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Big Band Report

This Is an Orchestra?

By Published: March 2, 2004
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,, 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).

There were a few others but my hand was getting tired and my patience was wearing thin. So I sent an e-mail to Audiophile to make sure that what I’d copied was accurate. It was. And furthermore, I was informed, Audiophile doesn’t carry any big-band albums. So what’s the deal? I don’t know. As I said, I wrote to ejazzlines to inquire about the matter but got no response. I am bringing this to your attention as a public service, lest you decide to purchase any big-band CDs sight unseen based on what ejazzlines is advertising. Since checking out Audiophile I’ve visited a few other labels listed at the site to see how accurate the catalog is, and have yet to find any big-band albums that ejazzlines presumably carries. That’s not to say there aren’t any, only that I’ve not yet been able to track any of them down. The “what” in this equation is obvious; the “why” remains a mystery.

The Grammies Strike Out Again
For what it’s worth (nothing, I’d say), neither Gerald Wilson nor Kim Richmond won Grammy Awards at this year’s annual popularity contest. They can take heart, however, from the fact that Norah Jones, who won half a dozen awards (I believe) last year, wasn’t even mentioned this time around. This year’s anointed diva was one Beyoncé, who also won more Grammies than she could carry home without help from her entourage. And she’ll no doubt be replaced on the pedestal next year by someone else, as yet unknown (remember Ricky Martin? Britney Spears?), as the voters go with the flow and bestow their blessings on whoever happens to be getting the most ink at the moment. Let’s face it, fans of real music, the Grammies are a joke, have been for some time now, and one shouldn’t lose any sleep if he or she doesn’t earn one of those bogus statuettes. NARAS may do a lot of good things for music, for all I know, but the narcissistic, back-slapping Grammy celebration isn’t one of them.

The Jazz Community Suffers Another Grievous Loss
As I was gearing up for a Jazz concert here in Albuquerque on February 21 starring the Abq Jazz Orchestra with guest artists Kevin Mahogany and Frank Mantooth, the shocking news arrived that Frank had succumbed to an apparent heart attack on January 30 at his home in Garden City, KS. The prominent composer / arranger / pianist / bandleader was fifty-six years old. A native of Tulsa, Oklahoma, Frank earned a bachelor’s degree from North Texas State University (now the University of North Texas), was a member of the U.S. Air Force Falconaires from 1968-73, then spent seven years in Austria where he earned an advanced degree from the Vienna Hochschule für Musik. Besides arranging and composing for Jazz and symphony orchestras, Mantooth was a well-known educator and author. Among his more than 165 works for combo and Jazz orchestra are five volumes of The Best Chord Changes for the World’s Greatest Standards, published by Hal Leonard. In 1999, Frank received the Florence Crittendon Foundation’s Citizen of the Year award as well as the Wichita Jazz Festival’s annual Homer Osborne award for outstanding contributions to Jazz education. Speaking of the Grammies, as we were earlier, Mantooth’s five albums earned eleven Grammy nominations. He is survived by his wife, Carrie, to whom he was married in 1996 after he completed a one-semester residency at Garden City Community College. The fact that Frank looked 10-20 years younger than his age made the news of his passing that much harder to accept. Frank Mantooth was a wonderful musician, and those who knew him say he was a wonderful friend and companion as well. He’ll be greatly missed, but his music lives on.

And One More Sad Note . . .
The world of Jazz and big bands lost another giant recently when blue-chip arranger Billy May died at age 86. Although he recorded several albums under his own name, Billy was best known as the man who wrote the charts on albums by many of the country’s top bands and singers over the last half-century. Among those albums were two of Frank Sinatra’s best, Come Fly with Me and Come Dance with Me. May also supplied arrangements for Charlie Barnet, Glenn Miller, Harry James, Les Brown, Woody Herman, Si Zentner, Ray Anthony, Glen Gray and a host of other well-known bandleaders. Few arrangers have warranted the prefix “legendary” before their name. Billy May was one who did.

Centennial Salute
This month marks the one hundredth anniversary of the birth of Glenn Miller whose dance band set new standards for popularity before his mysterious death aboard a plane crossing the English Channel in December 1944. Miller’s second band, which he formed in 1938, soon struck gold with a series of best-selling records and remained the country’s most popular ensemble for the next six years, even after Miller’s induction into the Army Specialist Corps in October 1942. By that time, he and the band had appeared in the films Sun Valley Serenade and Orchestra Wives, hosted their own radio show and strung together a remarkable series of chart-topping songs including “Tuxedo Junction,” “In the Mood,” “Moonlight Serenade,” “Chattanooga Choo-Choo,” “Elmer’s Tune,” “I’ve Got a Gal in Kalamazoo,” “Don’t Sit Under the Apple Tree,” “Serenade in Blue,” “Pennsylvania 6-5000” and others while making stars of band members Tex Beneke, Ray Eberle, Marion Hutton and the Modernaires. In less than a year, starting in 1944, the Glenn Miller Army Air Force band presented more than 800 performances in England and elsewhere including 500 radio broadcasts that were heard by millions and helped boost morale during the darkest days of World War II. It was while on a planning trip for the band’s six-week tour of Europe that Glenn’s plane was lost. While many theories have been advanced about what happened and how, neither the plane nor Miller’s body has ever been found, and what happened on that fateful trip remains shrouded in mystery.

August denotes the centenary of yet another big-band colossus, the inimitable Kid from Red Bank, William “Count” Basie. More about that later.

That’s it for now, big-band lovers. Until next time, keep swingin’!

New and Noteworthy

1. Alan Baylock Jazz Orchestra, Two Seconds to Midnight (Sea Breeze)
2. Phil Kelly & the NW Prevailing Winds, Convergence Zone (Origin)
3. Mark Masters Jazz Ensemble, The Clifford Brown Project (Capri)
4. Rob McConnell / SWR Big Band, So Very Rob (faszination musik)
5. Summit Jazz Orchestra / Clark Terry, Clark (Edition Collage)
6. DVC Night Jazz Band, Featuring Toshiko Akiyoshi (DVC)
7. Dave Stevens Big Band, Sound Storm (Digital Visionary)
8. Mats Holmquist Big Band, A Tribute to Chick Corea (Caprice)
9. Jill Townsend Big Band, Tales from the Sea (Pagetown)
10. Jim Widner Big Band, Flying High . . . (Chase Music Group)
11. Anita Brown Jazz Orchestra, 27 East (Lasheda Records)
12. Vaughn Wiester’s Famous Jazz Orchestra, Playin’ the Book! (Columbus Music Hall)

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