Granddad Does Dallas
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 couldand 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 patternfive instrumentals, three vocals by Melba Joyce, and a flag-waving finale.