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Big Band Report

Taking Schwarzenegger To The Cleaners

By Published: August 2, 2006
In mid-July, Betty and I attended a concert at the Albuquerque Museum of Art's handsome outdoor amphitheatre. While there were no big bands present, the event was nonetheless important—some might say historic—for a couple of reasons.

First, the headliner was the great trumpeter Bobby Shew, an Albuquerque native who's been so busy conquering the world that he hasn't had time to perform often in his hometown. Second, Shew chose the occasion to make official what a number of his friends and admirers already knew—that after more than three decades in California, he and his wife were leaving this month (August) and returning to live in Corrales, a small town that straddles Albuquerque's northwest border.

They didn't want to leave, he said, but fell victim to one of the most preposterous laws ever upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court, that of eminent domain. In brief, the state of California decided it wished to build a school where Bobby's house stood, and under the law there was nothing he could do about it (and nothing you could either, if it happened to you). He had no choice but to sell.

Unbeknownst to the state, however, Shew had an ace up his sleeve. As a working musician, the house was not only a dwelling place but also a place of business, with a recording studio and other facilities on the premises. "After two years studying the law and hiring an attorney, he said, "I'm happy to say that I took the state of California to the cleaners, a pronouncement that earned him the evening's first standing ovation. Shew said he had made enough on the deal to throw his trumpet away forever—"but I'm not going to. Another huge round of applause.

Having gotten that out of the way, Shew went straight to work, leading a splendid quintet comprised of tenor saxophonist Glenn Kostur, pianist Pat Rhoads, bassist Milo Jaramillo and drummer Andy Polling and opening with one of the great old standards, Kurt Weill's "Speak Low. The first set also included Rogers Grant's "Morning Star, Tom Harrell's "Terrestris and two more standards, the charming "Green Dolphin Street and Hoagy Carmichael's seductive "Skylark. Set two opened with an original, "Breakfast Wine, then covered Benny Golson's "Whisper Not, Blue Mitchell's "Fungii Mama, Johnny Mandel's "The Shadow Of Your Smile and Dizzy's "A Night In Tunisia. The audience clamored for an encore, and the group obliged with an up-tempo reading of "Lotus Blossom.

It was great to see and hear Shew onstage in Albuquerque again, playing superbly as always, and his return should give the jazz scene in these parts a wonderful shot in the arm. After the concert, I handed him my card. "Another one? he said, almost shoving it back in my hand. "I already have about nine of your cards! "You mean you actually keep them? I said. (Well, I didn't actually say that, but I did think of it as soon as I'd reached the parking lot. Another missed opportunity).

It's Festival Time!

The "first annual New Mexico Jazz Festival was held July 20-29 in Albuquerque and Santa Fe. Betty and I skipped the events in the capital city, which included pianist McCoy Tyner's septet, the Rebirth Brass Brand with Los Hombres Calientes, the Newport Jazz All-Stars' tribute to impresario George Wein, and the Branford Marsalis Quartet. But we went to the plaza in Albuquerque's Old Town on July 22 for a concert by Tetragon, a hard-bop sextet led by trumpeter Paul Gonzales. The band also features tenor saxophonist Doug Lawrence and trombonist/percussionist Cesar Bauvallet in front of a rhythm section comprised of pianist Steve Figueroa, bassist Luis Guerra and drummer Brandon Draper.

Five days later, we were at the National Hispanic Cultural Center for a dynamic performance by the New York-based Afro-Latin Jazz Orchestra led by pianist Arturo O'Farrill. Thanks to Wynton Marsalis, the nineteen-piece orchestra is in residence at Jazz at Lincoln Center and plays often in the Center's state-of-the-art Frederick P. Rose auditorium. O'Farrill brought many of the regulars along, including saxophonists Bobby Porcelli, Erica von Kleist, Pablo Calogero and "El Comandante, Mario Rivera, trombonists Reynaldo Jorge and Douglas Purviance, trumpeter Michael Rodriguez, bassist Ruben Rodriguez and drummer Vince Cherico. Ivan Renta was listed on tenor sax but apparently wasn't there, as O'Farrill several times called the tenor soloist "Peter, and I wasn't able to catch the last name.

The other fill-ins were impressive as well, especially percussionists Anthony Rosa and Jaime Delgado, and there were strong turns by trumpeters Kevin Seeley, Seneca Black and Daryl Shaw, as well as trombonists Arturo Velasco, Gary Valente and Reynaldo Jorge. The band paid tribute to a number of legendary Latin composers including Tito Puente, Machito, Mario Bauza, Astor Piazzolla and of course, Arturo O'Farrill's illustrious father, the late Chico O'Farrill, from whom Arturo inherited the baton several years ago. Alas, I can't name any of the individual numbers (I've gotta get one of those pens that writes in the dark).

Although we were seated in the balcony, which didn't enhance the acoustics, it was an enjoyable evening of energetic Latin Jazz, and I'm looking forward to reviewing the A-LJO's new album, Noche Inolvidable (An Unforgettable Night).

Speaking of Festivals...

Betty and I will be in Prescott, Arizona, near the end of this month for our second visit to the Prescott Jazz Summit, organized by trumpeter Mike Vax (a part-time Prescott resident) and showcasing the talents of pianist Bob Florence, trumpeter Marvin Stamm, trombonist Scott Whitfield, saxophonist Tony Vacca, guitarist Jack Petersen, drummer Gary Hobbs and others.

The sixth annual three-day event will include concerts, workshop / clinics, a fund-raising dinner and Sunday morning Jazz brunch at which many of the musicians will perform. It's a laid-back and pleasurable three days, and if you've been thinking about it, there's always room for one more!

Help Wanted!

With one of the world's last remaining 24-hour-a-day jazz radio stations, KKJZ-FM (formerly KLON) in Long Beach, California, ready to choose a new group to manage the station, the Los Angeles Jazz Institute has stepped in and is mounting a fund-raising campaign to help keep jazz on the air in the area. To make this happen, the Institute needs to raise funds for its new Broadcast Division, directed by Ken Borgers, who formerly worked at KLON.

Ken Poston, the LAJI's indefatigable director, has organized a fund-raising concert on August 13 at the Astor Events Center in Anaheim. Among the artists and groups who have agreed to appear (with more acceptances arriving by the hour, Poston says) are Bud Shank, Terry Gibbs, Bob Florence, Barbara Morrison, Jack Nimitz, Bob Summers, Roger Neumann, Jack Sheldon, Herman Riley, Buddy Collette, Tom Ranier, Dale Fielder, Andy Martin, Howard Rumsey, Pinky Winters, Dave MacKay, the Lanny Morgan Quartet, Dave Pell Octet, Phil Norman Tentet, and big bands led by Poncho Sanchez, Med Flory, Steve Huffsteter, Carl Saunders, Bill Holman and Frank Capp. Holy superstars, Batman! I wish I could be there for that! (I'll be in Palo Alto that weekend helping Betty celebrate her birthday).

The concert is to take place from noon to midnight, with lunch and dinner provided. There are two donation levels for those who attend: platinum (at $1000), with special reserved seating at tables in front of the bandstand; and gold circle (at $250), with open-style theatre seating. Scant notice, it's true, but one thing must be said for Ken Poston and the L.A. Jazz Institute—they really know how to throw a party.

In Closing...

Betty and I were back at the National Hispanic Cultural Center on July 29, this time for a non-jazz event. We'd been to our first zarzuela (Spanish operetta) in April, and had to come back for more, this time presented cabaret-style (with some patrons actually seated at candlelit tables onstage).

As before, the voices and the presentation were absolutely marvelous (as I learned to say later, "magnifico ), and the performance was educational as well, covering the history of zarzuela from 1874 to 1936 through twenty-two songs from fourteen operettas. Even though the composers are unknown to most American theatre-goers (Cuban Ernesto Lecuona, who wrote "The Breeze and I, among other popular hits, is an exception), the music they produced is as persuasive as it is charming, easily able to hold its ground against songs written for Europe's (and America's) better known and more widely celebrated operettas.

Enlightening commentary was provided by the show's co-creator, Uruguayan-born Pablo Zinger, who doubled as pianist. There were eight singers in all (including the director, Salomé Martinez-Lutz), each of whom was given at least one chance to perform a show-stopping number, and each of whom did so brilliantly. Individually and collectively, they were outstanding. Besides soprano Martinez-Lutz they included tenor André Garcia-Nuthmann, baritones Armando Mora and José Daniel Apodaca, bass-baritone Paul Barrientos, soprano Ramona Mary Schneider and mezzo-sopranos Nelly Maria Kirmer and Mabel Ledo.

We are fortunate indeed that Roy and Patty Disney have underwritten zarzuela in Albuquerque and provided a world-class theatre in which to present it. If zarzuela comes to your neighborhood, don't pass up the chance to see and hear it. It's a wonderful and exciting experience.

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


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