David Angel Jazz Ensemble: ‘Out on the Coast’

A Triple-Disc Triumph a Lifetime in the Making

Los Angeles native David Angel is one of the most respected composer/arrangers on the West Coast; however, he is virtually unknown to the general public. That is why tuba and bass-trombone master Jim Self decided it was time to rectify that situation. He brought together the David Angel Jazz Ensemble to record “Out on the Coast,” a gorgeous three-disc, first of its kind anthology of Angel’s music.

Angel, a Life Member of AFM Local 47, plays saxes and clarinet. He played and wrote for Latin bands in his youth but was also attracted to classical music. He was especially influenced by the French Impressionists, particularly Debussy and Ravel. He was equally influenced by jazz artists, such as Duke Ellington, Jack Montrose, Gerry Mulligan, Marty Paich, Gil Evans, and Bill Holman. Angel is also a big fan of the West Coast jazz style. When he was 21 years old, he was writing orchestrations for the TV show “Bonanza,” which led to a long career as a composer and arranger for the television and film industries.

Angel is also an educator and was invited by the French cultural minister to teach at the Paris Conservatory, and he spent the ensuing decades teaching at conservatories in France and Switzerland. He recently gave lessons in composition and theory for the American Society of Music Arrangers and Composers in Los Angeles.

Besides the wide admiration he has garnered for his writing, Angel is a soft-spoken, gentle person who is well- liked by everyone who works with him. That is why Bill Holman has called him “one of our brightest suns,” and orchestrator Brad Dechter has said, “David Angel is quite possibly the best composer you’ve never heard of and most definitely kindest soul you could ever meet.” Now 80, he still writes every day.

The David Angel Jazz Ensemble grew out of the rehearsal band that Angel began in 1969. For decades, the band has regularly rehearsed at AFM Local 47’s rehearsal rooms, first on Vine Street in Hollywood and now at the union’s new facilities in Burbank (rehearsal rooms are currently temporarily closed due to the pandemic). Over the years, the group featured many West Coast jazz giants, like Bill Perkins, Bob Cooper, Kim Richmond, Bob Brookmeyer, Bud Shank, Pete and Conte Condoli, Pete Christlieb, Art Pepper, and many others. Jim Self subbed with the band for many years until he became a permanent member several years ago.

David Angel Jazz Ensemble

Self’s deep admiration for Angel inspired him to record his music. “I’m really in awe of David’s talent,” Self said. “He pretty much composes everything in his head, and just writes it down using a pencil and paper. He doesn’t have any recordings, so I wanted to preserve his work as well as the work of the marvelous musicians in this ensemble, so I took it upon myself to produce this record.”

Angel’s current 13-member ensemble of top-notch players were more than happy to participate in this project. Recorded right before the pandemic hit, the band laid down all 22 tracks in just four days.

“Out on the Coast” features 15 original compositions by Angel and his arrangements of seven standards by Arthur Schwartz, Duke Ellington, Johnny Mandel, Jimmy Davis, Billy Strayhorn, Vernon Duke, and Harold Arlen. “Although there are 14 musicians on this album, we’re really an ensemble rather than a small big band,” Self said. “I call David’s music ‘Gil Evans meets JS Bach’ because he manages to combine the rich and complex harmonies of Evans with the polyphonic lines of Bach, while still leaving lots of space for improvisers to stretch out.”

Angel wrote so many great charts, it was difficult to narrow them down to fit on one disc, so he culled 22 tunes from his extensive oeuvre and burned them onto three discs. The music ranges from swinging to symphonic, from Latin-tinged to jazz waltzes to West Coast cool.

Written over many years, the compositions and arrangements on “Out on the Coast” provide a very satisfying glimpse of the prolific output and brilliance of David Angel, who never sought out and has never received wide public recognition. This project should change that, and it’s about time.

“Out on the Coast” is now available from Basset Hound Music @ bassethoundmusic.com