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.
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
). 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
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 EuropePonomarev, Leviev, Vigacknowledged 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