Swingin' Into Spring, Poston-Style
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'.