In late January 1958, after what seemed like an interminable wait, Roulette Records released Life Is a Many Splendored Gig, the Herb Pomeroy Orchestra’s first album (Roulette R-52001). The local press first wrote about it on January 30.

Album cover: Life Is a Many Splendored Gig

Life Is a Many Splendored Gig (Roulette R-52001)

John McLellan, in his twice-weekly Jazz Scene column in the Boston Traveler (such a luxury then to have a twice-weekly jazz column in a daily paper), summed it up in six words: “the whole album is a gas.”

In The Boston Jazz Chronicles, I wrote that this band set the high-water mark for Boston jazz in the 1950s, and this recording proves it. The band swings and the soloists (especially Joe Gordon) are standouts, but I give extra credit to the arrangers. Pomeroy’s band had the reputation as a writers’ band, and they’re in evidence here. Band members Everett Longstreth and Boots Mussulli contributed two arrangements each, as did Pomeroy himself, and Jaki Byard and Ray Santisi each wrote one. Byard’s “Aluminum Baby” became the band’s most requested tune. Bob Freedman, who replaced Byard in the saxophone section in September 1957, also contributed a chart. He’d make major contributions to the Pomeroy Orchestra’s next album, Band in Boston.

The album’s title played off two things. First, it derived from the fact that so many band members worked day jobs. Their gigs included teacher, bank teller, dental student, shoe salesman, and hospital orderly. Photographer Chuck Stewart assembled the collection of objects displayed on the cover. Second, the song “Love Is a Many-Splendored Thing” won the Oscar in 1956 for Best Original Song, and every pop artist you ever heard of recorded it. I’m sure Pomeroy’s little joke amused songwriters Sammy Fain and Paul Francis Webster.

The band recorded Splendored Gig in New York in June 1957, during their Birdland engagement. Leonard Feather heard them there, and wrote a review in the June 27 Down Beat. He concluded: “Pomeroy’s band provides another reminder that the shortage of big, swinging orchestras is in no measure due to any lack of able and spirited musicians and arrangers. One can only hope earnestly that it will not return to local two-night-a-week obscurity, for coupled with its will to succeed is the no less important fact that it deserves to.”

Down Beat’s Dom Cerulli gave the album a five-star review in the March 20, 1958 issue, but he devoted too much space to cataloging the shortcomings of the liner notes, written by Robert Sylvester, a New York Daily News columnist. Sylvester failed to mention, for instance, that Zoot Sims was the album’s guest soloist on a half-dozen tracks. Although Zoot’s solos are uniformly good, Cerulli wondered why Roulette added him at all, given the saxophone talent in the Pomeroy band. But they added Zoot, and didn’t tell anybody, so quite a few listeners probably thought Varty Haroutunian was just a Zoot Sims copycat.

The Pomeroy Orchestra on Life Is a Many Splendored Gig included Herb Pomeroy, Lennie Johnson, Augie Ferretti, Everett Longstreth, and Joe Gordon, trumpets; Joe Ciavardone, Bill Legan, and Gene DiStasio, trombones; Dave Chapman and Boots Mussulli, alto saxophones; Varty Haroutunian and Jaki Byard, tenor saxophones; Deane Haskins, baritone saxophone; Ray Santisi, piano; John Neves, bass; and Jimmy Zitano, drums.

Here are two tracks from the album. First up is “Wolafunt’s Lament” (the lament concerned a dreaded trip to a dentist of that name), arranged by Longstreth with solos by Sims and Gordon.

Next is “Theme for Terry,” composed and arranged by Bob Freedman and featuring solos by DiStasio, Haskins, Haroutunian, and Gordon.