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Big Band Report

Granddad Does Dallas

By Published: April 15, 2006
The sixth annual University of North Texas Jazz Festival was my first.

I may make it an annual event, too.

The Festival, held March 31-April 2 in the north Dallas suburb of Addison, welcomed 53 middle school, high school and college big bands, combos and vocal groups from seventeen states, each of whom presented a brief program of its music, was judged by professional musicians/educators, tutored by clinicians, and invited to attend master classes conducted by UNT alumni and faculty. The middle school and high school groups performed on Friday, the college ensembles on Saturday. At the end of each day, one big band, small combo and vocal group was chosen to appear at an evening concert whose headliners were the renowned North Texas One O'Clock Lab Band (Friday), the Roy Hargrove Quintet and the Yellowjackets (Saturday).

The daily events were free and open to the public. There was an admission charge for the evening concerts and a Sunday morning Jazz Brunch that included a question-and-answer session with Hargrove and members of the Yellowjackets and a concert by several of the musicians who had served as judges.

Besides performing and trading thoughts and ideas with others, the students had an opportunity to enjoy parts of the remarkable collection of films and videos shown each day by noted Jazz scholar Hal Miller from Albany, New York, whose library of more than 9,000 rare and vintage items serves as a primary resource of Jazz video footage for television networks and independent production companies and was used extensively by documentary filmmaker Ken Burns for his television series Jazz.

Even with such a large number of groups taking part, the Festival was extremely well-run, with almost every event and performance starting on time and no one feeling rushed or slighted, thanks in large measure to the earnest efforts of Festival manager Craig Marshall, music director Bob Morgan and artistic director Neil Slater (who triples as director of the UNT One O'Clock Band and chairman of the school's Division of Jazz Studies). As I'm basically a big-band guy, I spent all day Friday and Saturday listening to the middle school, high school and college bands, which were appraised by UNT alumni drummer Steve Houghton and trumpeter Marvin Stamm and mentored by clinicians Slater, saxophonist Jim Riggs, and trumpeters Jay Saunders and Mike Steinel. The small combos were evaluated by bassist Lou Fischer and saxophonist Howie Smith, the vocal groups by trumpeter/vocalist Ron McCurdy and vocalist Sunny Wilkinson.

At the awards ceremonies on Friday and Saturday afternoon, Morgan stressed that music is not competitive, and that the groups chosen to perform that evening weren't necessarily the "best but those whom the judges had singled out as having performed to the best of their ability. If that sounds convoluted, I guess you had to be there. In any event, if that was the judges' purpose in singling out which middle/high school and college bands would play at the evening concerts, they got it absolutely right. There was little doubt in my mind that the High School for the Performing and Visual Arts from Houston would be performing on Saturday evening, although I rated Houston's Willowridge High School a close second, followed by Hoover (Alabama) High School and Martin High from Arlington, Texas.

I was surprised by Saturday's choice, the University of Central Oklahoma, even though director Lee Rucker has a fine band, as I had three other ensembles rated ahead of UCO and three more at least even. But as I don't know what the judges were looking for, it's hard to reprove their decision, and there's no doubt that the UCO band played to its potential (as did most of the others). Among those who most impressed me were the University of North Florida, Texas Christian University and Brookhaven College from Farmers Branch, Texas, with UCO, the universities of Kansas and Oklahoma and Shenandoah University from Winchester, Virginia, not far behind.

Besides performing on Friday evening, the High School for the Performing and Visual Arts received the Leon Breeden Award for high school big bands, named for the second director of the UNT Jazz Studies program (1959-81), while the University of Central Oklahoma earned the M.E. "Gene Hall Award for university or community college big bands. Dr. Hall was the founding director of the UNT Jazz program and served as its director from 1947-58.

The Floyd "Fessor Graham Award for high school or middle school vocal groups, named for the founder/director of UNT's legendary Aces of Collegeland dance band, was won by the ensemble from Dos Pueblos High School in Goleta, California, while another excellent California group, the Dave Brubeck Institute Quintet from Stockton, earned the inaugural Rich Matteson Award for college/university combos, which honors the acclaimed educator who taught at UNT from 1973-86 and later founded the outstanding Jazz Studies program at the University of North Florida in Jacksonville.

Others chosen to perform at the evening concerts were the Jazz combo from the Milwaukee (Wisconsin) School of the Arts (Friday) and vocal Jazz ensemble from Texas Southern University (Saturday). Outstanding soloist awards were given to vocalist Marcus Stewart (Columbia Basin College, Pasco, Washington), pianist Bernard Pierre (Texas Southern University, Houston), tenor saxophonist Sophie Faught (Indiana University, Bloomington), guitarist Grant Goldstein (University of Central Oklahoma, Edmond) and pianist Josh Bowlus (University of North Florida, Jacksonville). Other soloists who caught my ear included tenor saxophonist Corey Lara (Willowridge HS), tenor Brent Nabors and trombonist Patrice French (Texas Southern) and Alex Nguyen (North Florida) whose muted trumpet was featured all the way on a deliciously slow-cooked version of "Mean to Me.

One of the hardest things to gauge at any festival is its overall spirit, that is to say, the level of enthusiasm and satisfaction, which from my perspective was quite high. Of course, any time spent watching and listening to young musicians play Jazz is time well spent, and the kick is built-in, so I was happy as a clam. But everyone else seemed to be having a great time as well, including those who weren't chosen to perform at the evening concerts. They seemed pleased to be there and to know they had done the best they could—and among the big bands I heard, that was certainly true.

The Hotel Intercontinental, where the Festival was held, is first-class, and its staff was eager to please. The evening performances were splendid, with the UNT Jazz Singers, directed by Paris Rutherford, and UNT Jazz Faculty Combo also on the Friday evening program with the One O'Clock Lab Band and the three high school groups. Members of the Faculty Combo were alto saxophonist Riggs, trumpeter Steinel, tenor saxophonist John Murphy, trombonist Tony Baker, guitarist Fred Hamilton, pianist Stefan Karlsson, bassist Lynn Seaton, drummer Ed Soph and vocalist Rosana Eckert. Their delightful program ended with Hamilton's soul-stirring "Blues for Baghdad.

The Saturday evening concert marked a homecoming of sorts for Hargrove who studied music at the Booker T. Washington School for the Visual and Performing Arts in Dallas. The current edition of the Yellowjackets, one of the country's most popular fusion groups, consists of tenor saxophonist Bob Mintzer, pianist Russell Ferrante, bassist Jimmy Haslip and drummer Marcus Baylor. The 'Jackets and Hargrove Quintet gave crowd-pleasing performances, as did the group of adjudicators at the Sunday breakfast. I heard only the first of its numbers, a swinging rendition of the standard "Alone Together (terrific solos by Stamm and alto Howie Smith) before leaving for the airport.

The tentative dates for next year's UNT Jazz Festival are March 30-April 1. If the welcome mat's still out I'd love to be there, if only to leave a wake-up call for my Dallas buddy Bob Dain who was going this year but forgot that it was being held until he read an article in Sunday's paper. Bob, I'll see you May 25 at Ken Poston's Encores in Big Band Jazz at the Sheraton LAX Four Points Hotel, or whatever it's called. You will be there, won't you...?

Cooking with the Count

The World Famous Count Basie Orchestra (its present billing) rolled into town March 8 for a one-night stand at Rio Rancho High School, westward across the Rio Grande from Albuquerque. The orchestra is ably supervised by Bill Hughes, a gentleman of the old school who joined the Count in 1953 as bass trombonist and took command of the orchestra after fellow trombonist and director Grover Mitchell passed away about two years ago. Even though half its members were ill with flu or colds, the orchestra rose to the occasion, playing with typical verve and fire through two sets, each of which followed the same pattern—five instrumentals, three vocals by Melba Joyce, and a flag-waving finale.

The concert was a fund-raiser for the Rio Rancho Jazz program. As the auditorium was almost filled, the hope is that some cash was raised to help the school and its young musicians move forward. The Rio Rancho Jazz Band 1, directed by Brad Dubbs, opened the program with Mike Tomaro's "Del Corazon, followed by arrangements by George Stone of "Body and Soul and Mark Taylor of "I Remember You. The Basie orchestra, with two Albuquerque natives—drummer Butch Miles and tenor saxophonist Doug Lawrence — in the lineup, roared from the starting gate with Sammy Nestico's "Wind Machine, then slowed the tempo for an arrangement of the tragic folk tune "Frankie & Johnny. Strayhorn's "Take the 'A' Train was next up, followed by a feature for Lawrence, "Chelsea Bridge, and Ernie Wilkins' "Basie Power before Joyce came on to charm the audience with "Lover Come Back to Me, "What Are You Doing the Rest of Your Life and "All of Me. Miles, flu-ridden but explosive, was showcased on the opening set's crowd-pleasing finale, "The Drum Thing.

After intermission, the orchestra opened with Frank Wess' "Segue in C and Nestico's "The Heat's On, then sandwiched two Benny Carter themes, "Miss Missouri and "Vine Street Rumble, around a feature for tenor Doug Miller, "I.Q., written originally for Basie tenor Ike Quebec. After Joyce sang "Sweet Georgia Brown, "I'll Close My Eyes and "I'd Rather Drink Muddy Water, the orchestra wrapped things up with another mercurial chart by Ernie Wilkins, "Basie. Even though the Basie orchestra plays more than two hundred road dates each year, there aren't many touring bands left (the Woody Herman and Glenn Miller orchestras are among the remaining handful), so if any of them comes to your neighborhood, it's worth the time and effort to go and see them. It may not be too long before such an opportunity is lost forever.

Kenton, Herman and More Kenton

Having mentioned the Ken Poston/Los Angeles Jazz Institute event set for the last full week in May, it's worth repeating that this promises to be another outstanding big-band conclave, one that any big-band enthusiast should thoroughly appreciate. For starters, there are the Woody Herman Orchestra, the Terry Gibbs Big Band, and Maynard Ferguson's Big Bop Nouveau.

While that should be enough to please almost anyone, it's only the tip of the iceberg. Add to that the Four Freshmen, "Big Band Broadway conducted by Lennie Niehaus, bands led by Bill Holman, Al Porcino, Mike Vax and Buddy Charles, the Collegiate Neophonic Jazz Orchestra, "Cuban Carnival: Artistry in Rhythm Meets Artisty in Gillespie, "Blowin' Up a Storm: The Music of Woody Herman's First Herd," concerts by a number of college ensembles, panel discussions and films, and you have a four-day event (May 25-28) that should satisfy even the most hard-to-please connoisseur. And I've heard that Bob Florence is scheduled to give a solo piano recital as well! All of that in only four days, and all at the Four Points Sheraton LAX Hotel. For information or to register, write to the Los Angeles Jazz Institute, P.O. Box 8038, Long Beach, CA 90808-0038, or phone 562-985-7065.

One week after the L.A. spectacular, the 16th Annual Kenton Klan Party (June 4) presents "Cuban Fire Revisited! at the Holiday Inn Ballroom in Monrovia, CA. Besides saxophonist Billy Root, who appeared on Kenton's Cuban Fire album fifty years ago, the musicians scheduled to perform (all Kenton alumni) include Carl Saunders, Kim Richmond, Jack Costanzo, Mike Vax, Bill Trujillo, Steve Huffsteter, Kenny Shroyer, Dave Stone, Roy Wiegand, Keith LaMotte, Mike Pacheco and others. This is the last-ever Kenton Klan gathering, and one that is not to be missed. Cuban Fire will be performed by a 22-member Kenton Kicks Alumni Orchestra exactly as it appeared on the original album, recorded in May 1956. The program will also include Kenton favorites from the '40s to the '70s, as well as a panel discussion on the Cuban Fire sessions. The cost is $50 per person ($70 with lunch), $10 off for students with ID. For information or to register, phone 626-793-1477, or e-mail sdhjazz@earthlink.net

On a Sadder Note...

Jackie McLean, a bebop pioneer on alto sax who later became an outstanding Jazz educator at the Hartt School in Hartford, Connecticut, died March 31. He was seventy- three years old. As a young man growing up in the Sugar Hill section of Harlem, McLean met and became a lifelong friend of the legendary bop pianist Bud Powell. In the late '40s he worked with his friend Sonny Rollins, and while still a teen-ager made his first recordings with trumpeter Miles Davis. Later, he was the alto saxophonist of choice for drummer Art Blakey and bassist Charles Mingus. McLean also turned heads with his own series of innovative recordings on the Blue Note label.

"Every time you play, he once said, "you've got to play your best, give it everything you have as if it were your last solo. One of the few musicians of his generation to have beaten a heroin habit, McLean later devoted himself to community activism and educating young men and women, especially those from the inner city. He also continued to play, enjoying popularity in the States and superstar status in Japan, a country he visited frequently. In Yokohama, he jammed with Japanese musicians in the "Jackie McLean Coffeehouse. One of McLean's three children, Rene, is a well-known saxophonist in her own right.

There's one more death to report, that of Oscar Treadwell. If the name doesn't sound familiar, he wasn't a professional musician but was well-known among musicians as an ultra-hip disc jockey for many years and the dean of Cincinnati, Ohio's Jazz historians. He's also remembered for "An Oscar for Treadwell, a bop tune written for him by none other than Charlie Parker. Treadwell died at age seventy-nine, shortly after having donated his entire CD collection (6,226 discs) to the Cincinnati/Hamilton County Public Library. One more sign that Jazz deejays are a dying breed...

Nothing to Do with Jazz But...

On Sunday, March 26, Betty and I attended our first zarzuela (Spanish opera), and it was quite simply marvelous—lovely costumes, great voices, splendid acting, and thoroughly entertaining in spite of its creaky plot (well, it was set in pre-civil war Spain in the early '30s, a time when a kiss was tantamount to an engagement). We saw it in the state-of- the-art Roy E. Disney Center for the Performing Arts at the National Hispanic Cultural Center in Albuquerque.

The opera was sung in Spanish but there were English "super titles on a wall above and to the right of the stage. They weren't at all intrusive but quite helpful, even though I suspect we were given an "edited version of what was being sung or spoken. The several leads in "La del Manojo de Rosas (The Woman with a Rose Bouquet, I think) were so good that I have to name names—Mabel Ledo, Armando Mora, David Robinson, Samantha Phillips, Vic Silva, José Daniel Apodaca, Nelly Maria Kirmer, Esteban Mariscal—and everyone else in the large cast, ably accompanied by members of the NM Symphony Orchestra. If you have a chance to see a zarzuela, grab it. If it's anything like this one, you'll find yourself smiling from ear to ear and wishing, as I was, that you'd discovered them years ago.

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

New and Noteworthy

  1. Mike Barone Big Band, Live 2005! (Rhubarb Recordings)
  2. Maria Schneider Orchestra, Days of Wine and Roses (ArtistShare)
  3. Kenichi Tsunoda Big Band, Jumping Big (KTBB)
  4. Junko Moriya Orchestra, Points of Departure (Spice of Life)
  5. University of Toronto 10 O'Clock Jazz Orchestra, Rivers (Arbordisc)
  6. Sammy Nestico / SWR Big Band, Basie-cally Sammy (Hänssler Classic)
  7. Blue Notes Orchestra, 30th Anniversary (Muse)
  8. Irvin Mayfield New Orleans Jazz Orchestra, Strange Fruit (Basin Street Records)
  9. Lungau Big Band, Live at Montreux / The Monk's Progress (LBB)
  10. Bob Mintzer Big Band, Old School: New Lessons (MCG)
  11. Paris Jazz Big Band, Paris 24 Heures (Cristal Records)
  12. Kansas City Jazz Orchestra, Take One (KCJO)
  13. BargaJazz, Sound & Score (Philology)
  14. Bill Warfield Big Band, A Faceless Place (Laurel Hill)
  15. UMO Jazz Orchestra, Sauna Palaa! (UMOCD)


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