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Big Band Report

Yule Struttin', Albuquerque Style

By Published: December 13, 2006
The New Mexico Jazz Workshop held its annual holiday fund-raiser, "Yule Struttin'," December 2 at the Albuquerque Museum of Art. About seven hundred people were there to enjoy a variety of food and drink, a silent auction, art exhibits, and entertainment by a number of groups including the Albuquerque Jazz Orchestra.

The AJO was preceded onstage by the Jazz Workshop's High School Honors Jazz Ensemble directed by Ed Ulman, until recently executive director of the NMJW and still actively involved in its education programs as well as playing trombone in the Jazz Orchestra. Latin jazz was represented by Tetragon, a sextet co-led by trumpeter Paul Gonzales and pianist Steve Figueroa, the blues by Chris Dracup and Tommy Elskes with guest percussionist Alex Moralez.

The Museum of Art has a fairly large room with a stage on which the larger ensembles performed. Unfortunately, the room doubled as a restaurant, which meant there was an endless line of hungry patrons queued up between the bands and those seated at the tables. You could hear 'em but you couldn't see 'em. The library's main reception area was given over to tables on which were placed items for the silent auction, much larger than last year's. Betty and I looked in on the bidding (including bids on the eleven classic big-band CDs I'd donated) and it was going quite well, with many bids above the suggested starting point.

There were two bars (the drinks weren't free, not even my Diet Coke and Betty's Sprite) separated by a long hallway, at the far end of which Tetragon was situated. Midway down the hall was a "dessert bar with assorted cookies and two large cakes especially made and decorated for the occasion. Those who wanted a break from the music and ambient noise were invited to visit any of the four art exhibits currently being presented: Biennial Southwest; Common Grounds: Art in New Mexico; Four Centuries: A History of Albuquerque; or Sordid and Sacred: The Beggars in Rembrandt's Etchings. Betty said the Biennial and Rembrant exhibits were especially worthwhile.

The AJO was in fine form, interspersing holiday themes ("Winter Wonderland, "Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas, Gordon Goodwin's "Yo Tanenbaum ) with straight-ahead jazz (Don Menza's "Groove Blues, Tom Garling's "You Got It, Willie Maiden's "A Little Minor Booze ) in the first set (Betty and I didn't stay for the second). The Honors Band played well too but I didn't note the selections. Too busy chowing down (the choices were Mexican and/or Italian).

As the NMJW netted roughly $35,000 from ticket sales alone, I presume the fund-raiser was a success. Next on the agenda: replacing Ulman as executive director. That should happen before the end of the year. Not a moment too soon either, as the annual Albuquerque Jazz Festival (with special guest, trombonist Andy Martin) is scheduled for mid-February.

Fond Farewells . . .

Jazz singer Anita O'Day, who rose to stardom in the '40s with orchestras led by Gene Krupa and Stan Kenton, and continued singing almost to the very end of her life, died of a heart attack October 23 in west Los Angeles. She was eighty-seven. After her stints with Krupa, made memorable by her best-selling duet with trumpeter Roy Eldridge, "Let Me Off Uptown, and Kenton, with whom she recorded another hit, "And Her Tears Flowed Like Wine, O'Day struck out on her own. She recorded the blockbuster album, Anita, for Norman Granz' fledgling Verve label, and became an international star via her appearance in 1958 in the documentary Jazz On A Summer Day, filmed at the Newport Jazz Festival. Her autobiography, High Times, Hard Times, published in 1981, spoke candidly about her decades-long addictions to drugs and alcohol (she had nearly died of a heroin overdose in 1969). A documentary film, Anita O'Day: The Life Of A Jazz Singer is to be released next year.

Bassist Walter Booker, who worked with such jazz icons as Stan Getz, Sonny Rollins, Donald Byrd, Ray Bryant, Sarah Vaughan, Art Farmer, Cannonball Adderley, Pharoah Sanders, Betty Carter and Thelonious Monk, died November 24 in New York City. The Texas-born Booker, who grew up in Washington, DC, was seventy-three.

And last but not least, Vic Hall, the voice of jazz in central Florida for nearly four decades on Tampa radio station WUSF-FM, died November 20 after a long illness. He was 81. From 1968-2005, the British-born Hall was host of the National Public Radio station's "Sound Of Jazz, which featured everything from big bands to bop, swing to West Coast cool, drawing on his enormous collection of 78s, LPs, open reel tapes and CDs. "And he was a volunteer the entire time, said Bob Seymour, WUSF's director of jazz programming. Hall simply loved jazz, something to which anyone reading this column can no doubt relate.

Looking Ahead . . .

On March 23-25, the Monterey Jazz Festival will hold the third annual Next Generation Festival for middle school, high school and college bands, combos, vocal ensembles and individual musicians who will compete for positions in the Next Generation Jazz Orchestra. The orchestra tours internationally and is featured on the Festival's Sunday afternoon program in September. The event also includes a composition competition for high school composers, with the winning piece to be performed at the 50th Monterey Jazz Festival.

The competition is accepting applications from bands and combos through January 24. The application process is free. Application forms may be downloaded at the MJF's web site.

The MJF has also named world-renowned trumpeter and composer Terence Blanchard its 2007 artist-in-residence.

Happy Holidays . . .

After picking up a new CD, The Stan Kenton Christmas Carols, by the Boston Brass and Brass All-Stars Big Band (Summit 464), I was reminded (by Betty) that there are a large number of big-band Christmas albums available, and that copies of many are housed on the shelves in our garage. As it is now December, she said, it might be a good idea to share the names of some of them with those who read your column. So herewith are a number of seasonal albums (listed alphabetically) that are recommended listening...

Adventures in Jazz Orchestra, Celebrates Christmas (AJO). Air Force Airmen of Note, A Holiday Note from Home (AON); Christmas Time Is Here (AON). David Berger and the Sultans of Swing, The Harlem Nutcracker (Such Sweet Thunder). The Capitol Bones, A Stan Kenton Christmas (CB). Tom Kubis Big Band, A Jazz Musician's Christmas (Sea Breeze); You Just Can't Have Enough Christmas (Cexton); It's Not Just for Christmas Anymore (Cexton). Nils Lindberg, A Christmas Cantata (Proprius). Rob McConnell and the Boss Brass, A Big Band Christmas (Concord Jazz). National Youth Jazz Orchestra (Great Britain), Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year (NYJO); Big Band Christmas (NYJO).

Klaus Weiss/NDR Big Band, A Message From Santa Klaus (Minor Music). Nebraska Jazz Orchestra, Christmas Jazz, Vol. 6 (American Music Corp.). The New England Jazz Ensemble, Wishes You A Cookin' Christmas (Sea Breeze). North Carolina Repertory Jazz Orchestra, Holiday Jazz Blizzard (Valve Amplification Co.). Shorty Rogers, The Swingin' Nutcracker (RCA). University of Wisconsin/Eau Claire, Christmas Day, My Favorite Day (Sea Breeze Vista). Wigan Youth Jazz Orchestra, Well Seasoned. Stan Kenton Christmas Music (GW).

Another Reminder . . .

Mark your calendar now for the next Ken Poston/Los Angeles Jazz Institute big band spectacular: May 24-27 at the Four Points Sheraton Hotel at LAX. Nineteen of the West Coast's leading big bands are scheduled to perform, and there'll be a special VIP bus trip May 23 to Balboa and the legendary Rendezvous Ballroom, first home of the Stan Kenton Orchestra, with dinner and a concert by the Mike Vax Big Band featuring Stan Kenton alumni. For information, log on to

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

New and Noteworthy

1. Steve Cannon/Blow Hard Big Band, Full Blown (BRP)
2. Jim Cutler Jazz Orchestra, In Progress (Pony Boy)
3. Taylor/Fidyk Big Band, Live At Blues Alley (OA2)
4. hr Big Band, Once In A Lifetime (TCB)
5. Dizzy Gillespie All-Star Big Band, Dizzy's Business (MCG)
6. Phil Kelly & the NW Santa Ana Winds, My Museum (Origin)
7. Colin Byrne Jazz Orchestra, Leaving For Home (TDCB)
8. Forrest Buchtel's NYConfidential, Shhh! (Monk Music)
9. Ayn Inserto Jazz Orchestra, Clairvoyance (no label)
10. Shenandoah University Jazz Ensemble, Lullaby Of The Leaves (SU Jazz)
11. Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra, Una Noche Inolvidable (Palmetto)
12. Mt. Hood CC Jazz Band and Combo, My Foolish Heart (Sea Breeze Vista)
13. Temple Jazz Orchestra, This Is TJO (no label)
14. Northeastern State University, Appointment In Milano (NSU)
15. Marilyn Harris & the L.A. All-Stars Big Band, Round Trip (Wrightwood)

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