Swingin' Into Spring, Poston-Style
There's a line in the old popular song "Casey Would Waltz with the Strawberry Blonde that says "his brain was so loaded it nearly exploded . . . Having run the latest Ken Poston/Los Angeles Jazz Institute-sponsored marathon in Los Angeles, billed as Swing Into Spring, I can understand how Casey must have felt. The morning-noon-evening endurance contest showcased no less than twenty-two big bandsnot to mention a tentet, sextet, five films and a similar number of panel discussionsin only four days! Even sardines are given more wiggle room than that. There would have been twenty-three big bands but Bob Florence was under the weather and unable to attend, and Phil Norman's Tentet stepped in to sub for Bob's Limited Edition. As if that weren't far too much for any one brain this side of Einstein to absorb and process, there's even more! Those who chose to arrive a day early were treated to a "bonus eventa bus trip down the California coast to Balboa, where the legendary Stan Kenton Orchestra made its debut on May 31, 1941, with lunch at the elegant Balboa Pavilion and yet another concert, this one by the superb Mike Vax Big Band featuring a number of Kenton alumni.
Before delving into specifics, let's set the scene. Swing Into Spring was held May 24-27 at the Sheraton LAX Four Points Hotel, more precisely in two ground-level rooms, with concerts in the California Ballroom, most films and all panel discussions in the nearby San Diego Room. The low-slung, dimly lit ballroom is large enough to accommodate several hundred people, yet small enough to spark a number of well-aimed rants about the sound system in general and the volume level in particular. More about that later. As for the level of musicianship, trombonist Bill Watrous summed that up nicely during his set when he observed that "all of the musicians you're hearing this week are world-class. Yes, a number of the sidemen and women were seen and heard more than once (trumpeter Bob "Iron Man Summers played in no less than nine ensembles and was given the tongue-in-cheek "ubiquitous award by Gordon Goodwin), but without their remarkable talent and chameleon-like ability to perform brilliantly in any framework such a spectacular event wouldn't be feasible.
Betty and I arrived in L.A. on Tuesday evening, as we wanted to be alert and ready when the buses rolled at 9:30 Wednesday morning. The trip to Balboa took less than an hour, and we disembarked under sunny skies with the temperature around 70. Our "tour guide, Ken Poston, led us to the site of the former Rendezvous Ballroom, now an apartment complex (the Rendezvous burned down in 1966) and to other sites associated with Kenton including a nearby gazebo with a plaque listing the names of members of Kenton's first band (including bassist Howard Rumsey who was there for the occasion). We were free to wander around Balboa for an hour before heading to the Pavilion for lunch. The Mike Vax band was setting up as we chose our seats, and shortly thereafter we experienced one of those rare moments in life that should always be cherished. Seated in an opulent ballroom on a gorgeous spring day, I was about to take a bite of chicken cacciatore when Vax counted down and the band launched into Bill Holman's definitive arrangement of "Stompin' At The Savoy (played at precisely the right tempo). It was the perfect beginning to a wonderful afternoon of music.
The band followed "Savoy with Willie Maiden's "Walk Softly and Holman's "Song for Buddy, the last written for trumpeter Buddy Childers and featuring Vax and Carl Saunders. A phone call was placed to Childers' home so he could hear the piece played over the phone in his honor but the response was that he was napping and couldn't be wakened, a moment whose import was amplified the following afternoon when another fine trumpeter, Steve Huffsteter, disclosed to the audience during his band's performance that Buddy had passed away during the night. Needless to say, a great loss to the Jazz community, and I'd say more about it here but Buddy deserves an article of his own, which will be forthcoming next month.
Returning to the music, the Vax ensemble continued with Ray Brown's "Neverbird, the late Frank Mantooth's breathtaking arrangement of "Young And Foolish (showcasing pianist Jeff Colella who was sitting in for Florence), Kim Richmond's "Horizon Under, Gene Roland's "The Blues Story, and closed the first set with the ever-popular "Peanut Vendor, during which the members of the trumpet section left the stage and circulated among the audience while nailing the high notes. After a break, the band returned with Richmond's "The Big Sur, the Marty Paich arrangement of "My Old Flame, Kenton's "Reed Rapture and Bill Russo's treatment of "Over The Rainbow. Scott Whitfield left the 'bone section to team with vocalist Ginger Berglund on the Jackie Cain-Roy Kral favorite, "You Inspire Me, and fellow trombonist Kenny Shroyer soloed on Cole Porter's "Get Out Of Town, as he had on Kenton's album Back To Balboa nearly half a century ago. The band wrapped things up with Richmond's lively arrangement of Ray Wetzel's "Intermission Riff. Besides Vax, Saunders, Colella and Shroyer, the band's group of impressive soloists included Whitfield, Richmond, Huffsteter, alto saxophonist Keith Bishop and tenor Billy Kerr.
Following the return trip to L.A., supper and a good night's sleep, we were ready for the "official opening Thursday morning of Swing Into Spring. Each of the four days was begun with a film, the first of which was "Drop Me Off In Harlem (the pre-swing era). It was followed on Friday by "The Swing Era, on Saturday by "Big Bands In Transition, and on Sunday by "Music For Moderns. In keeping with the event's "baseball theme, the "first pitch was delivered (in the San Diego Room) by Tommy Hawkins, actually an ex-basketball star (All-American at Notre Dame, pro career with the L.A. Lakers and Cincinnati Royals), a lifelong jazz fan, motivational speaker and weekend deejay at KJAZ in Los Angeles. His humorous and provocative discourse preceded the first of the weekend's four poolside concerts, presented by the Los Angeles County High School for the Performing Arts under director Jason Goldman. I'll admit that I caught only parts of each noontime concert (lunch plans kept getting in the way), but what I heard was quite good.
Scott Whitfield's Jazz Orchestra West was first up in the California Ballroom and delivered a solid hour-long set that included Hank Mobley's "This I Dig Of You, Lee Morgan's lovely "Ceora, four of Whitfield's compositions"To Be There, "The Minute Game, "Splat!, "Hiccups and a duet by Scott and Ginger Berglund on Frank Loesser's "Slow Boat To China. Bob Summers, making his first appearance of the weekend, was one of a number of splendid soloists that included Whitfield, trumpeter Larry Williams, alto saxophonist Rusty Higgins, tenor saxophonists Roger Neumann and Andy Martinez, bassist Jennifer Leitham and drummer Kendall Kay. The trombone section (Whitfield, Gary Tole, Bryant Byers) bared its formidable chops on "Splat!
The afternoons were partly given over to panel discussions, the first of which, "The Big Leagues, was moderated by Larry Hathaway with panelists Whitfield, Neumann, Huffsteter and drummer Frank Capp. As usual, each one showed a sharp sense of humor that isn't always evident when he is busy leading a band. As the door has been opened, let's quickly survey the other panels as well. Friday"Grand Slam, moderated by Kirk Silsbee with panelists Ann Patterson, Mike Barone, Carl Saunders (another funny cat) and Gordon Goodwin. Saturday"Murderer's Row with Silsbee overseeing Gene Norman, Don Menza, Tom Kubis, Gerald Wilson, Bill Watrous, Buddy Collette and Gerry Gibbs. Sunday"Around The Horn with Poston (moderator) and panelists Phil Norman, Jack Wheaton, Wayne Bergeron and Sonny LaRosa (the first question, directed to Bergeron, was "how did you get started? Wayne gave a five-minute reply worthy of a Jerry Seinfeld standup comedy routine, and that was only for openers). A fifth panel discussion, "Remembering Don Ellis, was held Sunday afternoon with Nick DiScala moderating panelists Patterson, Milcho Leviev, Fred Selden and Sam Falzone.
After Thursday afternoon's panel there was time to squeeze in two more concerts before supper, the first of which was presented by Roger Neumann's Rather Large Band (not "rather large big band, as he reminded his audience). Alto saxophonist Brian Scanlon was showcased on "Pennies From Heaven in a set that included "Undecided, "For Heaven's Sake, "The Cat Walk, Gerry Mulligan's "Elevation, Billy Strayhorn's "Take The 'A' Train and Madeline Vergari (Neumann) singing Sammy Nestico's arrangement of Ray Noble's "The Very Thought Of You. Neumann and Jennifer Hall engaged in a baritone saxophone "duel on "Cat Walk, while tubaist Jim Self thundered forth on "Elevation. Trumpeters Summers, Stacy Rowles and Jack Coan, tenor saxophonist Lee Callet and pianist Tom Ranier were among the other soloists. Huffsteter, whose sad duty it was to announce the passing of Buddy Childers, was next up with his big band, and it was at this point that the eye strain became too pronounced and I stopped taking notes. It was, however, another excellent set (dedicated to Childers' memory), and I seem to recall the ensemble performing "Soul Foo Yung (Doug Webb, tenor saxophone; Rick Keller, alto saxophone), "Astral Glide (Keller, soprano saxophone; Chris Connor, bass; Dave Tull, drums) and "Slo Flo (Jerry Pinter, tenor saxophone) among other tunes. They may also have played "A Waltz And Battery but I'm not sure about that one. In any event, all of those numbers are on the band's new CD, Live At Café 322, which I'm looking forward to hearing as soon as I have a spare moment. There was one anomalythe trumpet section consisted of Pete DeSiena, Lee Thornburg (from The Tonight Show band), Larry McGuire and Mark Lewis. No Bob Summers!
After supper came two concerts in onedrummer Frank Capp's Juggernaut, wailing on those good old Basie charts by Sammy Nestico and others, and vocalist Ernie Andrews backed by the Juggernaut in a program of well-known standards. Summers was back for this gig, complementing DeSiena, Ron King and Dan Bryan in the trumpet section. The standout soloists included Summers; saxophonists Webb, Lanny Morgan and Gene Cipriano; trombonists Charlie Morillas and Bob McChesney; pianist John Proulx, bassist Jim Hughart and of course, Capp at the drum kit. Alas, Andrews' smooth baritone saxophone was ill-served by the subpar sound system and wayward acoustics, but from what one could hear he is singing about as well as ever.
Friday's early film and a poolside concert by the Riverside Community College Jazz Ensemble, directed by Charlie Richard, were followed by another in the seemingly endless series of highlights, saxophonist Ann Patterson's all-female Maiden Voyage Big Band, which proved conclusively that one doesn't have to have an adam's apple to swing. The mouth-watering menu, which included "There Will Never Be Another You, Melba Liston's "Melba's Blues and "Just For You, Cedar Walton's "Bolivia, Rodgers and Hammerstein's "I Enjoy Being A Girl, Stacy Rowles' ardent vocal on "God Bless The Child, and an up-tempo romp called "Hammy that featured "the two Jennifers, Hall on baritone saxophone, Krupa on trombone, was warmly appreciated by the audience, so much so that Maiden Voyage was the only band we heard that was unable to leave the stage without playing an encoreCharlie Chaplin's "Smile (on which Patterson, Hall, Ariel Alexander, Sharon Hirata and Scheila Gonzales formed a charming five-flute choir).
Not to be outdone, composer/arranger/trombonist Mike Barone reached deep into his bag of tricks later that afternoon and stir-fried tasty new arrangements of such well-cooked chestnuts as "Melancholy Baby, "Has Anybody Seen My Gal?, "Yes, Sir, That's My Baby, "Darktown Strutters Ball, "Avalon and Irving Berlin's "How Deep Is The Ocean. Completing the spellbinding program were Bobby Timmons' funky "Dat Dere and Barone's "Elkhart (based, quite naturally, on "Indiana ). The ensemble was in superlative form (especially its sterling rhythm section comprised of pianist Proulx, bassist Joel Hamilton and drummer Paul Kreibich), as were the soloists, including Summers (again), trombonists Barone and Dave Ryan, and saxophonists Bishop, Brian Williams and Kim Richmond, who like Summers and others was a standout in several ensembles. Note to Mike B: when you ask an audience to identify a song, be sure you get it right yourself. It's not "Five Foot Two, Eyes Of Blue (even though that's part of the lyric) but "Has Anybody Seen My Gal? We'll forgive you this time...but don't let it happen again.
After Barone's band left the stage we were hungrynot for food but for more music, and Carl Saunders' Be Bop Big Band did its level best to assuage our appetite. Carl, as you may know, is one of those rare birds who can sit in any chair in the trumpet section and feel quite at home, playing lead, jazz or anything else. He soloed brilliantly, as usual, on Jerome Kern's "Dearly Beloved and with alto saxophonist Lanny Morgan on "Cotton Mouth. The trombone tandem of Scott Whitfield and Andy Martin captivated the audience on "Some 'Bones Of Contention, as did Scanlon and trumpeter Ron Stout on "Never Always. Saunders rang down the curtain with Bronislau Kaper's seductive "Invitation.
As supper was running late, we had to pass on the first of the event's small-group sessions, by the Gerry Gibbs Thrasher Sextet, but heard many positive comments about the band's impressive musicianship and unflagging energy. Besides drummer Gibbs, scion of the renowned vibraphonist Terry Gibbs, the members of the sextet were reedmen Rob Hardt, Justin Vasquez and Eric Hargett, pianist Andy Langhan and bassist Derek Oles.
Speaking of energy, Gordon Goodwin's Big Phat Band, the last to bat on Friday evening, furnished that in abundance, thundering through an hour-long program whose unabashed enthusiasm was equaled only by its remarkable proficiency. A few people grumbled later that the band was too slick and well-rehearsed, but what's so bad about playing good? (I know, that should be "playing well it's called poetic license, or something like that). Goodwin had an all-star in every chair, and they played like it. As for the material, it consisted entirely (I believe) of Goodwin's charts, and they were sharp and wide-ranging, from the opening "High Maintenance through "El Macho Muchacho, "Count Bubba's Revenge, "Theme From Attack Of The Killer Tomatoes, "Chance Encounters, "Lipsmanship, "So CloseAnd Yet So Far, "Horn Of Puente and "Swingin' For The Fences (a.k.a. "Sweet Georgia Brown"). Trumpeter Wayne Bergeron was featured on "Puente, trombonist Andy Martin on "So Close, tenor saxophonist Jeff Driskill on "Encounters, Goodwin's formidable trumpet section (Bergeron, Summers, Dan Fornero, Dan Savant) on the tortuous "Lipsmanship. A wonderful way to end the day.
Saturday morning dawned far too early, and we were only halfway to the finish line. The film was early too, as was the poolside session by the Saddleback College Big Band directed by Joey Sellers, which meant that Gerry Gibbs' second performance, this time with his eighteen-member Thrasher Big Band, coincided with the lunch hour. A difficult choice, but food won out and we saw and heard only a part of Gerry's concert. Like the sextet, the larger ensemble exudes raw energy, and Gerry's drums were literally taking a beating. I can't say what tunes were on the list (you probably wouldn't know them anyway) except for dad Terry's "That's Why It's Called The Blues and the zestful closer, Randy Brecker's "Some Skunk Funk, which was well-played but far too drawn out. Vocalist Joan Carroll was quite good on "You've Changed and "I'm Playing The Field.
Next up was one of my favorite arrangers, the incomparable Tom Kubis, who brought along some great players to interpret his entrancing charts and featured a number of them in one of the week's most persuasive performances. Trumpeters Jeff Bunnel and Stan Martin were front and center on W.C. Handy's "St. Louis Blues, bass trombonist Rich Bullock on Ellington's "Don't Get Around Much Anymore, trombonist Andy Martin on Juan Tizol's "Caravan, trombonist Alex Iles and alto saxophonist Rusty Higgins on "Frankie And Johnny, the trombone section (Martin, Iles, Bullock, Charlie Morillas) on "Bill Bailey. Kubis threw in a pair of typically dazzling originals, "Hospital Blues (featuring Wayne Bergeron's soaring trumpet) and "Samba Dees Godda Do It, on which Morillas, guitarist Mike Higgins and Kubis, on soprano saxophone, were awesome.
It's good that a panel discussion followed, as I needed time to catch my breath and regain my equilibrium after that invigorating set. The respite ended with the introduction of the first of two more dynamic bands, led respectively by Don Menza and Bill Watrous, with Menza's ensemble first onstage in the California Ballroom. Don opened with his arrangement of "Caravan, showcasing his tenor and the band's superb pianist, Tom Ranier. Menza was featured again on the ballad "Where Did Summer Go, trumpeter Ron King on Menza's "Rose Tattoo, alto saxophonist Lanny Morgan on a ballad whose name I didn't catch, the trombone section (Alex Iles, Bob McChesney, Charlie Loper, Bill Reichenbach) on the lively "T 'n T, the trumpet section (Summers, King, Thornburg, Chuck Findley) on the fast-paced "Dizzyland.
No doubt a tough act to follow, but Watrous and his mates were up to the challenge, blowing hot, cool and ardently through a program that included three charts by Gordon Goodwin ("It'll Count If It Goes, "Mama Llama Samba, "I Got D' Zzzzzs ), Johnny Mandel's "Emily (a handsome vehicle for Watrous's glossy trombone) and a tune whose name sounded like "Rhythm Samba (I hope I got that right). Watrous and pianist Jim Cox shared solo honors on the opener, "Low Life, with other cogent statements along the way courtesy of alto saxophonist Glen Berger, tenor saxophonist Billy Kerr, trumpeters Summers and Huffsteter, trombonist McChesney and bassist Trey Henry. Drummer Ray Brinker was a paragon of perception and power, as he was in the ensembles led by Kubis and Wayne Bergeron.
On Friday, Saturday and Sunday the hotel had prepared special buffet dinners to be served in the lobby area, and those who hung around to sample the food were treated to a special event, a crowd-pleasing showcase concert by Sonny LaRosa and America's Youngest Jazz Band, a group of twenty-two well-dressed and confident musicians from Florida ranging in age from four(!) to thirteen years. A bandstand was set up in the lobby area (this was the only concert not held in the ballroom or at poolside), and no matter what food the onlookers had ordered, LaRosa's kids soon had them eating out of their hands. This was especially true of the band's lone four-year-old, vocalist Shekinah Martin, and thirteen-year-old drummer Trey Moore who wowed the audience on his feature, "Sing Sing Sing. But LaRosa, who formed the band with less than half a dozen eager beginners almost thirty years ago, sees to it that everyone has at least one chance to shine, and each one makes the most of it. Standing ovations were the order of the day, and even though the music was fairly simple and straightforward, as one would expect from kids their age, it was nonetheless pleasing. Saturday was Sonny's eighty-first birthday (how's that for polarity?), which gave everyone a chance to wish him many more. As for AYJB, it reprised its spirited performance for another appreciative audience at poolside on Sunday.
Saturday evening was reserved for two veterans of the big-band scene, Buddy Collette and the seemingly ageless Gerald Wilson, each of whom fronted his own band. Buddy, who's been confined to a wheelchair since suffering a stroke, was first up, and as I've been an admirer of his for many years, it saddens me to report that his band's concert was, in my opinion, the most problematic and slipshod of the week. The brass sounded disoriented and out of sync, nor did the reeds fare much better. One may ascribe some of the problem to the sound system, but not all of it. The band simply seemed unprepared, and that's a shame. On the plus side, vocalist Cheryl Conley sang well on "Witchcraft and "Peel Me A Grape. Beyond that, there's not much to say except that the rhythm section (Larry Nash, piano; Doug MacDonald, guitar; Richard Simon, bass; Harold Mason, drums) did its best to hold things together under trying conditions.
Wilson's orchestra, on the other hand, was focused and ready, opening with a seductive "Blues (For The Count) before featuring soprano saxophonist Scott Mayo on one of five movements from Wilson's "Theme For Monterey. The set also included Miles Davis' "Milestones and Wilson's "Blues For Yna Yna before closing with a pair of his Latin-inflected compositions, "Carlos and "Viva Tirado, both dedicated to acclaimed bullfighters. Saxophonists Mayo, Louis Taylor, Carl Randall, Kamasi Washington and Jack Nimitz got a workout on "Milestones, while trumpeter Ron Barrows had the spotlight to himself on "Carlos. Trumpeter Snooky Young, like Wilson an octogenarian, soloed briefly on "Count before taking his leave shortly before the leader counted the tempo on "Milestones. Among Wilson's more impressive soloists were two of his "students at USC, Washington and trombonist Isaac Smith. Judging from what was heard, it shouldn't be long before they are teaching others.
Anyone who believed that Sunday should be a day of rest hadn't reckoned on Poston, who summoned everyone to the ballroom at eight a.m. for the fourth of five films, then to the San Diego Room for Panel No. 4. After the Youngest Jazz Band's well-received poolside concert it was time for another group of relative youngsters, the hand-picked Collegiate Neophonic Orchestra of Southern California, to take center stage. Director Jack Wheaton had the ensemble well-prepared, and there were no missteps in a program that included two of Bill Holman's electrifying charts, "Limehouse Blues and "What's New, alongside "Perdido, Kenton's "Concerto To End All Concertos, James Moody's "Moody's Mood and Johnny Richards' "La Suerte De Los Tontos from the Kenton orchestra's Cuban Fire suite, among others. Soloists were bright and resourceful, especially saxophonists Andrew Balogh, Steve Horist and Fermin Chavez, trumpeter Brian Owen, pianist Hiroe Sekine, bassist Carter Wallace and drummer Jonathan Bradley. The saxophone section was especially impressive in recreating Moody's memorable solo on "Mood. The audience was small but the response was upbeat and appreciative.
Wayne Bergeron's band was next up, and if the students weren't taking notes they should have been. Bergeron featured himself on Bill Liston's "Friend Like Me, pianist Christian Jacob and alto saxophonist Rusty Higgins on Liston's adaptation of Tchaikovsky's "Waltz Of The Flowers from the Nutcracker suite. After a flag-waver whose long name sounded something like "You Ate What, Mr. Sousaphone?, Bergeron teamed with trumpeter Warren Luening on "Maynard and Waynard, which Wayne had recorded with his role model, Maynard Ferguson, on the band's recent album, Plays Well With Others. Andy Martin was featured on the standard "I Thought About You, which preceded Tom Kubis's arrangement of "You Go To My Head. After reprising the Ray Charles hit, "Georgia, the band closed with a pair of originals by Kubis, "High Clouds And A Good Chance Of Wayne (featuring guess-who) and "Rhythm Method. Another in a series of gratifying performances.
Following the last of the panel discussions, much of the late afternoon was set aside for the film Don Ellis: Electric Heart, a documentary that scans the life of the iconoclastic trumpeter who died twenty-nine years ago at age forty-four. If one managed to remain seated through the first twenty minutes or so, he or she may have gained some insight into Ellis' music while viewing vintage clips of his band that are palatable if not spellbinding. But those first twenty minutes are positively deadly! Ellis is seen performing (the term is used loosely) a train-wreck of a concert with Leonard Bernstein and the New York Philharmonic that should have been left on the cutting-room floor. Sorry, Ellis fans, but it is travesties such as this one that have helped cause the undoing of Jazz as we know it. My opinion, of course. The rest of the film is appreciably better, even though the narrator (and I don't know who she is) has to be among the worst I've ever heard (where is Orson Welles when we need him?). Note to producer John Vizzusi: scrap the NY Phil and lead with the Bulgarian tune, which at least has energy and purpose. To his credit, Vizzusi says the film is a work in progress and is being trimmed and revised prior to an international tour.
The meter was already running overtime when Phil Norman's Tentet came onstage to hustle through an agreeable set that included two charts, "Sugar and "Claire De Lune, by the man who couldn't be there, Bob Florence; Sonny Rollins' "Doxy, smartly arranged by Roger Neumann; Kim Richmond's study of "The Outlaw and "Tumbling Tumbleweeds, and, once again, "La Suerte De Los Tontos from Cuban Fire. With the finish line within shouting distance, Betty and I joined Norm and Faye Tompach for supper and pleasant conversation, returning to the hotel in time to catch only a part of Adventures In Time, performed by an all-star band directed by Jack Wheaton and showcasing a number of Stan Kenton alumni. While we didn't hear enough to form an opinion, the reviews we heard were decidedly mixed.
By now Betty and I were feeling rather frazzled, and having seen and been less than inspired by the Don Ellis film decided to skip the last concert, performed by the Don Ellis Alumni Band directed by pianist Milcho Leviev, about which we heard glowing reports from a number of those who attended. Even so, I don't suspect it is something we would have especially appreciated. When all is said and done I'm a four-four guy who has trouble following anything more elaborate, even if it does swing, which Ellis surely did on occasion. On Monday, we left Swing Into Spring behind and swung onto a plane headed back to Albuquerque and home.
Some final thoughts....
Before closing, I feel obliged to address some issues that arose during the event and have been discussed (ad infinitum) at various web sites since then. First, the sound system. Yes, everything was over-mic'd and over-amplified, and yes, the bands would have sounded better had there been less messing with the natural sound. But that's the rule today, not the exception. Every band I've heard from middle school on up for the last several years has used enough microphones and amps to make a gentle breeze sound like a roaring hurricane. It didn't start with Poston, nor will it end there. It's something we'll either have to live with or stay home. The crushing wall of sound is one of two reasons I always sit in the back row at big-band concerts (the other is that no one ever says "take off your hat ). Of course, not everyone can do that (there's only one back row). Ear plugs may help (Betty had to put fingers in her ears during especially agonizing passages). Aside from that, not much can be done unless the audience is allowed to vote for acoustic or amplified sound (an interesting albeit idealistic concept).
Second, the number of musicians playing in more than one band. In this case, that was unavoidable but hardly epidemic. I didn't count heads but others did. According to the UK's Gordon Sapsed, there were 235 musicians (pro division) performing. "Of that number, he writes, "less than ten percent played more than two sets and only thirteen played more than three. Bob Summers played in nine bands, Andy Martin in six, and I remember seeing trumpeter Pete DeSiena in several. But they were the exceptions, and if it hadn't been for their presence some groups may have come up short in the "all hands on deck department. That wasn't an issue with me then (every band is more or less different, no matter who's in what chair) and it isn't now.
Third, who was "best among the groups or "better than the others. I won't even go there. Almost everyone had his or her own favorites, and perhaps I did too, but I'm not saying who they were. The fact is, I enjoyed almost everything I heard, and hope others felt the same. As Bill Watrous noted, "these are world-class musicians. Some may knock them; I won't. If any were less than pleasing to my ears, I've said that. But that's as far as it goes.
Fourth, the lack of diversity within the bands. That, I will readily admit, is a problem. But I don't have an answer. While the scarcity of black musicians has been duly noted (aside from the Collette and Wilson bands, one could tally the number on one hand with fingers to spare), I was struck as well by the conspicuous absence of women. Ann Patterson's Maiden Voyage left no doubt that they can play, but I counted only ten (including Patterson, Jennifer Hall and horn players Stephanie O'Keefe and Kristin Morrison) in other groups (aside from vocalists, that is). Baritone Nancy Newman and bassist Kristin Korb played in Mike Vax's band at Balboa. Bassist Jennifer Leitham is one of the best, and we also heard from trumpeter/vocalist Rowles, percussionist D. Huffsteter and trumpeters Anne King and Deborah Wagner. Huffsteter is married to Steve Huffsteter, Wagner to Wayne Bergeron, Newman to tenor Billy Kerr, while Rowles is the daughter of pianist Jimmy Rowles. It would seem at first glance that many women need a "family connection to gain entrance to the fraternity. Something should be done about that, but I don't know what. There is no quota system in jazz, and leaders are free to use whomever they please. At this point in time, that means mostly men.
Finally, the observation that gave me the biggest laugh, that some of the bands (not mentioning any names) simply sounded "too polished. In other words, they were playing in tune and read perfectly whatever was placed in front of them. Silly me, I always thought that's what good bands were supposed to do. None was flawless, of course, but most of the lapses were so quick and infrequent as to be inaudible to most ears. Some of the sections were downright awesome, which is the way it should be. I doubt that anyone ever said to Basie or Kenton, "I love the band but it's too damn tight. As long as the group is swinging, I don't really care that everyone is playing in unison. In fact, I rather like it. As Gordon Sapsed wrote of the event, "Without exception, every set I heard at Poston would have attracted a full house at more than twice the ticket price in the UK and [would] have sent the audience away thinking, 'that's one of the best concerts I have ever attended'.
Many thanks to Ken Poston and the L.A. Jazz Institute for putting together such a marvelous event. I become fatigued simply imagining all the work that must have gone into it. And always the visionary, Poston is busy planning the next one, whose tentative dates are October 4-7 with a "bonus trip October 3 to the Whiskey-a-Go-Go on Sunset Boulevard for an all-star tribute to Buddy Rich. The lineup hasn't been set but the names Holman and Florence have been mentioned. Stay tuned . . .
That's it for now. Until next time, when we pay our respects to the great Buddy Childers, keep swingin'!
New and Noteworthy
1. Igor Butman Big Band, The Eternal Triangle (Access Industries)
2. Robert Bachner Big Band, Moments of Noise (ATS Records)
3. The Boulevard Big Band, Live at Harlings Upstairs (Boulevard Records)
4. Abe Silverman Big Band, Dream Theme (Dream Theme Records)
5. Wayne Bergeron, Plays Well with Others (Concord Jazz)
6. Anat Cohen and the Anzic Orchestra, Noir (Anzic Records)
7. Southwest Jazz Orchestra, Live at the Albuquerque Museum (SWJO)
8. No Name Horses, Stinger (no label)
9. European Youth Jazz Orchestra, Swinging Europe 2006 (Music Mecca)
10. Les Hooper Band, Out of the Woods (Hooperman Records)
11. Majestic Jazz Orchestra, Axiom Asunder (Carlisle Compositions)
12. James L. Dean Big Band, Swingin' at the Whiskey Café (Cexton)
13. Texas Instruments Jazz Band, AlgoRhythm (TI)
14. University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Minimal Effort (UNL)
15. Swiss Jazz Orchestra/Jim McNeely, Paul Klee (Mons)