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Big Band Report

Ken Poston's Big Band Showcase: You Had to Be There

By Published: October 29, 2007
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 2—a 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 band—I 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).

Following the first of five lively and entertaining panel discussions (Richmond, Urwin and King with moderator Kirk Silsbee), Richmond's Concert Jazz Orchestra came out swinging in the ballroom with the fast-paced "B.B., spotlighting altos Phil Feather and Billy Kerr, trumpeter Steve Huffsteter, Bill Roper's tuba and vocal effects by pianist John Proulx, who later sang on his own composition, "My Love for You. Also on the engaging program were Richmond's "Cloud Fields (John Yoakum, tenor sax), "Horizon Under (John Daversa, trumpet; Glen Berger, tenor sax), the opulent group enterprise "Poetry and nimble "Peace of Change (Huffsteter, trumpet; Joey Sellers, trombone). The orchestra closed with Richmond's tasteful arrangement of "America the Beautiful.

Before the dinner break, everyone was treated to a splendid performance by the Buddy Childers Big Band directed by Ron King. After an opening groover whose name I didn't catch, the ensemble scored points with the cleverly named "Band of Buddys, the ballad "Polka Dots and Moonbeams, Oliver Nelson's "Yearnin', Billy Byers' "Tetanus Sets In (written for Eddie "Lockjaw Davis), John Coltrane's "After the Rain, Michael Brecker's "Slings and Arrows and the standard "Out of This World. Besides trumpeter King, there was strong blowing by tenors Christlieb and Garnett, trumpeters Ron Stout and Jeff Kaye, alto Kerr, baritone Charlie Arena, trombonist Jacques Voyemant and pianist Yoon Seung Cho.

Completing the Thursday program was a concert devoted to the film music of Duke Ellington, performed by a fifteen-piece orchestra conducted by Charley Harrison, introduced by legendary guitarist Kenny Burrell and featuring former Ellington drummer Louie Bellson (Louie hasn't been well, and the less said about that the better). The film scores surveyed were Anatomy of a Murder, Assault on a Queen and Paris Blues. In the interest of full disclosure, I should confess that I heard only the first one, then went upstairs to bed. While I've nothing against Ellington (and love classic films), the truth is that (many) film scores lose much of their spirit and substance unless accompanied by the images on screen. From what I heard, that was certainly the case here—although things may have improved later on.

Friday 5 October...

Friday was Bill Holman Day, and after viewing film clips of Holman's writing, arranging and/or playing for bands led by Charlie Barnet, Shorty Rogers, Gerry Mulligan and Woody Herman, everyone moved to the California Ballroom for an exhilarating (almost) all-Holman concert by the Collegiate Neophonic Orchestra of Southern California led by Jack Wheaton with special guest Bruce Johnstone. After opening with Wheaton's "2001 Fanfare, the students scampered eagerly through Holman's arrangements of "Limehouse Blues, "What's New, "Stairway to the Stars and "Tico Tico before introducing Johnstone, a formidable presence on the challenging "Concerto for Baritone Sax and Neophonic Orchestra. The CNO wrapped the package with Holman's off-center treatment of Billy Strayhorn's "Take the 'A' Train. The orchestra was tight and focused, the soloists admirable.

After lunch came the long-awaited opening performance by the Bill Holman Big Band led by Holman himself ("Ken's putting me to work on my day," he joked)in a Kenton Showcase that highlighted his compositions and arrangements for the Stan Kenton Orchestra. The band roared out of the starting gate with "Bill Holman's Works, a composition that Holman said hadn't been recorded (but has, as "Kingfish ). Tenor Christlieb and trumpeter Bob Summers were the soloists. Alto Bruce Babad was featured on "In Lighter Vein (written for Lee Konitz), alto Lanny Morgan on a mercurial version of "Stella by Starlight, Morgan, trumpeter Ron Stout, tenor Doug Webb and trombonist Dave Ryan on "What's New. Holman wrote "Fearless Finlay and "Zoot! for one of his favorite players, the unrivaled tenor stylist Zoot Sims. Christlieb sat in for Zoot on the first, Webb on the second. The familiar "Theme and Variations, as it turns out, is one of three such motifs composed by Holman, with the others to be heard later. After another breathtaking solo by Christlieb on "Yesterdays (written for Bill Perkins), the band closed the concert in the only way possible, swaggering through Holman's classic arrangement of "Stompin' at the Savoy.

Holman faced off with silver-tongued Terry Gibbs in a lively and humorous Panel No. 2, which preceded an early-evening concert by the Pete Christlieb Big Band and a second performance by the Bill Holman Band, all before supper! Christlieb's ensemble opened with Miles Davis' "Seven Steps to Heaven with crisp solos by Summers, pianist Joe Bagg and "the late Ron King (who made it onstage about one bar before his solo began, then replaced Bobby Shew, a last-minute addition to the trumpet section). Once King was settled in, the band forged ahead with another look at "Stompin' at the Savoy, Sonny Rollins' "Pent-Up House, Holman's arrangements of "A Flower Is a Lovesome Thing and "In Walked Bud, and the wide-ranging "Bop Suey (based on "How High the Moon ) before closing with an Al Cohn composition whose name skipped past me. There was more unabashed wailing along the way by Christlieb, King, Summers and Bagg.

The Holman band's second performance, "The Bill Holman Songbook, zeroed in on compositions and arrangements written for his own and other bands (besides Kenton) during the '50s and '60s. The opener, "Norwegian Wood, written for Buddy Rich, featured trombonist Ryan and alto Morgan, while "Dancing Nightly, written for Maynard Ferguson, was a smooth-running vehicle for pianist Bagg, trumpeter Saunders, and tenors Christlieb and Webb. "You Go to My Head, from Holman's album In a Jazz Orbit, turned the spotlight on Morgan, Webb and trumpeter Ron Stout. "Ruth (a.k.a. "I'm Looking You Over ), also written for Buddy Rich, preceded the second of Holman's "Theme and Variations. Zoot Sims was the inspiration for "Fillings (showcasing Christlieb and Stout), while "Introduction to an Ending was written for Charlie Barnet, "Go Home for Gerry Mulligan's Concert Jazz Band, the out-of-tempo "After You've Gone for the Woody Herman Herd. Mention must be made of the superb solos by trombonist Andy Martin ("Ending, "Go Home ), baritone Bob Efford ("Go Home ), Stout, soprano Morgan ("After You've Gone ) and Christlieb (all of the above). Yet another thoroughly rewarding concert.

Following supper, those who were still responsive were treated to the "final concert by the dynamic Terry Gibbs Dream Band, performing "The Bill Holman Charts. Gibbs, who turns eighty-three this month (happy birthday, Terry!), said he'll continue to perform but no longer with the Dream Band. If this was indeed the band's last hurrah, it certainly ended with a bang, not a whimper. "Bill Holman wrote fifteen charts for the band, Gibbs said—and the band played every one of them, starting with "Begin the Beguine and ending with "Billie's Bounce. In between were such memorable charts as "Too Close for Comfort, Day In, Day Out, "I'll Take Romance, "Tico Tico, "Soft Eyes, "Ja-Da, "The Song Is You, "Pretty Blue Eyes and "Stardust. As diverting as they were, Gibbs' running commentary (and his repartee with alto saxophonist/resident quipster Med Flory) was equally engaging, eliciting one hearty laugh after another. Onstage, Gibbs resembles the Energizer Bunny, and there's seldom a dull moment when he is performing. Besides himself, Flory, Morgan, Shew, King and Huffsteter, the band's blue-chip soloists included baritone Jack Nimitz, trombonist Charlie Loper, trumpeter Warren Luening, bassist Hamilton Price, pianist Tom Ranier and drummer Gerry Gibbs, whose steady hands were a rhythmic asset throughout.

After a short break, the Bill Holman Band returned, this time to perform several of the leader's more recent compositions and arrangements, starting with snappy salutes to "Thelonious and "Woodrow, the first from his album A View from the Side, the second from last year's Hommage. Trumpeter Ron Stout was featured on "Someday My Prince Will Come, trombonist Andy Martin on "All the Way, tenor Pete Christlieb on "Goodbye Porkpie Hat. The buoyant program included "Theme and Variations No. 3 and closed with Holman's "Zoot and Al, a rip-roaring tribute to Sims and Cohn on which Christlieb and Webb locked horns and battled to a hard-earned draw. As usual, the rhythm section (Bagg, piano; Dan Lutz, bass; Kevin Kanner, drums) was outstanding, as was the spot-on trumpet section (Saunders, Stout, Summers, Pete DeSiena). What a way to end the day.

Saturday 6 October...

Saturday morning's third film embodied clips of the Lionel Hampton, Les Brown, Sauter-Finegan, Stan Kenton and Maynard Ferguson orchestras, with Mel Tormé guesting on drums with Kenton, tenor Dave Pell soloing with Brown, and Med Flory featured in a scene from the film The Nutty Professor with Jerry Lewis. The Kenton segment was especially apt, as it was followed (after Cal State Fullerton's poolside concert) by a panel discussion, "Stan Kenton in the 1970s, with moderator Kirk Silsbee and panelists Mike Vax, Dale Devoe, Kim Park, Mike Suter, Dennis Noday and Greg Smith.

First up in the ballroom was the Fischer Big Band, co-led by Clare Fischer and his son Brent. Its centerpiece consisted of four movements from a suite arranged by the younger Fischer of Modest Moussorgsky's "Pictures at an Exhibition, commissioned (and recorded) by Germany's excellent hr Big Band. Soloists included tenor Vince Trombetta III, trombonist Jacques Voyemant and alto Billy Kerr. Preceding the suite were "GF, "The Duke and "Miles Behind. Clare Fischer, who wasn't feeling up to par, was nonetheless radiant on a solo piano version of the ballad "Memories of You before the band returned to cap the concert with "Mischief and "Cal's On. Besides the soloists already named, there were riveting statements by trumpeters Saunders and Huffsteter, alto Gary Foster, trombonist Charlie Morillas, pianist Alan Steinberger and drummer Kendall Kay.

After another panel, "Maynard Ferguson in the 1970s, with Noday, Summers, Johnstone, Stan Mark, Biff Hannon and Nick Lane, it was time for Med Flory's Jazz Wave Big Band featuring SuperSax to show its wares. Flory, whose laid-back "direction and dry one-liners kept the audience chuckling, unleashed his alto on the saucy opener, "Jazz Wave, then let SuperSax (Flory, Christlieb, Lanny Morgan, Danny House, Jack Nimitz) flaunt its dexterity on "Parker's Mood, "Just Friends and "Moose the Mooche. After a loping "K.C. Blues (solos by pianist Tom Ranier and trumpeter Bob Summers), trumpeter Ron Stout was showcased on "One for Woody" (as he was on "Parker's Mood"), alto Morgan on a blistering version of "It's You or No One. Trombonists Andy Martin and Bob McChesney then "swapped musical notions (quoth Flory) on Al Cohn's "Wonderful You, Flory, Martin and tenor Pete Christlieb traded ideas on "Ho Hum, and Ranier added cogent remarks of his own on Bronislau Kaper's "Invitation.

Two more concerts followed the dinner break, the first by an all-star group, ten of whose members were alumni of the Stan Kenton Orchestra, directed by trumpeter Mike Vax (who had to rebuild a depleted saxophone section during an abbreviated rehearsal on Friday). Fortunately, Billy Kerr, Kim Richmond and Nancy Newman were able to step in for the last-minute absentees, decreasing the number of Kenton alumni but enabling the show to go on as planned. This was (for the most part) music played by Kenton's orchestras of the '70s, opening with the syrupy "Theme from Love Story (never one of my favorites) and continuing with the Willie Maiden classic, "A Little Minor Booze, and Mark Taylor's rhythmic "Granada Smoothie. The lone ballad, "Street of Dreams, introduced tenor saxophonist Kim Park, the younger half of perhaps the only father/son duo ever to play for Kenton. Park's smooth, tasteful solo awakened memories of such Kenton standouts as Bill Perkins and Richie Kamuca (others said Zoot Sims but I didn't hear that). Baritone Greg Smith was next at bat, and he cleared the bases on "A Smith Named Greg. Pianist Dave Barduhn enhanced his bustling arrangement of Stephen Sondheim's "Send in the Clowns, which preceded Ray Wetzel's memorable head chart, "Intermission Riff, the rather strange choice of the Czech national anthem, Hank Levy's "Hank's Opener, Al Yankee's uncommonly fast-moving arrangement of "Chelsea Bridge and the mandatory closer, "Artistry Jumps. Besides the soloists already named, there were incisive comments from altos Richmond and Kerr, trumpeters Vax, Noday, Jonathan Dane and John Daversa, trombonist Scott Whitfield, bassist Kristen Korb and drummer Gary Hobbs.

Even though Vax's band was roaring, things were about to become a whole lot louder, as trumpeter Eric Miyashiro led an all-star tribute to Maynard Ferguson, and especially to MF's more rock-centered ensembles of the '70s. Frankly, I never thought I'd hear another trumpeter who could nail seemingly unreachable high notes as cleanly and consistently as Maynard, but Miyashiro not only does so, he makes it seem ridiculously easy, as Maynard did. Those listeners who hadn't brought ear plugs—especially those seated near the front of the auditorium—were in for a rough go. Following the opening theme, Joe Zawinul's "Birdland, guest baritone Bruce Johnstone cut loose on the ubiquitous "Stay Loose with Bruce (known by many other names according to who was soloing). Another guest (and Ferguson alum), trumpeter Stan Mark, was engaging on "The Way We Were, Billy Kerr's flute nimbly expressive on the "Theme from Star Trek, while Johnstone and trombonist Nick Lane traded thunderbolts on "SuperBone Meets the Bad Man. "Primal Scream was precisely as advertised, with Jerry Pinter soloing on tenor and Biff Hannon on electric piano (which he played throughout, complementing drummer Hobbs and electric bassist Kenny Wild). Noday's high-register trumpet slowed the pace on "Maria while paving the way for the frenetic closer, "Left Bank Express (Kerr, soprano sax; Summers, trumpet; Johnstone, baritone sax). Ears still ringing, we made our way upstairs to bed, on the one hand elated, on the other realizing we still had another day to go.

Sunday 7 October...

Sunday morning's film, which included a rare clip of the UK's Tubby Hayes Big Band along with others by Ray Charles, the Clarke-Boland band, Oliver Nelson, Jimmy Owens, Dizzy Gillespie, Thad Jones-Mel Lewis and Buddy Rich (introduced by Bobby Darin) playing the "West Side Story Suite, was followed by the Fullerton College poolside concert and a fifth panel, this one introducing John and Jeff Clayton and Jeff Hamilton (co-leaders of the Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra) and Chris Walden, moderated by Larry Hathaway.

Following the panel discussion, Walden hurried over to the main ballroom to lead the Chris Walden Big Band in a program comprised of his stylish arrangements. Walden, who was born in Hamburg, Germany, and cut his musical teeth in the country's premier youth band, BuJazzO, has been in the U.S for a dozen years and has carved a successful career writing for film, television and other outlets. He opened with the up-tempo "Winter Games, David Foster's theme for the XX Winter Olympics in Torino, Italy. Brisk solo by tenor Brandon Fields, powerful drumming courtesy of Dick Weller. Disney's "When You Wish Upon a Star, featuring alto Kim Richmond, and the standard "Polka Dots and Moonbeams, lovingly caressed by trumpeter Bobby Shew, were sandwiched around the lively original "In the Doghouse, with appropriate barks by Shew, alto Rob Lockart and pianist Alan Steinberger. Also on the menu were Clifford Brown's delicious "Joy Spring (a dynamic trumpet "duel between Shew and former student Kye Palmer) and two well-received numbers by guest vocalist Tierney Sutton, "People Will Say We're in Love and a haunting ballad whose name I didn't catch.

As the finish line neared, it was time for the inimitable Jack Sheldon and his ensemble to serve up a pre-supper appetizer. Jack was in great form, vocally, on trumpet and in the trademark one-liners he has honed to perfection. "I was born in Jacksonville, Florida, he observed. "The doctor took one look at me and sewed my mother's knees together. And again: "I was married for twenty years—then my wife started doing what I'd been doing. Risqué, yes, but the guy is funny—always has been. And he leads a talented group of musicians, even though there's seldom any doubt that it's "The Jack Sheldon Big Band. Jack sang on six of the eleven numbers and was featured on trumpet on "Stardust. And between tunes he commanded the stage, casually seated on a stool to the left of the band (from the audience's view). The vocals were on "Just in Time, "The Way You Look Tonight, "Tangerine, It Had to Be You, a lovely balled called "Where Do You Start, and "Our Love Is Here to Stay. Trumpeter Charlie Davis was showcased on the theme from Beauty and the Beast, trombonist Andy Martin on "Caravan" and an opening blues whose name scurried past me. The closer was a no-holds-barred version of Ray Noble's "Cherokee that accommodated brief solos by everyone in the band, section by section.

After supper, the Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra came onstage for a two-part performance, and if there were mixed emotions that was because it's a superb working band but also the last one that would be heard this weekend. The orchestra got straight down to business with John Clayton's "I Be Serious 'Bout Dem Blues, with an engaging opening solo by octogenarian Snooky Young who it seems has played with almost everyone this side of King Oliver. Solos by tenor Rickey Woodard, alto Jeff Clayton, trombonist George Bohanon and pianist Tamir Hendelman followed Young's. Next up was Horace Silver's "The Jody Grind (Charles Owens, tenor; Ryan Porter, trombone; Hamilton, drums), followed by "Jazz Party (Owens, Woodard, Hamilton). That set the stage for Hamilton's brush feature, "Indiana. About the nicest thing I can say about Hamilton is that he reminds me of the great Mel Lewis—not only for unerring taste and remarkable precision but for the warm, deep-throated sound he elicits from his drum kit. Outstanding. He and bassist John Clayton have been best friends since they met in Indiana years ago, and their goal is obviously the same—to make the C-HJO the best it can be. Everyone soloed on "Where Has Our Love Gone, after which John Clayton played arco bass on Johnny Mandel's "Emily to complement soulful statements by pianist Hendelman and brother Jeff on alto. The first set, which ended with Ellington's "Squatty Roo, was the last for me. It was past time for some well-earned rest. I heard from others that the second set was as good or even better than the first, which came as no surprise.

The only real surprise is how Ken Poston and the L.A. Jazz Institute continue to put together such admirable and varied semi-annual events. The next one, scheduled for May 22-25, '08, already has a name ("The Stage Door Swings ) and a typically mouth-watering agenda that includes Bill Potts' "Jazz Soul of Porgy and Bess and "Bye Bye Birdie, Marty Paich's "The Broadway Bit, Paich / Mel Tormé's "Swings Shubert Alley," Stan Kenton's "Broadway Showcase, Kenton / Johnny Richards' "West Side Story, Richards' "My Fair Lady," Jimmy Giuffre's "The Music Man, Shorty Rogers "Plays Richard Rodgers, Manny Albam's "Cabin in the Sky, Miles Davis / Gil Evans' "Porgy and Bess, The Chamber Jazz Sextet's "Pal Joey, My Fair Lady Swings, the Cole Porter Songbook, Guys and Dolls, The Gershwin Almanac and the music of Harold Arlen (think "Over the Rainbow ). Poston says there'll be about sixteen big bands plus several mid-size ensembles and vocalists. The "bonus event will feature the Dave Pell Octet playing music by Irving Berlin, Rodgers and Hart, and Harry Warren (a slightly lesser-known name but one whose memorable themes could fill several volumes). Make your reservations early!

Returning to "Big Band Showcase for a moment, everything, to me, was first-class, as always, and if the musicians were to some extent interchangeable, as long as their names are Carl Saunders, Bobby Shew, Bob Summers, Steve Huffsteter, Andy Martin, Dave Ryan, Pete Christlieb, Lanny Morgan, Doug Webb, Kim Richmond, Scott Whitfield, Billy Kerr, Ron Stout, Jack Nimitz or Tom Ranier (to name only some), you'll not hear me complain. The reason they are there is that they are superior sight-readers who can master any band's book on a moment's notice. I'm sure we'll be seeing and hearing many of them again next May, and I'm looking forward to the pleasure. And even though Betty couldn't go with me this time, her presence was felt, as it was her suggestion that I buy a "pen light that enabled me to write in the dark. Now, if I can only learn to read my notes...

Elsewhere...

Betty and I were in Roswell, NM, in mid-September for one of her high-school class reunions, and while there stumbled upon a place called The Frame Shop. While Betty was buying a vase, I saw a poster that read "Second Annual Pecos Valley Jazz & Arts Festival, October 12-14. When I asked the proprietor, Steve Rhodes, if it was left over from last year, he assured me that it wasn't, and that the festival would be held in October. Inquiring further, I learned that the festival was the brainchild of composer/pianist Roger Dickerson, and that a number of fairly well-known artists were to appear including percussionist Poncho Sanchez and his Latin Jazz Band, saxophonist Houston Person, trumpeter Randy Sandke, drummer Jake Hanna, trombonist John Allred and bassist Nicki Parrott. Needless to say, I was surprised that it was happening, but also delighted. So I told Steve Rhodes I would mention the festival in my online column, which I have now done. There should be a third annual event next October. You can find out more online at www.pecosvalleyjazz.com, or by phoning 505-622-4910, ext. 20. If I am able, I'll try to be there myself.

And by the time this appears, the Los Angeles Jazz Society should have held its 24th annual Jazz Tribute Awards Dinner and Concert. This year's honorees include Johnny Mandel (2007 Jazz Tribute Honoree), pianist/bandleader Bob Florence (Composer/Arranger Award), singer/actress/jazz club owner Marla Gibbs (Lifetime Achievement Award) and the L.A. Jazz Institute's Ken Poston (Terri Merrill-Aarons Founders Award). Warmest congratulations to all of them!

And on the Horizon...

Graham Carter, head of Jazzed Media Records, says the label plans to produce "Artisty in Rhythm, a documentary assessing the more than three-decades-long career of Stan Kenton and his orchestra. To say that something like this is long overdue would be an understatement. Kenton led one of a handful of groundbreaking big bands in the history of Jazz, and the list of composers, arrangers and players who came out of his orchestra reads like a who's who of renowned artists. Jazzed Media has already produced a documentary on Phil Woods ("A Life in E Flat ) and is soon to release another on Bud Shank ("Against the Tide ). Artists who have recorded for the JM label include Woods, Shank, Terry Gibbs, Bill Holman, Bob Florence, Bill Charlap, Carl Saunders, Hubert Laws, Marvin Stamm, Bill Mays, Brian Lynch, Don Menza, Christian Jacob, Scott Whitfield, Andy Martin, Lanny Morgan, Bobby Shew, Irene Kral, Bob Lark, Jackie & Roy, Ron Stout, Jim McNeely, Mel Martin, Benny Carter, Frank Tiberi, Jeff Hamilton, John and Jeff Clayton and Matt Wilson. There's no word yet on when the Kenton documentary will be released, so keep your eyes and ears open.

The Mike Vax Big Band, featuring alumni of the Stan Kenton Orchestra, has announced preliminary plans for its Spring Tour '08 from April 21-May 10. This will be a Midwest tour, with engagements now being sought in Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Missouri and nearby states. The band tours under the auspices of Friends of Big Band Jazz, and more information can be found at its web site, www.bigbandjazz.net

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



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