Rory Partin is a renaissance man in the world of big band swing music. Although he wasn’t born when many of the standards that appear on his new CD The Very Thought of You were first written, he sings them with the same charm that made Frank Sinatra, Bobby Darin and Nat King Cole household names.
One of the premier crooners in music, the Louisiana born Partin is the lead vocalist and bandleader of the Rory Partin Band. Listeners will enjoy his smooth rich vocals on favorite tunes such as "Walkin’ My Baby Back Home," "Route 66," "Mack The Knife" and "It Had To Be You."
Before the album was pared down to ten tracks, the band recorded fifteen songs between ten in the morning and midnight, in just one day in the studio. "We just blew it down," Partin says, adding, "Some of the charts we had been performing in live shows so they (members of his band) knew them pretty well already. Some were brand new. We would read the chart, cut it twice and move on. One of the reasons that I wanted to do it this way is to create (a live feel) to the recording. The solos (on the tracks) are all adlibbed." The solos he is referring to, come from tenor saxophonist Cole Burgess, trumpeter Jamie Simmons (Glenn Miller Orchestra and the Temptations) and trombonist Al Javorcky. Jimmy Bowland also provides some flute adlibs on "It Had To Be You."
"One of the things I wish we had done a little more of on the recording is to have fun with the lead trumpet. The next time I will have them cut up a little more," says Partin.
"We’re more of a standard big band, meaning we do some new stuff, but not hard edged, guitar driven ska. Ours is more traditional in the sense of swing. Our guys aren’t playing really outside so that you think, ‘Is that really in the chord?’ Sometimes, like the other day at a gig, I will lean over to one of the guys in the rhythm section and say let’s make this an open section. If I am in the mood, I’ll take a solo just scatting," he says.
"It is amazing when you think about it, songs that were written in the twenties, thirties, forties, fifties and sixties are still popular and still hits. When you look at my album, there is no original stuff on here. When people buy a big band album, they want to know most of the songs. For some reason with big bands, it is the standards that people love and they want to hear them over and over again. This music has traditionally been passed down from generation to generation. My parents passed it on to me," says Partin.
Partin also thinks the popularity of jazz is due to the fact it is identified as being very American. He also says, "I think the music reminds us of a time when things were a lot more simple. It reminds us of a time when we were proud of our governments and the things that we were doing."
Concerning his album The Very Thought of You the crooner says, "I selected the songs that I have always enjoyed listening to and singing. They are just songs that I love. I love to sing songs that say something to me and speak to me."
Wherever and whenever they have played, the Roy Partin Band has received high marks from music critics. They have been the first choice when many gala events have been staged, including six presidential inaugural balls (Ronald Regan (twice), Bill Clinton, Jimmy Carter and George W. Bush (twice). The Rory Partin Band (prior to 2000 known as the Bo Thorpe Orchestra) have raised their profile not only among politicos, but assumed their rightful place as one of the more highly esteemed group of musicians and vocalists in big band history.
Boasting talent such as Jeannie Dennis (Tommy Dorsey, Sammy Davis Jr., Frank Sinatra Jr.)and saxman Quitman Dennis who served as bandleader and arranger for Bobby Darin, the orchestra is a melting pot for both talent and a wealth of experience.
Partin’s own interest in standards began as a child in Moss Bluffs, Louisiana. His mother Jacqueline’s musical taste buds first whet his appetite for the likes of Nat King Cole, Dean Martin, Bing Crosby and Perry Como. "At the same time, she was playing Mahalia Jackson, Ray Charles and Al Green. I latched on to crooning. I always tried to imitate Bing Crosby when I was a kid," says Partin.
Later in life, Partin launched his singing career as a backup vocalist for gospel singer Larnelle Harris. After returning to school, he was encouraged by one of his teachers to accompany him for an audition with Henry "Bo" Thorpe Jr. for a part in Thorpe’s orchestra. As it turned out, Thorpe selected Partin over his teacher. Partin played trumpet and sang with Thorpe’s band for several years prior to taking a hiatus. During his time away from the band, he was often called upon to serve as a substitute when one of the regular trumpet players couldn’t make a gig. Eventually, Partin rejoined the orchestra full time.
Not long after rejoining the band in 1999, Partin learned that Thorpe was thinking about retiring due to his failing health. A group of musicians approached Partin and wanted him to join them in their endeavor to purchase the orchestra. Partin wasn’t too keen on that idea, but did convince the band members that he wouldn’t change the personnel if he was able to purchase the orchestra on his own. Eventually, Partin purchased the tour bus, rights to the name Bo Thorpe Orchestra, several hundred charts and the contracts for gigs already scheduled.
The transition from Bo Thorpe leading the band to Rory Partin assuming leadership was supposed to be more gradual, however, Thorpe became more seriously ill that fall. "I had to step up and just start leading the band. On New Year’s Eve, he did a couple of sets as his swan song and then turned it over to me in front of the crowd," says Partin, "Thirteen days later on January 13th, Bo died."
Partin provides me with some insight into his first love, well after his wife pop singer Jeni Varnadeau. "If I am just sitting around singing, usually it is soulful. Swing is something that I do. Usually when I am just singing from my heart and there is nobody but me and God, it usually comes out soulful. What I try and do with the swing is bring that same soul and heart to it. It’s not about licks or a particular style, soul is a lot deeper than that," he says.