The Roger Kellaway Cello Quartet made two albums for the A & M label in 1971 and 1973, The group's name presented a puzzle to some people. It seemed to connote four celli. In fact it was a chamber group built around the sound of one cello, that of the brilliant Edgar Lustgarten, and featuring the virtuosic piano of Kellaway, the powerful and sensitive bass of Chuck Domanico, and the rich, coloristic percussion of Emil Richards. Roger wrote all the group's music.
''The idea,'' Roger says, ''was for it to be a marriage of wood - cello, marimba, bass, and piano. Also, I wanted to prove that a band of that instrumentation had the flexibility to do anything. And I was afraid the drums would fill up the spaces between the instruments, which is why we didn't have a drummer.''
But throughout the life of the Cello Quartet, Roger maintained a second group, a trio, whose purpose was (among other things) hard swinging. Roger was actually somewhat afraid of putting the two concepts together, but in time he began to feel a need to do so. And at this point, drummer and percussionist Joe Porcaro became a member of the group, thereby transforming it into the Cello Quintet. Joe is, in addition to being a fine jazz drummer, a symphony percussionist. He and Emil Richards are both natives of Hartford, Conn., and in fact went to high school together. Joe played with the Hartford Symphony. It is this background Roger feels, that makes him so sensitive to the purposes and textures of the Cello Quartet - pardon, Quintet. ''If the drummer can't hear the cello'', Roger said, ''then he's playing too loud. And Joe is simply perfect for this group.''
Porcaro, in fact, does one of the most difficult things a drummer can be called on to do: he swings quietly. It is a natural physiological tendency of a drummer (or any instrumentalist, for that matter) to push when he is involved in the high energy of swinging. Any musician knows that it is harder to play softly than loud. But I think it is particularly difficult for a jazz drummer to put out an excited and exciting pulse softly. Certainly few drummers can do it. Joe is one who can. ''Another thing,'' Roger says. ''Joe works beautifully with Emil, and this gives Emil more freedom to play melodic instruments, such as chimes. And Joe's abilities as a percussionist mean that at times we can have two percussion players. The album represents only one aspect of why the drums were added. I've been interested in a maximum of versatility, and in a way the Nostalgia Suite was written to show the possibilities of swinging with the cello. At this point in my life, when I've had 25 years or so of involvement with the pop market as well as with jazz and classical music, seeing so many of my colleagues beating their brains out trying to get a hit single, it almost seems novel that I've been able to hold onto my roots. I've dealt with the AM singles market too, but I've never forgotten where I came from, and that?s what the Nostalgia Suite is about. There is no other piece in our repertoire like it, It is an entity unto itself. It is essentially a bebop piece, and it may come as a surprise to people who are familiar with the other albums. But it should not be considered the new sound of the group. I just wanted to hear bebop by the Cello Quartet. As a matter of fact, we first did it with the Quartet, without drums, at Shelly's Manne Hole. Shelly couldn't stand it. He'd grab a stick and start playing on Emil's cymbals. He kept saying, 'Man, this piece needs drums.' I began to think that perhaps he was right. Joe Porcaro was the logical choice, because he could, as an excellent percussionist, enable us to continue doing the mellow sounds of the group. This album could be thought of, then, as an extension of the previous albums, a broadening out. The way I think about the group and the people in it is that we can do any kid of music from Jelly Roll Morton to Ravi Shankar to Luciano Berio.''