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Big Band Report

IAJE 2005: Memories of Long Beach

By Published: February 1, 2005
Yes, I was at the 32nd annual conference of the International Association for Jazz Education (IAJE) January 5-8 in lovely Long Beach, CA. No, I can't summarize the event in twenty-five words or less — or even twenty-five hundred. There was the usual head-spinning cascade of clinics, panel discussions, workshops, presentations, award ceremonies, exhibits, master classes, research papers, demonstrations, meetings, receptions, how-to discussions, and performances by a wide variety of groups large and small, professional and academic. More about them later, but first some personal highlights:

  • Watching from a few rows back as a young girl who looked to be no more than seven or eight years old leaned over a balcony railing and barely moved a muscle during the hour-long closing concert Saturday evening by Gordon Goodwin's electrifying Big Phat Band with guest clarinetist Eddie Daniels

  • Choking back tears as young Matthew Mantooth accepted the IAJE Humanitarian Award on behalf of his father, pianist / composer / arranger / educator Frank Mantooth, who died much too young in January '04

  • Leaning through an open doorway and glimpsing the future as saxophonist Ann Patterson, trumpeter Willie Murillo, pianist Gerry Schroeder (fresh from a "Peanuts" cartoon?), bassist Karl Vincent and drummer Dean Koba "connected with kids" in grades two to four with an interactive and instructive rendition of "When the Saints Go Marching In"

  • Watching with admiration and amazement as seventeen world-class musicians nimbly sight-read their way through charts they'd been introduced to only moments before during the two instrumental New Music Reading Sessions supervised by bassist Lou Fischer and pianist Shelly Berg, one of the best parts of any IAJE event

  • Shaking hands and trading one-liners with legendary drummer Stan Levey, who was there to help promote his biographical DVD, The Original Original, and seeing such other long-time favorites as Bob Florence, James Moody, Bill Holman, Gerald Wilson, Bill Watrous, Sammy Nestico, Bud Shank, Roy Haynes, Slide Hampton and Carl Saunders, to mention only some

  • Listening in awe to director Clarence Acox's spit-shined Garfield High School Jazz Ensemble from Seattle, WA, and trying to convince myself that these young musicians really were students, not some ringers who only looked the part but couldn't possibly have learned to play Jazz like that in only sixteen or seventeen years

  • Sharing lunch and hanging out with Mike Ricci and Nils Jacobson and fellow AAJ reviewers Bob Bragonier and Jim Santella during one of the brief respites that allowed barely enough time to grab a quick bite to eat, and standing first in line for the exhibit hall opening Thursday evening while comparing notes with another good friend, Herman Moreno.

This year's conference was held at the Long Beach Convention Center and adjacent Hyatt Regency Hotel. Some sprinting was required, as one had to go outdoors to reach the Hyatt's lobby and ballrooms as well as the Terrace and Center Theatres, Seaside ballroom and conference rooms, where some of the clinics, panels, presentations and performances were held. Truth be told, there is so much to see, hear and experience at an IAJE conference that someone able to move at the speed of sound would save barely enough time to scratch the surface. Even one who goes only for the music, such a I, is challenged to see and hear as much as he would like (especially as some groups are scheduled simultaneously, which means dividing time between them — more sprinting).

California had been battered by a series of rain and snow storms (depending on the altitude) during the week before the conference, but the sky was fairly clear on Wednesday when I arrived in Los Angeles and grabbed the Super Shuttle to Long Beach and my motel, about six blocks south of the Convention Center. I liked being that far away, as it was not only less expensive but gave me the chance to walk briskly from motel to Convention Center at least twice a day, if not more, a welcome substitute for the daily workouts I would be missing.

After visiting the media room to pick up my press badge, I checked out the Center and environs, joined Bob Bragonier for a pizza, then returned to the Convention Center ballroom for the "official" opening of the conference, a pleasurable hour with super-trombonist Bill Watrous and his exciting big band. I had a chance to say hello to Bill, whom I'd last seen in the summer of '04 when he was guest soloist with the Albuquerque Jazz Orchestra in its annual Jazz Under the Stars concert at the Albuquerque Museum. The band was terrific, as expected, with dazzling solos by Watrous, fellow trombonists Bruce Otto, Bob McChesney and Charlie Morillas, pianist Berg, trumpeter Jeff Bunnell, and tenors Glen Berger and Robbie Marshall, the last an undergraduate at USC where Watrous is an instructor. I was trying my best to take notes during the performance, only to find afterward that they were barely legible. The older I get, the harder it is to scribble notes with the lights out, so after that I simply stopped trying. Whatever follows is from memory.

The main concert that evening featured the Thelonious Monk Institute ensemble with pianist Herbie Hancock; a tribute to Antonio Carlos Jobim with some great musicians including vocalist Flora Purim, guitarist / vocalists Dori Caymmi and John Pizzarelli, saxophonist Dave Liebman and drummer Alex Acuna; and the Poncho Sanchez Latin Jazz Band. I took a pass and returned to the motel.

Thursday morning was set aside for the "homeys," and my day began with performances by the Cal State Long Beach Studio One Ensemble and Long Beach Polytechnic High School, the latter enriched appreciably by guests Wayne Bergeron (trumpet), Andy Martin (trombone) and Tom Kubis (tenor sax). Before the exhibit hall opened at six o'clock that evening, I also caught all or part of performances by the Cal State Fullerton Jazz Ensemble (with Martin again the guest), the East Midlands Youth Jazz Orchestra from Derby, UK, the Cal State Los Angeles Jazz Orchestra, and the Fullerton College Jazz Ensemble (with Bergeron sitting in on trumpet). Between times, I also attended the Conference Opening Session, at which the Milt Hinton Award for Excellence in Jazz Photography was presented to K. Abe; James Miley's composition, "There," the 2005 Gil Evans Commission prize-winner, was brought to life by the Fresno City College Jazz Composers Orchestra; and the Bob Florence Limited Edition performed the winning compositions in the IAJE / ASCAP competition honoring Count Basie, emerging composer Sherisse Rogers' "Chacagliatu" and Florence's own "Eternal Licks & Grooves," which earned top honors in the established composer category.

Florence's big band returned that evening to highlight the concert program at the Terrace Theatre, an invigorating event that included appearances by drummer Roy Haynes' Fountain of Youth, the IAJE Sisters in Jazz (Delandria Mills, flute; Lakecia Benjamin, alto and soprano sax; Jacquelyn Coleman, trumpet; Carmen Staaf, piano; Maeve Royce, bass; Hanne Pulli, drums) and the IAJE / NFAA Clifford Brown / Stan Getz All-Stars (Peter Reardon-Anderson, Ben Van Gelder, saxophones; Simon Millerd, trumpet; Eldar Djangirov, piano; Colin Stranahan, percussion).

Friday (and Saturday as well) began in the Regency ballroom with a conference highlight, the aforementioned New Music Reading Sessions. The rest of those days were spent, as usual, chasing down the big bands. On Friday, I managed to hear the Riverside Community College and Cal State Hayward Jazz Ensembles, the University of Northern Colorado Jazz Lab Band, the Hamilton Academy of Music (Los Angeles) Jazz Ensemble A (with a heart-stopping performance by guest soprano Chris Vadala on Ellington's "In a Sentimental Mood"), the Jim Knapp Orchestra, and last but not least, the incomparable Bill Holman Big Band. Before continuing, a word more about that concert. Earlier Friday, as I said, I had seen and heard the Riverside Community College ensemble, which performed in the spacious Terrace Theatre for an audience of less than a hundred (perhaps less than fifty, but we'll give them the benefit of the doubt). For some reason known only to the IAJE, the Holman band, acclaimed far and wide (except perhaps in Manhattan, KS) as one of the world's foremost Jazz ensembles, loaded with world-class players and conducted by a legendary composer / arranger who cut his teeth with Stan Kenton and whose reputation among his peers is monumental, was consigned to the undersized and inadequate Regency ballroom, which was SRO long before the concert began. I managed to squeeze in between sardine-like rows of spectators and stood (happily) through the entire concert, but many others weren't as fortunate, and the hallway was packed with disappointed fans who may have been able to hear some of the performance but were unable to see any of it. The misstep reminded me of the fiasco several years ago in NYC when IAJE scheduled performances by two enormously popular big bands (one led by John Fedchock; the other I can't remember) in similarly cramped quarters, nearly precipitating a riot when the doors were closed leaving hundreds of fans out in the cold. A lesson learned? Apparently not.

On Friday evening, the National Education Association (NEA) presented its annual Jazz Masters Awards to seven Jazz giants, one of whom — bandleader / clarinetist Artie Shaw — passed away less than a month before the conference at age 94. The other recipients were guitarist Kenny Burrell, saxophonist / clarinetist Paquito D'Rivera, trombonist Slide Hampton, pianist Shirley Horn, organist Jimmy Smith and impresario George Wein. Helping celebrate the occasion were the Gerald Wilson Orchestra with guest vocalist Dee Dee Bridgewater and the Geri Allen Trio (Allen, piano; Rubien Roger, bass; Billy Hart, drums) with guests James Moody and drummer Chico Hamilton. Ramsey Lewis served as master of ceremonies while Nancy Wilson and Dr. Billy Taylor presented the awards.

On Saturday, the final day of the conference, the rain finally came to stay in Long Beach (it had sprinkled on and off on Friday) but the estimated seven thousand attendees were not to be deterred — certainly not this one, whose day began with the second of the instrumental New Music Reading Sessions and included performances by the Garfield High School Ensemble, the Brisbane All-Star Youth Big Band, the US Air Force Airmen of Note with guest drummer Peter Erskine, the Wesley College Big Band from Melbourne, Australia, with that country's greatest Jazz musician, James Morrison, as guest star, the Almaty Youth Jazz Band from Kazakhstan, the Frank Mantooth Tribute Jazz Orchestra, and the AAJC / HBCU Student All-Star Big Band. The Garfield High School ensemble returned to open the evening concert at the Terrace Theatre, followed by the Yellowjackets (Bob Mintzer, sax and EWI; Russell Ferrante, keyboards / piano; Jimmy Haslip, bass; Marcus Baylor, drums) and Goodwin's fiery Big Phat Band whose guest star, Daniels, earned a standing ovation with a series of breathtaking clarinet solos.

If that sounds like a full four days, it pales in comparison to what I missed seeing and hearing, and I suppose the same holds true for everyone else who attended the lavish event. For example, here's a partial list of the clinics, panel discussions and research presentations I had to pass up.

Clinics — Handheld Computers in Jazz Education; The Art of Solo Jazz Guitar; The Jazz Choir Scat Soloist; The Art of Comping; Performance Techniques for the Jazz Ensemble Saxophone Section; Developments in Afro-Peruvian Jazz; Arranging Techniques for the Small Group; Teaching Music on the Internet; It Don't Mean a Thing If Your Drummers Can't Swing; Vocal Jazz Arranging; Digging for Gold: The Art of Jazz Transcription; From Rehearsal to Performance: Jazz Ensemble Techniques; Solo Jazz Piano: A Linear Approach; Drums and Bass in Jazz; Student Jam Etiquette; Playing Standards: Better Solos Start with Better Changes; A Cappella Vocal Jazz; The ALIVE Project (Accessible Live Internet Video Education); Total Immersion Bass Playing; Versatile Jazz Piano Workshop; The Final Frontier: Imagination and the Future of Music Technology; Collective Improvisation in Mainstream Jazz.

Panels — A Conversation with "Mr. Bongo," Jack Costanzo; 67 Years of Jazz with Gerald Wilson and Sammy Nestico; Ellington, Composer of Fashion and Snappy Patter (Mercedes Ellington, moderator); BET Jazz Presents a Conversation with George Duke; The Legacy of Benny Carter (Chris Neville, Ira Nepus, Mel Martin, Sherman Ferguson); Legends of Jazz Radio; Excuse the Musical Disruption (Christian McBride, Bob Blumenthal); Adding Pages to the Great American Songbook; Closed Doors and Glass Ceilings; How to Build a Meaningful Jazz Outreach Program; The Voice / Instrument Connection (with Bobby Watson, Dena DeRose, John Santos); Jazz in the Foreground: Great Jazz Film Scores and How They Got That Way.

Research presentations — Rivers of Consciousness: The Nonlinear Dynamics of Free Jazz; The Art of the Solo Piano Introduction; Key Signatures and Chordal Elements in Jazz Improvisation; The Use of Common Tones and Symmetry in Selected Jazz Harmonic Substitutions; Body and Soul: The Acid Test for Tenor Saxophone Ballad Performance; A Conversation with Guitarist Sal Salvador (oral history interview). As we said, that's only a partial listing, and surely there's something on it for almost everyone.

But that's not the half of it. Even though I spent four frenetic days in Long Beach, I missed out on performances by, among others, the Clayton Brothers (John, Jeff) Quintet, the Capital Jazz Project with Bobby Shew, vocalist Rebecca Paris, the Bob McChesney Group, Diane Schuur with the Caribbean Jazz Project, the Joey DeFrancesco Trio, DekaJaz, the Baritone Saxophone Band Plays Mulligan, the IAJE Community College All-Stars, vocalists Tierney Sutton and Monica Mancini, the Kim Richmond Concert Jazz Orchestra and the Kenny Burrell Quintet.

Oh, well, like everyone else I have a year to get ready for the next one. IAJE's 33rd (and 34th) Conferences will be held in New York City (in January, as always — definitely one of the best times of the year to visit the Big Apple, he noted wryly). See you there?

And until next time, keep swingin'!

New and Noteworthy:

  1. Dan McMillion Jazz Orchestra, Give It One (Sea Breeze)
  2. Ladd McIntosh Big Band, Temptation / Ride the Night Beast (L.E.M.)
  3. SWR Big Band / Sammy Nestico, No Time Like the Present (Hanssler)
  4. DIVA, Tommy Newsom Tribute (DJO)
  5. Mike Longo NY State of the Art Jazz Ensemble, Oasis (CAP)
  6. David Berger / Sultans of Swing, Marlowe (Such Sweet Thunder)
  7. Rob Parton's JazzTech Big Band, Two Different Days (Sea Breeze)
  8. George Gee Big Band, Settin' the Pace (GJazz)
  9. Clark Terry / Chicago Jazz Orchestra, Porgy & Bess (Americana Music)
  10. Harry Arnold Big Band, 1964 / 1965, Vols. 1 and 2 (Dragon)
  11. Texas All-Star Jazz Camp Big Band, All of Us (Sea Breeze Vista)
  12. Indianapolis Jazz Orchestra, Cook the Books (IJO)
  13. Rodger Fox Big Band, A Rare Connection (T-Bone)
  14. Count Basie Orchestra, The Count Basie Story (EMI / Roulette)
  15. Temple (TX) Jazz Orchestra, Live with Bill Watrous (TJO)


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