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Big Band Report

Odds 'n Ends

By Published: February 6, 2006
There's not a whole lot to write about this month (aside from Super Bowl XL, and that's not something we'll dive into here) so we'll call this ghoulash "odds 'n ends.

Brother Ed in Maryland sent me a brochure detailing the 15th annual Fish Middleton Jazz Scholarship Festival set for February 15-20 in suburban Rockville. A number of well-known performers will headline the twenty ticketed main-stage concerts including Rebecca Parris, Giacomo Gates, Frank Morgan, Ernie Andrews, David "Fathead Newman, Vanessa Rubin, Junior Mance, Buck Hill and Russell Malone, with guest appearances by the Airmen of Note, Army Blues and Navy Commodores. But that's only a part of the festival, as no less than ninety-nine other events are free and open to the public. These include performances by groups of various sizes, the annual Fish Middleton Jazz Scholarship competition, workshops on topics ranging from world music and Jazz theory to vocal and instrumental techniques, and nightly jam sessions and dances. I wish I'd known about it sooner, but will put it on the calendar for next year. If you're in the area or plan to be, the contact information is as follows: Fish Middleton Jazz Scholarship Fund (FMJS), P.O. Box 1768, Silver Spring, MD 20915-1768. Phone 301-933-1822; e-mail eastcoastjazz@earthlink.net; web site, www.fmjseastcoastjazz.com

A salute to legendary Grammy Award-winning composer / arranger / saxophonist Frank Foster, who spent many years in the Count Basie orchestra and led the band from 1986-95 after the Count's passing, will be held on Valentine's Day, February 14, in the John Birks Gillespie Auditorium at the NYC Baha'i Center, 53 East 11th St. Headlining the program is Ron Aprea's sixteen-piece big band with vocalist Angela DeNiro. The ticket price is $15 with discounts for students. For information, phone 212-222-5159.

Saxophonist Kim Richmond has announced plans for the second annual Northwoods Jazz Camp, to be held May 18-21 at the Holiday Acres Resort in Rhinelander, WI, about three hours north of Madison and an hour north of Wausau. Here's Kim's description: "It is a learning and growing experience for grown-ups, a combination Jazz Camp / Jazz Party in a lovely wooded lakeside setting in northern Wisconsin. Aspiring students of Jazz from college age to senior citizens are welcome. Also, non-playing 'auditors' can enroll at a discounted price. A faculty of Jazz professionals will teach instrumental / vocal master classes, improvisation, Jazz listening (how to listen and who to listen to, old and new), modern Jazz combo playing (and perhaps big band), with concerts each night (open to the public) where advanced students sit in with the professionals. A major 'perk' will be students hanging out with the faculty at meals, story sessions (i.e., about the big bands) and jam sessions. Students can be players or non-players (auditors). No prior expertise is required. A spouse or other family member who is not a student is welcome to stay free with the student and to take advantage of the special meal package available to students. The enjoyment of resort facilities, pool and surrounding woods and water are an important part of the Holiday Acres experience. This will be an intimate event with 25-30 students maximum. The faculty isn't quite set but may include Richmond (saxophone), Clay Jenkins (trumpet), Paul McKee (trombone), Rick Haydon (guitar), Reggie Thomas (piano), Jim Widner (bass / administrator), Chuck Braugham (drums) and Mardra Thomas (vocals). For more information, go to the Northwoods Jazz Camp web site, www.kimrichmond.com/JazzCamp/JazzCamp.html

And if you've not yet signed up, remember that Ken Poston's upcoming event, Encores in Big Band Jazz: Artistry in Rhythm Meets Woodchoppers Ball, promises to be one of the year's big-band highlights, with performances by the Terry Gibbs, Bill Holman, Al Porcino, Mike Vax and Buddy Charles bands, the Woody Herman Orchestra, Maynard Ferguson's Big Bop Nouveau, the Four Freshman, "Big Band Broadway conducted by Lennie Niehaus, Herman's "My Kind of Broadway and Kenton's "West Side Story conducted by Joel Kaye, "Blowin' Up a Storm (the music of Woody's First Herd), a presentation of Afro Cuban Jazz featuring two big bands (and including Johnny Richards' "Cuban Fire ), plus the usual films, panel discussions and poolside concerts by various college big bands. The event will be held May 25-28 at the Four Points Sheraton Hotel at LAX (which may already be sold out, but there are others nearby). It's sponsored by the Los Angeles Jazz Institute, whose phone number is 562-985-7065. If you've been putting it off, be sure and register soon! (The cost is $350 in advance, $325 for LAJI members.)

On a somber note, Jazz and music in general lost two outstanding performers within a twenty-four hour period in January. On January 23, drummer Sherman Ferguson, long a mainstay on the Los Angeles scene, died at age sixty-one. Only last year Ferguson, a native of Philadelphia (born October 31, 1944) who had lived in the Los Angeles area since 1976, released the debut CD with his group JazzUnion, Welcome to My Vision . . . Ferguson taught drumming at UCLA and UC-Irvine, was on the faculty at the Los Angeles Music Academy, and through the years had performed with a number of Jazz luminaries including Dizzy Gillespie, James Moody, Benny Carter, Bud Shank, Kenny Burrrell, Pharoah Sanders, Eddie Harris, Pat Martino, Freddie Hubbard, Joe Henderson, Ahmad Jamal, Shorty Rogers, George Coleman, Kenny Barron, Gabor Szabo, Teddy Edwards and Buddy Collette. With pianist Tom Ranier and bassist John Heard, he was part of the trio Heard / Ranier / Ferguson. He was, most of all, a nice guy with a warm smile for everyone. I last saw Sherman here in Albuquerque in early '05 when he was in the rhythm section backing Flutology, a sextet featuring flutists Ali Ryerson, Holly Hofmann and the legendary Frank Wess. Later last year, he sent an e-mail saying he'd been in the hospital for a time but was home recuperating. I made a note to call him after the holiday season to see how he was getting along. Of course, I didn't. Sorry, Sherman. I hope that anyone reading this who's been meaning to phone or write to someone special will get busy and do it now. There are no guarantees. . . .

One day after Sherman's passing, Fayard Nicholas, one of the greatest dancers in Hollywood film history, died at age 91 at his home near Los Angeles. If the name doesn't immediately ring a bell, there are at least two reasons: first, Fayard was part of a dancing team, the Nicholas Brothers, with younger brother Harold (who died six years ago). Second, in spite of their enormous talents, the Nicholas Brothers were, frankly, the wrong color for Hollywood stardom in the '30s and '40s, and were relegated to the status of "novelty act in the more than thirty motion pictures in which they appeared. Still, when one sees those films today, the highlight of every one of them is the mind-boggling routine by a pair of acrobatic dancers who made the seemingly impossible look deceptively easy. Among the best-known of those films are "Down Argentine Way, "Stormy Weather, "The Pirate (in which they danced with Gene Kelly), "Sun Valley Serenade (dancing to Glenn Miller's "Chattanooga Choo Choo ) and "Orchestra Wives (where they lit up the screen again dancing to "I've Got a Gal in Kalamazoo ). The brothers made their Broadway debut in the 1936 edition of the Ziegfeld Follies (with such stars as Bob Hope, Fanny Brice, Eve Arden and Josephine Baker), and appeared the following year in Rodgers and Hart's "Babes in Arms. In the play "St. Louis Woman (1946), Harold introduced the Harold Arlen / Johnny Mercer classic, "Come Rain or Come Shine. Who's Who in Hollywood summed up their film career succinctly and accurately, noting that the Nicholas Brothers were "certainly the greatest dance team ever to work in the movies. The brothers were given a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, received the Kennedy Center Honors, were among the first inductees into the Apollo Theatre Hall of Fame and Black Filmmakers' Hall of Fame, and received the American Black Lifetime Achievement Award. Among their tap-dancing students are Debbie Allen, Janet Jackson and Michael Jackson. The brothers were a headline act at Harlem's famed Cotton Club in 1932 and made their last appearance as a team in MGM's 1985 documentary, "That's Dancing! Among my more prized possessions is a copy of the award-winning retrospective of the Nicholas Brothers' career, "We Sing and We Dance. If you can find a copy grab it, as watching them dance is a mind-blowing experience to which the adage "we'll never see their like again certainly applies.

A memorial concert will be held February 12 from noon to 8 p.m. at the Musician's Union in Los Angeles for the great valve trombonist Bob Enevoldsen who died last November 19 at age 85. A partial list of performers includes the Bill Holman and Steve Huffsteter big bands, the Dick Hafer band, the David Angel Saxtet, Roger Neumann, Dave Koonse, Joel Hamilton and Dave Tull, with many others expected to take part. I've been a fan of Enevoldsen's since the '50s, when he was an integral part of the vibrant West Coast scene, and saw him perform with various big bands in recent years (he was playing almost to the end of his life). For more about Bob's career, we'll turn things over to Doug Ramsey, who writes: "Enevoldsen was a superb arranger and orchestrator and, when the occasion arose, an effective and congenial leader. He was best known for his valve trombone and in greatest demand on that horn, but he was also a tenor saxophonist with original ideas and a fetching graininess in his tone. He left a fifty-year trail of memorable performances and recordings with Holman, Gerry Mulligan, Shelly Manne, Shorty Rogers, Bob Florence, Bob Crosby, Tex Beneke, Mel Tormé, the Lighthouse All-Stars, Henry Mancini and Terry Gibbs, to name a few in the wide range of musicians who insisted on his services. A burly man, after he worked up a crop of facial hair and took on some age he came to resemble St. Nicholas with a neatly trimmed beard. Enevoldsen was hampered the past several years by the circulation problems that led to his death, but he kept working. His daughter drove him to rehearsals and gigs and helped him onto the bandstand. Bill Holman told me . . . that Enevoldsen's physical problems disappeared once the band started playing. 'When it was time for him to solo,' Holman said, 'the years fell away.' Bob Enevoldsen: never a star, never a household name, always a pleasure to hear; gone at age eighty-five. Rest in peace, Bob. You earned it.

Got a note from pianist Roberto Magris in Italy letting me know that his debut vinyl album Comunicazione Sonora — Gruppo Jazz Marca, recorded in 1981 when he was a 22-year-old newcomer, has been reissued on CD in the UK on the Arision label, and another from Hazel Leach, co-leader of the United Women's Orchestra, saying that the group's CDs are up and running on iTunes, Napster, Virgin and HMV. Of course, I promised to pass along the information for the benefit of anyone who might be interested. Roberto also sent me an advance copy of his recent recording with guest artist Herb Geller, which he hopes will be released on Soul Note. It's a terrific session, Herb is marvelous as usual, and let's hope the CD may soon see the light of day.

And that's it for now. Until next time, keep swingin'!



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