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Big Band Report

Another August, Another Summit

By Published: September 12, 2007
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).

After intermission, on an otherwise almost-bare stage, the incomparable Bud Shank sat casually on a stool in front of Thomas, Kilian and Hobbs and proceeded for the next hour to blow the audience away with his awesome virtuosity. I can't recall every number but they included Ray Noble's "The Touch Of Your Lips, Cole Porter's "Night And Day, and three more standards—"I Can't Get Started, "Here's That Rainy Day and one of my special favorites, "The Night Has A Thousand Eyes. Even though on oxygen owing to a recent illness, Shank showed no signs of fatigue or shortness of breath as he ingeniously designed one remarkable solo after another, reaffirming his supremacy after more than half a century at the top of his game. The second half of the concert belonged to Shank, and it was indeed a marvelous way to end the evening.

On Sunday morning, Betty and I chose the earlier of two Jazz Brunches at the Inn (and passed over the afternoon's closing concert), as we had to catch an afternoon flight from Phoenix to Albuquerque (which, as it turns out, was delayed for almost two hours). Our brunch featured entertainment by the Hot Club of Prescott (Petersen, Winker, drummer Frankie Chavez and Steve Batt on mandolin) with special guests. Shank and Saunders performed together at the later brunch, something we'd love to have seen and heard. Maybe next year.

And speaking of next year, there will almost surely be an eighth annual Jazz Summit. Vax wants to make the event bigger and better, but needs help to do so. If you have late August free, and would like to attend and support a jazz festival that is worthy of the name, check it out.

Also in August...

We went to The Outpost Performance Space in Albuquerque on August 2 for a rather disappointing evening whose headliner, trumpeter Bobby Shew, didn't appear until after intermission and then played only three numbers, one with rhythm only, two with guest saxophonist Rick Keller from L.A. If that was a letdown, it was no more so than the warmed-over scraps dished out earlier by bassist Rodney Bowe's funk-based group. Drummer Diego Arencon's trio, which followed, was a bit more palatable, but there simply wasn't enough Shew to assuage one's appetite for straight-on blowing. Bobby was to have knee surgery in August and again in September, and we certainly wish him well.

Two weeks later we were at the home of flutist Jennifer Cole, east of the Sandia Mountains, for an informal Sunday afternoon session, one of several she hosts each year, this one featuring pianist Mark Levine, bassist John Wiitala and drummer Akira Tana with guest flutist Ali Ryerson, who was in town for the National Flute Association's annual convention (and is Cole's teacher). We'd run into Cole quite by accident at an arts and crafts fair and were invited to join the sixty-or-so regulars who attend her soirees. The music performances, held in a living room with a breathtaking view of the mountains to the northeast, are followed by a buffet in which guests mingle with musicians amid lively conversation. We definitely plan to return.

One event we regretfully missed (as it started at 10 in the evening, well past our bedtime) took place near the end of the Flute Association's event at the Albuquerque Convention Center, when Ryerson led a "big band comprised of twenty-two flutes and rhythm. Holly Hofmann, another outstanding flutist from the West Coast, was a member of the ensemble. Now that would have been something to hear...

On the horizon

As this is written, we are less than a month away from the Los Angeles Jazz Institute's "Big Band Showcase, a four-day event (October 4-7) at the Sheraton Four Points LAX Hotel whose performing big bands number almost twenty. This follows last May's "Swing Into Spring in which twenty-four of the West Coast's premier ensembles appeared, and one of the amazing aspects of this event is that none of these bands was in the lineup six months ago. Among the many highlights: a day-long tribute to composer/arranger extraordinaire Bill Holman whose band will perform three times that day (Friday), the first a "Kenton Showcase featuring Holman's compositions and arrangements for the Stan Kenton Orchestra, the second a "Bill Holman Songbook with compositions and arrangements written for Woody Herman, Charlie Barnet, Maynard Ferguson and Buddy Rich plus gems from his own albums including In A Jazz Orbit, The Fabulous Bill Holman and Bill Holman's Great Big Band.

Other groups set to perform include ensembles led by Gary Urwin, Kim Richmond, Terry Gibbs, Pete Christlieb, Clare Fischer, Chris Walden and Jack Sheldon, along with the Clayton-Hamilton Orchestra, the Buddy Childers Big Band directed by Ron King, the Los Angeles Jazz Orchestra and Collegiate Neophonic Orchestra of Southern California, and all-star groups featuring alumni from the Kenton and Ferguson orchestras. The Bob Florence Limited Edition was scheduled to appear Saturday afternoon but had to cancel owing to Florence's recent illness. College bands performing at poolside include Cal State-Northridge, Cal State-Long Beach, Cal State-Fullerton and Fullerton College. For those who can't get enough, there'll be four vintage films and five panel discussions.

Oh, and there's a VIP package for early-birds, a pre-festival party and concert by a Buddy Rich alumni band featuring Chuck Findley, Charles Owens, Eric Miyashiro and special guest Ed Shaughnessy, directed (we hope) by Bobby Shew who plans to be there if his knees are up to the task. For information, go to lajazzinstitute.org or phone 562-985-7065.

For those further east, the third annual Pittsfield (MA) City Jazz Festival will be held that same weekend, October 4-7. Concert performances are scheduled at venues around the city, while dozens of local restaurants will feature regionally based artists in free performances before (and in some cases after) the concerts.

Drummer Winard Harper's sextet returns from last year's success to perform on opening night, and Harper will also be featured with the Williams College Jazz Ensemble. On October 5, there'll be a Latin Jazz Dance Party with Alex Torres and the Latin Jazz Kings, and a Women in Jazz evening on October 6 will showcase baritone saxophonist Claire Daly's quartet and pianist Peggy Stern's group with guest soloist Grace Kelly, a 15-year-old alto sax prodigy who appeared with Phil Woods at last year's event. The festival wraps up on Sunday, October 7, with a performance by pianist John Medeski and an all-star orchestra comprised of students from Pittsfield high schools directed by Bill Chapman.

For information and / or tickets, go to www.PittsfieldCityJazz.org or contact Ed Bride, 413-442-7718 (JazzPittsfield@aol.com)

Later in October (25-28), Jazz Improv magazine will host its first Jazz Convention and Festival at the New Yorker Hotel and Manhattan Center in NYC. In addition to more than eighty panels and workshops on various aspects of Jazz and the music business, there'll be a stellar lineup of performers including McCoy Tyner's trio, Pat Martino, the Jimmy Heath Big Band, Geri Allen, Wallace Roney, Roy Haynes, Sonny Fortune, the Sun Ra Arkestra and Stanley Clarke Trio. Your web contact is jazz@jazzimprov.com. The phone number is 215-885-0670.

RIP, Herb Pomeroy

Jazz lost another shining star August 11 when trumpeter/bandleader/educator Herb Pomeroy died in Gloucester, MA, at age seventy-seven. Having played with a number of jazz giants including Charlie Parker, Lionel Hampton, Duke Ellington, Stan Kenton and fellow Bostonian Serge Chaloff, Pomeroy formed his own big band and led it from 1957 through the mid-'60s. The band appeared at Carnegie Hall and the Newport Jazz Festival and backed a number of popular singers including Tony Bennett, Irene Kral and Frank Sinatra. As a teacher, Pomeroy helped found Boston's Jazz Workshop with saxophonist Charlie Mariano, taught for forty-one years at the Berklee School of Music and also at the Lenox School of Music, where he conducted a full orchestra comprised of his students. Following his retirement in 1995, he was given an honorary doctorate from the Berklee school, and in 2004 was named Musician of the Year by the Boston Musicians Association. He was inducted into the International Association for Jazz Education (IAJE) Hall of Fame in 1996, and a year later was inducted into Down Beat magazine's Jazz Education Hall of Fame. The roster of his students is impressive, and includes Gary Burton, Alan Broadbent, Toshiko Akiyoshi and Miroslav Vitous. To say he'll be greatly missed is an understatement.

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

New and Noteworthy

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