Swingin' Into Spring, Poston-Style
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.