Light My Fire (1968)
Bob Thiele And His New Happy Times Orchestra/Gabor Szabo
With The California Dreamers and Tom Scott & Bill Plummer

  1. Forest Flower (Charles Lloyd)
  2. Rainy Day Woman #12 & 35 (Bob Dylan)
  3. Krishna (Gabor Szabo)
  4. Light My Fire (Densmore/Manzarek/Krieger/Morrison)
  5. Fakin’ It (Paul Simon)
  6. Eight Miles High (Gene Clark/David Crosby/Roger McGuinn)
  7. Sophisticated Wheels (Gabor Szabo)
  8. Goodnight Sweetheart (Ray Noble/Jimmy Campbell/Reg Connelly)
  9. My Blue Heaven (Walter Donaldson/Gearge Whiting)
  10. With a Little Help from My Friends (John Lennon/Paul McCartney)

Bob Thiele – leader, electric clarinet
Gabor Szabo, Dennis Budimer, Louis Morell – guitar
Bill Plummer – sitar
Oliver Mitchell, Ray Triscari (Aug 11), Jimmy Zito (Aug 11), Bud Brisbois (Sept 14), Gary Barone (Sept 14) – trumpet  
Lew McCreary (Aug 11), Mike Barone (Aug 11), Dick Leith (Sept 14), Lew McCreary (Sept 14) – trombone
Howard Johnson (Aug 11) – tuba
Tom Scott, Bud Shank, Buddy Collette, Bob Hardaway – reeds
Lincoln Mayorga (Aug 11), Mike Melvoin (Sept 14) – keyboards
Max Bennet (Aug 11), Carol Kaye (Sept 14) – electric bass
Jimmy Gordon (Aug 11), John Guerin (Sept 14) – drums  
Gary Coleman (Aug 11), Emil Richards (Sept 14) – percussion 
The California Dreamers: Ron Hicklin, Al Capps, Loren Farber, John Bahler, Tom Bahler, Ian Freebairn-Smith, Sally Stevens, Sue Allen, Jackie Ward – vocal (2)

Arranged by Sid Feller

Recorded on August 11 (1, 4, 8, 9) and September 14 (2, 3, 5, 6, 7, 10), 1967, in Los Angeles, California

Produced by Bob Thiele
Engineered by Eddie Brackett
Liner notes by Nat Hentoff

1 to 7 issued on LP in 1968 as Impulse A(S)-9159
4 (edit) and 7 (edit) issued on 45 as Impulse 45-267

Light My Fire was something special,” Bob Thiele told me years ago. “Because I believe it was the first time that we took some contemporary songs like the Doors’ “Light My Fire” and recorded with a large orchestra.” By 1967, however, such an event was not uncommon. Leading big bands, such as Count Basie’s and Duke Ellington’s, had already recorded Top 40 pop tunes in a big-band context.

But as critic John F. Szwed points out, Thiele’s innovation here was “the smaller group that has been set within the larger.” In other words, the success that Szwed attributes to this recording is Thiele’s rock-and-roll rhythm section in a traditional jazz big-band.

With this recording, Thiele seemed to marry his divergent musical tastes. Unfortunately, Sid Feller’s unimaginative arrangements highlight the robotic quarter-note cadenzas of the most pedestrian rock music. Without Szabo’s incisive solos throughout, Light My Fire would surely have many of the qualities associated with the anonymous Hollywood rock soundtracks of the period.

It is certainly Szabo, and his performance alone, which draws the listener back to this recording. His blues riffing on “Rainy Day Woman,” astounding finger dynamics in “Fakin’ It” and typically inventive soloing in his own “Krishna” offer the listener ample pleasure. Szabo seems isolated from the proceedings though. The most interaction he has with the orchestra is in Feller’s harmonically-rich arrangement of the Byrds’ “Eight Miles High,” where, briefly, he even spars with Tom Scott’s workmanlike tenor.

Critic Frank Kovsky aptly intuited the album was “designed to demonstrate to followers of jazz and rock the virtues of ‘the other’ music.” Only Szabo, whose ears were already tuned toward the emerging innovations of the new fusion guitars of Eric Clapton and George Harrison, brings Kovsky’s insight to the target.

The voice of his guitar peels through a session like this; a charismatic ability to blend light and shadow, and float effortlessly between narrowly defined concepts of rock or jazz.

“I’ll never forget one part of the project,” Thiele recalled. “Sid Feller was the arranger and of course I was in the control room. He actually started to get confused because I was picking up on what Coltrane probably would have done, where I signaled with my hands to just keep going or just keep repeating and let the guy [Szabo] play for almost as long as he wanted. Sid later told me, ‘ I didn’t know what the hell to do or when to stop so all I could do was keep looking at you’.”

One can well imagine Thiele many times over entranced at the helm of a developing John Coltrane pattern and likewise sense a powerful sorcery directing Szabo during these sessions.