A Letter from Los Angeles
Herb Wong moderated a discussion entitled "On the Inside" with panelists Bob Birk, Bill Monot, Ed Sargent, Linda Maertz, Matt Keller and Dominic Camardella, after which Ken Poston did the same for "The West Coast Years" with panelists Howard Rumsey, Bill Holman and Dave Pell. Holman had to sprint to the Ballroom to prepare for the next concert, which featured his blue-chip big band and was taped for later CD release on Graham Carter's Jazzed Media label. I can't remember all that was played (and it was quite difficult to take notes in the semi-darkness) but these were Holman originals (including one, "Woodrow," dedicated to Woody Herman) and that's an ironclad guarantee of excellence. Look for the CD early next year.
After supper, it was back to the ballroom for Alumni Concert No. 1, 1949-56, with a big band led by Shew (who was featured on Holman's wonderful arrangement of "What's New?") and including such superb Rogers charts as "Short Stop," "Jolly Rogers," "Infinity Promenade," "Viva Prado" and "Blues for Brando," wrapping up with Bob Graettinger's cutting-edge composition, "A Trumpet," featuring Roger Ingram's skyscraping volleys. Set two, "Around the Horn: The EmArcy Years," conducted by Holman, opened with a pair of Rugolo charts including "My Mother's Eyes." Russ Garcia penned "A Smoggy Day," Jimmy Giuffre "Four Others" (not the same tune written for the Herman band's trombone section). Holman contributed "Egad! Martha," "Dancing Nightly" and "Pork Pie," and arranged guitarist Herb Ellis' blues, "The Country Boy." The pianist for these concerts, as he was for most of those during the event, was Maynard's talented son-in-law, Christian Jacob, with Trey Henry, another ubiquitous presence, on bass, Dave Tull on drums. I glanced at my watch. 11:15 p.m., time to get some much-needed sleep.
Friday began with a second film, "The 1960s," which showcased Maynard at the zenith of his powers playing with various big bands and smaller groups, and was followed by another panel, "Blue Birdland," moderated by Herb Wong with panelists Eddie Bert and Anthony Ortega. Afterward, it was back outside to the pool for a noontime concert by the L.A. Valley Community College Jazz Ensemble directed by Woody James who took us back to the Big Band Era with Barnet's "Skyliner" and a few other well-known tunes before delving into more contemporary fare. The weather, as on Thursday, was partly sunny and rather cool with a brisk wind occasionally blowing music off the stands.
Another highlight among highlights followed, as the Birdland Dream Band from the mid-'50s took center stage in the Ballroom for a program that included "My Funny Valentine," "Give Me the Simple Life," Ernie Wilkins' lush arrangement of "The Lamp Is Low," three Don Sebesky originals "Fan It, Janet," "And We Listened" and "Humbug" the Jazz standard "Moten Swing" (spotlighting Bert and Ortega), "Bye Bye Blackbird," Benny Golson's "Starfire" and a pair of handsome charts by Willie Maiden, "Tenderly" and "Back in the Satellite Again." Alto Lanny Morgan was featured on a tune that has had a number of names ("Geller's Cellar," "Glenn's Den"), this time titled "Morgan's Organ" (which gave rise to another droll one-liner that can't be repeated here).
Panel No. 4, "Frame for the Blues: The Roulette Years," truly was an all-star affair with Shew, Abene, Morgan, Rader, Menza, Hampton, Ortega and drummer Tony Inzalaco sharing the podium. I should mention here that every one of the panels was a laugh-filled affair in which everyone shared fond and perceptive memories of Maynard and life on the road. Several of the panelists might well have made a decent living as standup comics had they not been so musically gifted. I wish I could remember even half of the side-splitting anecdotes that were shared, much to the delight of those in the San Diego Room.
The Slide Hampton / Lanny Morgan Quintet was next up in the Ballroom, and dazzled its audience with charming renditions of such favorites as "Green Dolphin Street," "Laura" and Bird's "Donna Lee." Abene was at the piano with Henry on bass, Inzalaco at the drum kit. After a break, the brawny Don Menza Big Band took center stage, introducing an almost-new rhythm section (Abene, piano; Chris Conner, bass; Mark Waggoner, guitar; Michael Stephans, drums) and roaring through a well-designed set of standards and originals that was also taped for a Jazzed Media CD. Menza, the fiery tenor shark who came out of "retirement" to make this gig, was no less than brilliant every time he stood up to solo, whether with his own band or any of the others with whom he sat in. Lanny Morgan was featured again on a tune named simply "Morgan," Shew on Ellington's "Prelude to a Kiss" before the session ended at a feverish pace with Menza's take on Richard Wagner's "Die Meistersinger von Nuremberg" which he named "The Meisterswinger of Nuremberg."