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International Association for Jazz Education Conference, Long Beach, January 5-8, 2005

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Horns in the Hood was the hottest band I heard at the convention.
The annual IAJE Conference is presumably aimed at music teachers, but professional musicians, music students, industry reps, and fans way outnumber the professors. Fewer name musicians appeared this year, possibly due to economics. In their places college bands and contest-winning players were invited. Also there were more workshops (fewer music performances). Generally jazz education (rather than entertainment) and a relatively conservative musical philosophy were more prominent than before. Attendees could usually choose from four or five events at a single time. There was a huge exhibition hall peopled with prominent musicians, musical instrument companies, magazine publishers, you name it—even All About Jazz had a booth. Overall the Convention was a huge success with many L.A. locals vowing to cut back on cigarettes and candy to pay for their trips to New York next January. Vocalists Anna Serafinska and Judy Bady were the big surprises for me.
Trombonist Bill Watrous assembled his big band for the opening concert. The music reminded me of 1950's Basie (Neal Hefti charts), but there were some modern touches—plenty of soprano sax in the ensembles, frequent tempo and rhythmic shifts, and an over-the-top ending on "Windows", arranged by Tom Kubis. Watrous offered one of his trademark soliloquies on Jerry Goldsmith's moody "Chinatown".
The Thelonious Monk Institute sextet sounded like a working band grounded in group dynamics and swing. A band like this depends so much on its drummer, and as it happened James Alsanders was up to the job. Herbie Hancock, mentor of the sextet, was presented with an award for lifetime achievement to music and to jazz education. He played a lovely, meandering piano solo after which the sextet joined him for a simmering "Dolphin Dance."
Oscar Castro-Neves, guitar and synth, led an Antonio Carlos Jobim Tribute mainly featuring instrumental versions of tunes from the classic record Jobim made with Elis Regina. Dori Caymmi, Paulo Jobim, and other Jobim collaborators performed a couple of tunes each, but Dave Liebman on soprano contributed the strongest musical statement, demonstrating Jobim's transcendence in the process.

Trumpeter Terrell Stafford took one burning solo after another as the other horn in the Clayton Brothers Quintet. Smiling (a la Billy Higgins) bassist John Clayton authoritatively kicked the ensemble and played a stunning unaccompanied piece with the bow. Jeff Clayton on alto simultaneously stayed fresh and kept the blues in mind.

Pianist Geri Allen was her usual high energy self, reeling out thoughtful and passionate variations on her own compositions. Premier drummer Billy Hart did not allow things to drop below scorching.

A cross-cultural conversation panel including Joe Zawinul and Oliver Lake evolved into familiar discussions of radio play, technology, and marketing. Before that Zawinul said the most creative global music often comes from musicians adapting their own folk music into jazz.

The Southwest Horns is a five-member saxophone section who teach at various southern U.S. colleges and get together when the opportunity presents itself. Accompanied by a local rhythm section they played passages from arrangements by Frank Foster and others and took turns discussing subtleties such as phrasing and vibrato as a section and the importance of listening to the lead alto. They are also a performance band, and they concluded with the chop-busting Supersax chart on "Be Bop" played to a T including a couple of blowing choruses each.

Composers James Miley and Sherisse Rogers both received awards for new music written for the occasion. Miley's multi-faceted and evolving piece, played by the Fresno City College Jazz Composers Orchestra, integrated extended soloing by Tim Reis on tenor and soprano. Rogers presented a rhythmic-oriented piece with the full sound of the Bob Florence Orchestra.

Horns in the Hood (three tenors, bass, and drums) was something of an update on the Dexter Gordon - Gene Ammons "tenor battle." Drummer Ali Jackson led the band and together with bassist Reginald Veal created plenty of tension for the horns to play off. Craig Handy switched to bass clarinet and Tim Armacost played soprano on a loping "Beach Remark" by Robert Hurst. (Walter Blanding stayed with tenor.) "Timelessness" had an open sound, and finished with the horns trading 8's, 4's, 2's, and 1's. The blues "Jugsville" called for all three horns to improvise together which they did with ease and artistry. Horns in the Hood was the hottest band I heard at the convention.

Vocalist Claudia Villela was at her musical peak in two duet pieces with complimentary guitarist Ricardo Peixoto: a smoldering "Zingaro"and a programmatic piece that sounded stream of conscious. She brought all the energy she needed, and her back-up players only demonstrated that more was less on the other pieces.

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