scale piano recital when I was seven. Iwas seriously headed tow ards a
concert pianist career, but I always loved big bands and jazz". When he left
high school, Florence studied music at Los Angeles City College and in
particular with Bob McDonald, who took a class in arranging and
orchestration. McDonald had a deep background in jazz and under his
influence Florence soon joined the college big band.
By 1956 he had joined Les Brown's band and wrote for it too. He wrote also
for the bands led by Harry James and Louie Bellson and in 1959 joined the
big band led by Si Zentner. "My career broke wide open because of an
arrangement of "Up A Lazy River" done for Si's big band." Zentner's record
became a hit. Commissions followed for Florence from many of the great
jazz names - Stan Kenton, Buddy Rich and Count Basie among them, and in
the commercial field he wrote for Andy Williams, Dean Martin and Frank
Sinatra. In the late Sixties he provided music for singers including Jack
Jones, Julie Andrews, Lena Horne and Vikki Carr.
"In 1969 I did six half-hour TV specials in London with Vikki Carr," he said.
Because of the Musicians' Union I couldn't do anything except write. I wrote
a couple of things for her while I was there. Don Lusher was in the trombone
section and Tubby Hayes, no longer tubby, was in the woodwind. He played
Florence returned to work for Carr in 1973 and toured with her for five years.
When he returned to Los Angeles he formed his big band, made up of off-
duty studio musicians. In the Eighties Florence worked for Sarah Vaughan,
Doc Severinsen and Diane Schuur. In the late Eighties he reformed the big
band and now called it his Limited Edition, because the musicians it was
made up of had the ability to master without difficulty his most complex
"My career has not been entirely a jazz career," he said. "I'd hate to be
thought of as a total jazz musician. My personal tastes are so wide-ranging."
Robert Chase Florence, pianist, arranger, composer and bandleader: born
Los Angeles 20 May 1932; twice married (one son, one daughter); died
Thousand Oaks, California 15 May 2008.
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