One must crawl before he / she can walk, and Good Ol’ Days represents a shaky but important first few steps onto the Jazz playground for the Northern Michigan University Lab Band directed by Dr. John Cooper and accompanied by special guest Clark Terry on this April ’98 concert date. The band loses its balance quite often but always picks itself up, gathers its wits about it and takes another valiant step, sometimes barely standing upright but determined to keep going forward. Fortunately, the rhythm section (principally drummer Allen Guindon and bassist Justin Marlowe) keeps pushing hard, so the wagon train never topples entirely over the precipice, although there are more than a few near misses. Terry, who is in the spotlight from the time he is introduced early on, is another stabilizing influence, preserving a steady course even in the midst of occasional chaos and miscues. At age 77 (when this recording was made), the former Ellington mainstay hasn’t the chops he once commanded, but compensates with intelligence, experience, a wicked sense of humor and his obvious love for music and for sharing that love with others, especially young people. Terry is a natural–born educator, and it’s clear that the NMU ensemble couldn’t have avoided learning more than a few new wrinkles from the master while graced by his presence onstage and in informal discussions before and afterward. Terry solos fluently on “The Zinger,” “Dues Blues,” “Tee Pee Time,” the ballad “Sheba” (written, he says, for his dog, who rendered thanks by nipping him) and reprises his celebrated “Mumbles” routine before wrapping things up with a couple of well–received encores, the galloping “C.T.’s Express” and a ribald blues, “My Gal,” on which Clark plays a little and sings a lot. The NMU ensemble opens the concert on its own with Tom Kubis’ tricky “Alexander’s Big Time Band,” which holds a mirror in front of what’s to come — in other words, everyone is playing as well as he / she can, but the upshot is more ragged and out–of–sync than one would hope. To its credit, the band never stops trying and by the end of the concert sounds marginally better, thanks in some measure to Mr. Terry’s inspiring presence. So much for step one; step two will be steadier and more confident, and a few more strides would be almost certain to give the NMU Lab Band the strength and confidence it needs to run with the big boys.
Track listing: Alexander’s Big Time Band; Bows (Lester Leaps In); The Zinger; Dues Blues; Tee Pee Time; Sheba; Mumbles Returns; Bows (Lester Leaps In); CT’s Express; Bows (Lester Leaps In); My Gal (54:05).
Clark Terry, trumpet, flugelhorn; Dr. John Cooper, director; Aaron Kippola, alto, soprano sax, flute; Zachary Taylor, alto sax, flute; Eric Fassbender, Helen Andriacci, tenor sax, clarinet, flute; Peter