This Is an Orchestra?
As the great Stan Kenton, pointing with pride to his superlative ensemble, once declared: “This is an orchestra!” But was it? Or was it in fact a big band masquerading as an orchestra? What is an orchestra, anyway? Webster defines an orchestra as “a group of musicians including especially string players (emphasis mine) organized to perform ensemble music.” As Kenton almost never used a string section (and I’d guess that mellophoniums don‘t count), perhaps he was really leading a band in the guise of an orchestra.
The reason I bring this up is not to chastise Stan for calling his ensemble an orchestra (he could call it whatever he liked), but because of something that happened last month when I bought an album, sight unseen, via the internet. The album is Focus by “Donald Walden and the Detroit Jazz Orchestra.” As a big-band fan, imagine my surprise and displeasure when I found that the “Detroit Jazz Orchestra” consists of Walden, tenor sax; Cassius Richmond, alto sax; Ernie Rogers, baritone sax; Dwight Adams, trumpet; Vincent Chandler, trombone; Kenn Cox, piano; Rodney Whitaker, bass; and Bert Myrick, drums. All fine players, I’m sure, but unless I’ve miscounted there are only eight of them. Walden may call that an “orchestra,” but I’d call it an octet. At the web site in question (which shall remain nameless), the album was listed under “big band Jazz,” so I had no reason to believe I’d be acquiring an octet disguised as a big band. Caveat emptor, I suppose. It’s not the first time (nor will it be the last, I’d wager) that I’ve been misled in this way, but it’s usually by a small group advertising itself as a “band” or “ensemble.” I think this may be the first time I’ve been hoodwinked by the label “orchestra.” I’ll have to be more careful, and so should you. I’ll give the web site in question the benefit of the doubt and assume that they too were misinformed.
And While We’re on the Subject . . .
Shortly after the misadventure chronicled above I had another bizarre experience involving a big-band web site, and this time I’ll name names, as I e-mailed them to ask for an explanation and never received one. Some of you may be familiar with the site, ejazzlines.com, which promotes itself as “the global source for Jazz” with more than 40,000 CDs in its vast storehouse. At first, my exploratory visit seemed quite promising, as ejazzlines listed a large number of big-band albums I’d never heard of (and I’ve heard of plenty). As more than forty of them were on the Audiophile label, I went directly to that site to check ‘em out, and guess what I found — not one of the big-band discs reputedly stocked by ejazzlines is carried on the Audiophile label! Not one! Oh, the album numbers are there, all right, but the artists are entirely different from those promoted by ejazzlines. To remove any doubts, I wrote ‘em down. Here are most of the “big-band Jazz” albums supposedly on the Audiophile label. I’ve listed the numbers first, followed by the ejazzlines description with the actual artist or artists in parentheses.
Audiophile 245, Airmen of Note / Jim McNeely (Jackie Paris); 209, Big Latin Band (Dorothy Donegan); 222, Black Market Jazz Orchestra (Sandra King, Richard Rodney Bennett); 227, 235, Blue Wisp Big Band (Marlene ver Planck, Dardanelle); 237, Brass Tracks Jazz Orchestra (Eileen Farrell); 230, University of Cincinnati Jazz Ensemble (Jackie Cain, Roy Kral); 244, 250, Columbus Jazz Orchestra (Carla Normand); 286, Fresno State Alumni Ensemble (Connie Francis); 214, Jazz Members Big Band (Dardanelle); 216, KC Boulevard Big Band (Cleo Brown / Marian McPartland); 261, 287, Manhattan School of Music (Harry Allen / Keith Ingham Quintet, Mike Campbell); 254, 297, Northern Arizona University Jazz Ensemble (Audrey Morris, Barbara Carroll); 246, New England Jazz Ensemble (Chris Connor); 109, Orkestpolytour (Marlene ver Planck); 265, Purdue University Jazz Band (Loonis McGlohon); 267, 275, Synthesis Big Band (Ian Whitcomb, Loonis McGlohon); 278, Texas Tech Jazz Ensemble (Ronny Whyte); 224, 229, Trilogy Big Band (Shirley Horn, Maxine Sullivan); 303, 307, 296, University of Northern Iowa (Mike Campbell, Joyce Breach, Marian Montgomery); 308, 259, University of South Florida (Rebecca Kilgore, Mike Campbell); 270, University of Wisconsin (Allan Vaché / Johnnie Varro); 260, University of North Florida (Barbara Lea); 262, 288, 304, University of Wisconsin–Eau Claire (Marlene ver Planck, Joyce Collins).