Ken Poston's Big Band Showcase: You Had to Be There
So what's it really like, inquiring minds often ask, to be present at one of Ken Poston's exhaustive (not to mention exhausting) big-band extravaganzas? Well, there are perhaps as many answers to the question as there are those who attend these semi-annual auditory marathons. Speaking for myself, by the end of Day 1 of the Poston/L.A. Jazz Institute's Big Band Showcase, held October 4-7 at the Sheraton LAX Four Points hotel, I was merely euphoric. By the end of Day 2a breathtaking non-stop tribute to the great composer / arranger Bill Holman that featured not one, not two, but three performances by Holman's mind-blowing big bandI was starting to pray that I'd be able to paint in mere words a reasonable picture of an event that is essentially indescribable. By the end of Day 3, I'd decided that I couldn't. As is true of any musical event, you really had to be there to fully appreciate it. What I can do is let you know what happened and when; after that, you (and your imagination) are by and large on your own.
Wednesday 3 October...
I arrived in Los Angeles early Wednesday afternoon, as I'd made plans to visit an aunt in Brentwood that day before attending the evening's "bonus event, a salute to the incomparable Buddy Rich by a fifteen-member "alumni band led by trumpeter Bobby Shew and featuring longtime Tonight Show drummer Ed Shaughnessy sitting in for Buddy. The California Ballroom, where most of the concerts were held, was reconfigured from auditorium to nightclub for the occasion, with well-set tables and a buffet dinner preceding the main event. The band had me in its pocket from the opening measure of Pete Meyers' definitive arrangement of "Love for Sale, and when later on they played one of my favorite charts, Bill Potts' crowd-pleasing "Big Swing Face, this partisan was in big-band heaven. Other classic numbers"Group Shot, "Ready Mix" (the first of the weekend's many Bill Holman charts), "Mexicali Nose, "Keep the Customer Satisfied, "New Blues, "Norwegian Wood, "The Juicer Is Wild, "Time Check were interspersed with comments and stories about Buddy and his band by Shew (who was there when Rich rebuilt the band in the mid-'60s) and Shaughnessy. The ensemble was tight and focused, the soloists quick and resourceful. Besides Shew and Shaughnessy, they included trumpeter Carl Saunders, altos Billy Kerr and Lanny Morgan, tenors Tom Peterson and Rob Lockart, trombonist Dave Ryan and pianist Matt Harris. Not everyone was an alumnus, but lead trumpeter Eric Miyashiro, who would later conduct a tribute to Maynard Ferguson, was. "I'm doing the best I can, gasped Shaughnessy, a close friend of Buddy's who affirmed that Rich was "a genius on this instrument, a stern disciplinarian who demanded and gave "110 percent all the time. Everyone left the ballroom happy, realizing they'd already seen and heard a marvelous concert and the Showcase hadn't even begun!
Thursday 4 October...
The main event got under way at ten o'clock Thursday morning in the San Diego Room with the first of four vintage film presentations, this one covering Hollywood shorts that spun corny plots around Gene Krupa, Harry James, Duke Ellington and the aforementioned Buddy Rich, who showed his vaudeville roots by not only drumming but singing and tap-dancing as well. There were poolside concerts each day (well, Friday's was actually held indoors because of troublesome winds), with director Matt Harris and the Cal State Northridge Jazz "A Band first up, followed in order by Cal State Long Beach, directed by Jeff Jarvis; Cal State Fullerton, led by Chuck Tumlinson; and Fullerton College, under Bruce Babad's baton. Each of the bands was well-prepared, and the after-concert comments were generally favorable.
The Gary Urwin Jazz Orchestra led off the weekend's prearranged ballroom concerts and earned the audience's swift approval with Urwin's seductive arrangement of Frank Loesser's "Slow Boat to China, featuring tenors Pete Christlieb and Glen Garrett. Carl Saunders was showcased on his own composition, "Autumn Sojourn, trumpeter Ron King and soprano Kim Richmond on Freddie Hubbard's "Sky Dive, Christlieb and Shew on a lovely reading of "My Foolish Heart. Guest trombonist Bill Watrous then joined the band to team with Christlieb on "Kindred Spirits and "The Gentle Rain, and was center stage alone on a splendid arrangement of "Girl Talk. The ensemble wrapped things up with "Song for Strayhorn (Richmond, alto; John Mitchell, baritone) and "Stormy Weather (Christlieb and Garrett, tenors).