Another August, Another Summit
August has flown, and with it the seventh annual Prescott (AZ) Jazz Summit, one of a waning number of such events that isn't remiss in using the name "jazz in its title. There were no aberrations here, no rock, heavy metal, hip-hop, folk or country music masquerading as jazz, only straight-ahead blowing by a number of world-class musicians who performed at three concerts (four, if one includes a free noontime performance on Friday at Prescott's city square) and mentored high-school musicians on Saturday afternoon.
Betty and I were there for our third Summit in a row, arriving early Thursday evening (August 23) in time to attend a barbecue hosted by Summit organizer/trumpeter Mike Vax at his lovely home overlooking Prescott Valley. Most of the musicians were there including the peerless trumpeter Carl Saunders (making his first Summit appearance), trombonist Scott Whitfield and his lovely companion/singing partner, Ginger Berglund, ex-Kenton drummer Gary Hobbs, guitarist Jack Petersen, vocalist Margo Reed, local trumpeter Steve Annibale and pianist Reggie Thomas from St. Louis, a superb stand-in for the great Bob Florence who was unable to be there owing to some temporary health problems. The Summit's other headliner, alto saxophonist Bud Shank, wasn't at the barbecue but would make his presence known (with an exclamation point) on Saturday evening.
Hobbs' arrival was slightly delayed, as the rental van in which he was riding with Norm and Faye Tompach was broadsided while making a left turn en route to pick up his drum kit in the Phoenix suburb of Glendale. The van was totaled but fortunately its occupants emerged shaken but unscathed. Hobbs was ready to rumble at the noon concert on Friday, as were Saunders, Vax, Whitfield, Berglund, Petersen, Reed, Annibale, tenor saxophonist Tony Vacca, pianist Les Czimber and bassist Bob Lashier. The hour-long program opened with "Perdido and included "Bernie's Tune, "The Girl From Ipanema, an unnamed blues, and vocals by Whitfield/Berglund on "How High The Moon and Reed on "I'm Beginning To See The Light.
The Friday evening concert was preceded by the annual "meet the musicians dinner at the Hassayampa Inn, directly across the street from the main venue, the Elks Theatre. Attendance at the concert was modest, about the same as in years past, but those who made the effort were rewarded with some outstanding blowing, especially by Saunders, Whitfield, Vacca and Thomas, and a fiery duel between trumpeters Saunders and Vax (the latter on flugelhorn) on Sonny Rollins' "Oleo. At its end, the audience was on its feet cheering and applauding as smoke curled from both horns. Whitfield and Berglund added crowd-pleasing duets on "You Inspire Me, "Sugar and "Prelude To A Kiss.
If there was a downside it lay in the planning; the first half of the concert, showcasing a number of groups including the superb Arizona Jazz Academy ensemble from Tucson and emceed by Al McCoy, the voice of the Phoenix Suns basketball team, and Blaise Lantana of KJZZ Radio in Phoenix, dragged on for roughly two hours before intermission, causing even the most ardent fans to become restless. After the break, blues singer Reed, backed by pianist Joel Robin's trio (Tom Winker, bass; Cleve Huff, drums) and saxophonist Vacca, opened a set that may still be going on, as far as we know. Betty and I left after the eighth (or ninth) number. And by that time, many others in the audience had done the same. Splendid music, but asking an audience to sit for two hours before an intermission and then come back for more is simply asking too much. Are you listening, Mike?
For the first time, Betty and I skipped the Saturday afternoon tutoring session to drive to Sedona with our friends Norm and Faye Tompach. While we were away, Vax and his fellow musicians including Saunders, Whitfield, Thomas, Vacca, Hobbs, Annibale and Petersen were dispensing nuggets of wisdom to the Jazz Summit All-Star Band, Prescott High School Jazz Ensembles 1 and 2, Jazz ensembles from Chino Valley and Tucson high schools, and the Arizona Jazz Academy.
The twelve-piece Sedona Jazz on the Rocks youth ensemble opened the Saturday evening concert at the Ruth Street Theatre, impressing everyone with their talent and enthusiasm. Vocalist Susannah Martin, a relative newcomer to Arizona, was next up, proving beyond doubt that the acoustics at Ruth Street left much to be desired, at least for vocalists (although Whitfield/Berglund fared much better on their duet, "All My Tomorrows ). The first act was punctuated by blazing versions of the standards "It's You or No One (featuring Saunders, Whitfield, Thomas, Hobbs and bassist Dwight Kilian in a no-holds-barred contest) and "There Will Never Be Another You (ditto for Saunders, Whitfield, Vacca and Vax).