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Big Band Report

Maynard Ferguson: Gonna Fly Now

By Published: September 5, 2006
Have you ever yearned to be in two places at once? If there were any way to make that wish come true, I'd save it for use during the first week in October, when Albuquerque's annual International Balloon Fiesta coincides with the Los Angeles Jazz Institute's tribute to Count Basie, Swingin' The Blues, at the Four Points Sheraton-LAX hotel in Los Angeles. The Balloon Fiesta is mandatory (Betty's sister June and her husband are visiting, for one thing) but oh, to be in Los Angeles when they honor the Kid from Red Bank!

Swingin' The Blues will showcase world-renowned alumni of the Basie orchestra leading their own groups and/or taking part in special concerts of music written for Basie. The sixteen concerts will feature a variety of big bands and smaller groups. Among the bands are two from New York City that are rarely seen and heard in Los Angeles—the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra and the Thad Jones Legacy Project.

Others set to perform include Frank Foster's Loud Minority Big Band, the Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra, Frank Capp Juggernaut, the Johnny Mandel Big Band, Frank Wess, Joe Wilder, the Shorty Rogers Big Band Courting The Count, an Afternoon of Some Basie-ites, and (perhaps) the Clark Terry Big Band. Four university ensembles are scheduled to play music written for the Basie band by Benny Carter, Neal Hefti, Quincy Jones and Sammy Nestico. And as always, there will be panel discussions, film showings and special presentations.

A Pioneer Jazz Educator Leaves Us

Sadly, we have one more death to report, that of John Garvey, professor emeritus of music and founder/director of the Jazz Studies program at the University of Illinois. Prof. Garvey died of a heart attack on July 18 at his home in Silver Spring, Maryland. He was eighty-five years old. Following the UI Jazz Ensemble's appearance at the Newport Jazz Festival in 1968, John S. Wilson wrote in The New York Times: "The Illinois band, directed by John Garvey, not only matched the professionals in its ensemble and solo work, but its arrangements, written by students, were far more varied and imaginative than the generally cut-and-dried orchestrations of the professional bands."

Alumni of Garvey's program at UI include trumpeters Cecil Bridgewater and Jim Knapp; saxophonists Kim Richmond, the late Joe Farrell, Howie Smith, Ron DeWar and Eric Schneider; pianists Jim McNeely, Mike Kocour and Ron Elliston; bassists Kelly Sill and Jon Burr, drummers Charlie Braugham and Joel Spencer, and vocalist Dee Dee Bridgewater. Garvey was known as the Godfather of Chicago's Jazz Members Big Band, whose founder/director, trombonist Jeff Lindberg, is another UI alum.

Garvey, who was born in Canonsburg, Pennsylvania, on March 17, 1921, left Temple University after three years to play violin and viola with the Jan Savitt Orchestra. In 1943, he was invited to become principal violist of the Columbus, Ohio, Philharmonic, even though he'd had no previous full-time orchestral experience, and in 1948, at age twenty-seven, accepted a position as Professor of Viola at the University of Illinois where he was a member of the renowned Walden String Quartet, then in residence at UI. Although a classical performer and educator, he never lost his enthusiasm for jazz, and in 1960 succeeded in establishing the UI Jazz Band, which quickly established its credentials by earning first-place honors at the prestigious Notre Dame Collegiate Jazz Festival in 1967-68-69.

In addition to the Jazz Band and Jazz Studies program, Garvey founded the highly successful and popular UI Russian Folk Orchestra in 1974 and was its conductor until his retirement in 1991. Although the folk orchestra no longer exists, the jazz program continues under the leadership of former Maynard Ferguson saxophonist Chip McNeill, boasting seven full-time Jazz faculty with degrees offered at the bachelor's, master's and doctoral levels. In 2004, the John Garvey Scholarship in Jazz Studies was established at UI.

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

New and Noteworthy

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