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Albuquerque's Red-Letter Day

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A sold-out house at a jazz concert? In Albuquerque, New Mexico? It's possible. The two-day Albuquerque Jazz Festival closed February 18 with a concert featuring as guest artists trumpeter Wayne Bergeron and saxophonist Danny House, and if there was an empty seat in the Eldorado High School Performing Arts Center, which can accommodate more than 430 guests, it wasn't visible from my customary bench in the back row, and a number of people were standing in the aisle behind me.

Those who showed up weren't disappointed, as they savored an electrifying concert in which Bergeron and House played brilliantly and the Albuquerque Jazz Orchestra, which accompanied the Los Angeles-based stars, rose to the occasion with some dynamic blowing of its own.

The large audience was especially impressive given the fact that the concert was generally ignored by local media (what else is new?) and thus not widely promoted. But people somehow became aware of the event, and even though Bergeron and House aren't household names in Albuquerque (pardon the pun), came to the concert to hear for themselves. What they saw and heard were a couple of superlative musicians who did more than phone in their parts and interacted resourcefully with the AJO in spite of limited rehearsal time.

Bergeron, one of the West Coast's premier section and lead trumpeters, is so busy it's hard to imagine he has time to sleep. Just reading his resumé is enough to cause exhaustion. Besides leading his own big band (whose CD, You Call This a Living?, was Grammy-nominated in 2004) and playing regularly in a number of others, Wayne's trumpet can be heard on more than 250 television and motion picture soundtracks, and on CDs involving, among others, Beyoncé, Christina Aguilera, Bette Midler, Ray Charles, Diane Reeves, Celine Dion, Billy Joel, Diana Krall, Mel Tormé, Barry Manilow, Robbie Williams, Keely Smith, Josh Groban, Ronnie Millsap, Lou Rawls, Bobby Caldwell, Diane Schuur, Rosemary Clooney, Brian Setzer, Joe Cocker, Dave Koz, Tito Puente, and the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra.

And that's only a partial list. He has also recorded with big bands led by Quincy Jones, Gordon Goodwin, Sammy Nestico, Jack Sheldon, Tom Kubis, Patrick Williams, John La Barbera, Bob Florence, Frank Capp, Bill Liston, Matt Catingub, Kim Richmond, Ralph Carmichael, Ray Anthony, Roger Neumann, Bill Perkins, Buddy Childers, Bill Elliott, Chris Walden, Gary Irwin, Bill Watrous and Bob Curnow. His TV credits include ESPN and TNT sports themes, the Entertainment Tonight theme, American Idol, the Emmy Awards, 2005 Academy Awards, the Latin Grammys, the Jerry Lewis telethon, birthday specials for Frank Sinatra and Tony Bennett, Jeopardy!, America's Funniest Home Videos, Futurama, Buzz Lightyear, Hercules, Hey Arnold, Promised Land, King of the Hill, The Division, The Agency, Mouseworks, Arrested Development, and Sabrina the Teenage Witch, as well as numerous TV and radio commercials. Don't his chops ever get tired?

Before inviting Bergeron onstage, the AJO warmed up the audience with three numbers, opening with the seductive "Lady with the Pretty Legs and continuing with a crowd-pleasing version of "St. Louis Blues featuring trumpeter Kent Erickson, and the standard "My One and Only Love. Erickson, trombonist Ed Ulman and alto Lee Taylor delivered strong solos on "Lady, Taylor and AJO director/trombonist John Sanks on "Blues, Sanks and tenor John Truitt on "Love.

After a laudatory and well-deserved introduction by Sanks, Bergeron opened with the gentle cha-cha "Friend Like Me from the Disney film Aladdin, a piece that was written for trumpeter Arturo Sandoval who was unable to perform it owing to contractual problems. The assignment was given to Bergeron who included the Bill Liston chart on his album and has been playing it ever since. Bergeron's second number, the sunny "High Clouds and a Good Chance of Wayne, was the first of several dazzling originals by Tom Kubis, one of the Left Coast's finest composer/arrangers. Wayne's solo was typically awesome, eclipsing bright statements by Taylor, Ulman and pianist Tim Ishi.

House, another big-band mainstay in the Los Angeles area, was next up, and opened on alto with the incendiary "House on Fire, a number written for him by the great Frank Foster when Danny was a member of the Count Basie Orchestra in the mid-'80s. House's second number, the lovely standard "Darn That Dream, preceded the first-half finale, Kubis's appropriately named "Pain for Wayne, showcasing Bergeron's skyscraping trumpet and Taylor's nimble alto.

The AJO and its guests made sure there was no letdown after the intermission, opening the second half of the concert with Sonny Stitt's labyrinthine "Eternal Triangle (blistering solos courtesy of House, Truitt and Taylor) before featuring Ishi (who'd no doubt have welcomed a better piano) on Frank Mantooth's marvelous arrangement of the ballad "Young and Foolish. The AJO then paid tribute to Mantooth with Doug Beach's "Missing 'Tooth (solos by Ulman, Truitt and trumpeter Henry Estrada) before Bergeron returned with a sumptuous reading, on flugel, of Kubis's "Hospital Blues.

Then it was House's turn again, this time on clarinet, playing Duke Ellington's "Silk Lace, written for the Duke's stellar clarinetist, Jimmy Hamilton. The AJO, Bergeron and House brought down the curtain (and brought down the house) in style with yet another outstanding Kubis chart, "The Rhythm Method, showcasing Wayne's muted trumpet with other strong statements by Ishi, House (clarinet), trumpeter Brad Dubbs, Taylor (soprano) and drummer Ryan Anthony.

The AJO lineup was as follows: Bruce Dalby, Brad Dubbs, Kent Erickson, Henry Estrada, Derek Warren, trumpets; Lee Taylor, Diantha Swoboda, alto sax; John Truitt, Neil Bell, tenor sax; Paul Blakey, baritone sax; Ed Ulman, John Sanks, Larry Wheeler, trombone; Bill Austell, bass trombone; Tim Ishi, piano; Robin Ablest, bass; Ryan Anthony, drums. Sanks is director of the band, Ulman director of the New Mexico Jazz Workshop. The concert ended a two-day event that included clinics and performances on Friday by eleven middle school jazz ensembles, and on Saturday by fifteen high school groups. I'm already looking forward to next year...

Speaking of big bands, the celebrated Count Basie Orchestra is coming to town for a one-nighter March 8 at nearby Rio Rancho High School whose jazz ensemble is directed by AJO trumpeter Brad Dubbs. We'll have a report on that concert next month. At the end of March, I'll be in Addison, TX, for the annual University of North Texas Jazz Festival, and will have a few words to say about that event too.

On a Somber Note...

I was saddened to learn of the passing at age 95 of Mart Kenny, one of Canada's pioneering big-band leaders, a saxophonist/clarinetist whose band was performing on radio as early as the '40s and maintained its popularity for more than six decades. Many of Mart's alumni went on to become bright lights on the Canadian jazz scene.

Before we go, a reminder that March is Jazz Appreciation Month. It's also National Brain Injury Awareness Month, but I'm not quite sure how that ties in.

And that's it for now. Until next time, keep swingin'... !

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