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Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing & Visual Arts: 20th Anniversary

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Three brief observations: first, Houston's Booker T. Washington High School has one of the more impressive Jazz ensembles we've heard at that level; second, far too much of its three-disc 20th anniversary chronicle is given over to vocal groups and various smaller combos or else devoted to funky arrangements that haven't weathered the passage of time; and third, good as these young players are, they are easily overshadowed (in '86-87) by one of their own (and the school's best-known alumnus), trumpeter Roy Hargrove, for whom the rest of them are simply no match. (On such tunes as Miles Davis' "Tune Up," Bernard Ignor's "Everything Must Change" or his own composition, "O.T.H.," Hargrove improvises like no other high-school player I can recall.) A large number of the earlier tracks were lifted from LPs, which is apparent from the surface noise. Still, sound quality there is splendid when compared to some others (the last half-dozen tracks on Disc 2 and the first three on Disc 3, from '90-92, are especially harsh and displeasing to the ear). The last four numbers on the program, recorded in 1997 by the Lab Singers and not yet released, aren't (in my opinion) worth releasing anyway. There are a number of salutary moments on each disc, and to save time I'll point them out for you. Disc 1: "Angel Eyes" (despite some scratches and a tinny-sounding piano), "They Can't Take That Away from Me" (nice chart with one of the better vocals, by Tanya Jones), "Speak No Evil" (small combo), "Stella by Starlight" (featuring trombonist Joe Jackson), "Mann Oh Mann" (composed by the school's Jazz Studies director, Bart Marantz), "Milestones" (not well recorded, but swings nicely), "Everything Must Change" (Hargrove, flugelhorn). Disc 2: "Land of Make Believe" (another pleasing vocal, by Donessa Washington), "Matthew, Gift from the Lord," "Blue Trane," "O.T.H," "Tune Up" (chiefly for Hargrove's solos; sound quality is subpar), "Jeannine" (with the band rising above further recording woes). Disc 3: "Mood Swing" (Robert Searight, keyboards), Joe Henderson's "Recorda Me" (excellent unbilled tenor and piano, fine rhythm section), "That Jazz" (outstanding work by the keyboard ensemble and rhythm). And there you have it. An uneven smorgasbord of wildly varying quality, in both sound and performance, but for high-school musicians, not bad at all.

Track Listing: Disc 1: Bess, You Is My Woman; Breakin' Up Is Hard to Do; Angel Eyes; Don't Get Around Much Anymore; They Can't Take That Away from Me; Mack the Knife; Speak No Evil; Impressions; Stella by Starlight; Mann Oh Mann; Milestones; Ballad for Mom; Everything Must Change (72:00). Disc 2: Land of Make Believe; Matthew, Gift from the Lord; Birdland; Blue Trane; O.T.H.; Tune Up; Spain; A Night in Tunisia; Jeannine; Quiet Nights and Quiet Stars; Fly Me to the Moon; Lotus Blossom; Dindi (70:42). Disc 3: St. Louis Blues; Afro Blue; Golden Rule; Mood Swing; Too Darn Hot; Recorda Me; Sassy Samba; Route 66; Cotton Tail; Paper Towels; Starting Over; That Jazz; Walkin'/Respect; Movin' Up; Watch What Happens; BeBop (71:33).

Personnel: Various combinations of instrumentalists and vocalists from 1979-96.

Style: Big Band


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