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Gold Medalists Abound at Big Band Olympics

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As this is being written, Betty and I are just back from a ten-day visit to California, the first six days of which would be of absolutely no interest to readers of this column. The last four, however, were spent at the Los Angeles Airport Marriott Hotel attending the L.A. Jazz Institute's "Big Band Olympics," which brought together bands from a number of countries around the world (well, the leaders at least were from various countries; the bands were comprised for the most part of world-class musicians from southern California and other parts of this country). As is true of any such event, it had its highs and lows, ups and downs, ins and outs, pleasurable components and tactical errors (more about that later). In sum, the Olympics embodied four days of high-quality big-band jazz, admirably performed by a series of all-star ensembles.

Overview

Fifteen concerts were presented from Thursday afternoon through Sunday evening including tributes to the legendary Clarke-Boland Big Band from France and Canada's peerless Boss Brass, amplified by four films, half a dozen panel discussions and a special presentation by the LAJI's Ken Poston on Howard Lucraft and Stan Kenton
Stan Kenton
Stan Kenton
1911 - 1979
piano
's Jazz International enterprise from the mid- to late 1950s. A sixteenth concert was scheduled but trumpeter Dusko Goykovich
Dusko Goykovich
Dusko Goykovich
b.1931
trumpet
, who was to lead his own big band, was taken ill and had to cancel, as did two key members of the Boss Brass, trumpeter Guido Basso
Guido Basso
Guido Basso
b.1937
and trombonist Ian McDougall. Four other members of the late Rob McConnell
Rob McConnell
Rob McConnell
1935 - 2010
trombone
's formidable ensemble—trumpeter John MacLeod, pianist Don Thompson
Don Thompson
Don Thompson
b.1940
multi-instrumentalist
, drummer Terry Clarke
Terry Clarke
Terry Clarke
b.1944
and French hornist Brad Warnaar—were on hand and able to perform in Sunday evening's final concert. Other bandleaders hailed from Australia (Tim Davies
Tim Davies
b.1972
composer/conductor
), France (Christian Jacob), Cuba (Arturo Sandoval
Arturo Sandoval
Arturo Sandoval
b.1949
trumpet
), Great Britain (John Altman
John Altman

saxophone
), Russia (Valery Ponomarev
Valery Ponomarev
Valery Ponomarev
b.1943
trumpet
), Japan (Toshiko Akiyoshi
Toshiko Akiyoshi
Toshiko Akiyoshi
b.1929
piano
), Hungary (Tommy Vig
Tommy Vig
Tommy Vig
b.1938
vibraphone
), Germany (Chris Walden
Chris Walden
Chris Walden

arranger
), Bulgaria (Milcho Leviev
Milcho Leviev
Milcho Leviev
b.1937
piano
) and the U.S. (Bill Holman
Bill Holman
Bill Holman
b.1927
sax, tenor
). The music, suffice to say, was as varied as their backgrounds.

Each day began with a film whose theme was "Big Bands Around the World." The clips were roughly chronological, spanning a period from the early '30s to the '70s (and perhaps beyond). Among the many highlights was an interview with Willis Conover, who for many years hosted a jazz program beamed around the world via the Voice of America's shortwave network and possessed one of the world's most exquisite speaking voices. It was a thrill to hear him again, even if only briefly. Aside from that, the films covered a potpourri of renowned groups and players, from Django Reinhardt
Django Reinhardt
Django Reinhardt
1910 - 1953
guitar
and Stephane Grappelli
Stephane Grappelli
Stephane Grappelli
1908 - 1997
violin
through Glenn Miller
Glenn Miller
Glenn Miller
1904 - 1944
trombone
, Ted Heath
Ted Heath
b.1900
, Quincy Jones
Quincy Jones
Quincy Jones
b.1933
producer
, John Dankworth
John Dankworth
John Dankworth
1927 - 2010
saxophone
, Tubby Hayes
Tubby Hayes
Tubby Hayes
1935 - 1973
saxophone
, a young Toshiko Akiyoshi, the Boss Brass, Dizzy Gillespie
Dizzy Gillespie
Dizzy Gillespie
1917 - 1993
trumpet
's big band with Arturo Sandoval, all-star sessions with Doc Severinsen
Doc Severinsen
Doc Severinsen
b.1927
trumpet
, Ed Thigpen
Ed Thigpen
Ed Thigpen
1930 - 2010
drums
, Billy Taylor
Billy Taylor
Billy Taylor
1921 - 2010
piano
, Rolf Kuehn, Bobby Jaspar
Bobby Jaspar
b.1926
, Eddie Safranski and many others including a brief clip (now available on YouTube) of Swedish baritone sax legend Lars Gullin
Lars Gullin
Lars Gullin
1928 - 1976
sax, baritone
.

The panel discussions, ably moderated by Kirk Silsbee, Ken Borgers, Larry Hathaway and bandleader Altman (who did a splendid job with Americans in Europe—Holman, Bobby Shew
Bobby Shew
Bobby Shew
b.1941
trumpet
, Rick Keller
Rick Keller
b.1961
saxophone
—Friday afternoon), covered a wide range of topics both biographical and personal. Silsbee had one of the easier tasks, as he simply asked Arturo Sandoval a question, then relaxed for 15-20 minutes while the trumpet giant weaved tales that mesmerized his audience. The panelists from eastern Europe—Ponomarev, Leviev, Vig—acknowledged their debt to Conover and the Voice of America for introducing them to jazz at a time when the music was either banned or strongly discouraged in countries behind the Iron Curtain. Ponomarev and Leviev, it should be noted, are gifted storytellers, always ready with an appropriate quip or one-liner, as are Vig, Davies, Sandoval and Altman, among others. Poston's presentation on Jazz International began with its formation in 1954 by Lucraft, a journalist / radio personality from the UK who also led his own bands both here and abroad, in association with his friend and colleague, Stan Kenton. It was Lucraft's idea to form an organization that would promote jazz around the world, and with Kenton's name in the forefront it succeeded well for a number of years before the music began losing ground to new trends exemplified by Elvis Presley
Elvis Presley
Elvis Presley
1935 - 1977
vocalist
, the Beatles and others.

Thursday, May 26

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