Ted Kooshian doesn’t clown around. Or does he? The pianist, known for his imaginative adaptations lets loose with the big noses, funny hair and wide shoes with Clowns Will Be Arriving (Summit Records, 2015), an exciting collection of five original songs and remakes of television show themes composed by Hugo Montenegro, Lalo Schifrin, Johnny Williams and more.
Kooshian uses a variable lineup of players to help him take this trip through time. Jeff Lederer appears on all but one track, playing flute, soprano sax or tenor sax. Others who appear here and here are Pete McGuinness, trombone; Wilbur Bascomb electric bass; David Silliman, drums and percussion; Mat Jodrell, trumpet; Scott Neumann, drums; Tom Hubbard, bass; Warren Odze, drums and percussion; Napoleon Murphy Brock, vocals on “Christmas Day, My Favorite Day”; Morrie Louden, bass; Cliff Lyons, alto sax; and Paul Livant, rhythm guitar.
“I Dream of Jeannie” kicks things off. Lederer’s flute takes point. Bascomb’s dynamic bass line gives this track extra depth. The congas add a tropical vibe. For his part, Kooshian tickles the ivory like there’s no proverbial tomorrow. McGuinness gets his licks in while there’s time. The song ends with a series of creative, tightly syncopated phrases.
Trumpet and soprano saxophone harmonize for the main theme of “Get Smart,” then take turns on the stairstep bridge. Kooshian shifts to electric keyboard. Neumann’s timely high-hat play mixed with tenor and snare rolls is the backdrop for the soloists.
Lederer leads with the tenor for Kooshian’s take on “Mannix.” This take largely follows the path laid by the original, with some subtle adjustments here to make it distinctive. After delving into the familiar, Lederer and Kooshian venture into uncharted territory with their solos. After a brief return to the melody, Lederer plays a couple of lines from the introduction to Steely Dan’s “Peg.” The inside joke is that in the series, private investigator Joe Mannix had a secretary named Peggy.
Using electronic noises to aid the introduction, Kooshian and company deliver a quirky rendition of Williams’ theme for “Lost in Space.” Lyons joins Lederer for a saxophone duet on the melody. When the ensemble deviates from the theme, the song takes on a more straightforward jazz approach, minus the computer sounds. The saxes and the keyboard are in orbit as each delivers its own message. After the solos, the band shifts to the season 3 theme before inserting a morsel of the cartoon series The Jetsons theme. The composer, Williams, went by Johnny in those days, but later changed to John before delivering such blockbuster scores for Jaws, Star Wars and Raiders of the Lost Ark.
Oddly, several of these themes were composed by jazz musicians, and some, particularly “Mannix,” sounded like jazz songs. But few, if any, have been remade before now.
All of the material fits into Kooshian’s passion for nostalgia. The music, including Wayne Shorter’s “Three Clowns,” is culled from Kooshian’s past. The original songs include the title song, which Kooshian wrote in 1992 but had never recorded, and three songs named for favorite characters in two comic strips and one animated series that he loved: “Koko,” for the clown in Max Fleischer’s Out of the Ink Well cartoons; “Porkypine,” named for a character in Walt Kelly’s Pogo; and “Ignatz,” a tribute to a character in George Herriman’s Krazy Kat series.
by Woodrow Wilkins – Smooth & Soul (2015)