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Big Band Report

The "Stage Door" Really Swings!

By Published: January 3, 2008
The "stage door" will be swinging off its hinges next May 22-25 when Ken Poston and the Los Angeles Jazz Institute present another of their semi-annual extravaganzas at the LAX Four Points Sheraton Hotel. "The Stage Door Swings" marks somewhat of a departure for Poston / LAJI, as the spotlight won't be focused, as it usually is, almost exclusively on big bands but will shine as well on a number of small to medium size groups and vocalists.

Poston has already booked celebrated singers Helen Merrill ("The Rodgers and Hammerstein Songbook") and Pinky Winters ("The Jerome Kern Songbook") and is working on adding Carol Sloane and Chris Connor. Another acclaimed vocalist, Tierney Sutton, is set to perform Shelly Manne's My Fair Lady with the Jack Sheldon Big Band.

Other large groups on the roster include the Lennie Niehaus Big Band (Stan Kenton's The Stage Door Swings and Adventures in Standards), The Johnny Richards Big Band directed by Joel Kaye (My Fair Lady My Way), the Shorty Rogers Big Band directed by Bud Shank (Shorty Rogers Plays Richard Rodgers), the Los Angeles Jazz Orchestra ("The Cole Porter Songbook") and the Collegiate Neophonic Orchestra of Southern California directed by Jack Wheaton (Miles Davis / Gil Evans' Porgy and Bess). Not yet confirmed but a strong possibility is the Woody Herman Orchestra directed by Frank Tiberi (Herman's My Kind of Broadway).

Smaller ensembles slated to appear include Ken Peplowski and his Music Men playing Jimmy Giuffre's arrangements from Meredith Willson's Broadway smash, The Music Man, the Bud Shank Sextet performing songs by Harold Arlen, the Marty Paich Dektette (Paich's The Broadway Bit and Torme Swings Shubert Alley), the Jazz Giants featuring Bud Shank and Bobby Shew (Guys and Dolls) and the duo of Dial and Oatts (Cole Porter verses). Not yet confirmed is Allyn Ferguson's Chamber Jazz Sextet (Pal Joey). Unnamed (but definitely all-star) ensembles will perform Kenton's West Side Story and Bill Potts' Jazz Soul of Porgy and Bess and Bye Bye Birdie.

Early birds arriving in L.A. on May 21 can sign up for a "bonus" event, a "taste of New York" dinner and concert by the Dave Pell Octet. If that's not enough, there are the usual panel discussions and films including the West Coast premiere of "Bud Shank: Against the Tide—Portrait of a Jazz Legend," produced and directed by Graham Carter of Jazzed Media Records. The L.A. Jazz Institute can be reached by phone at 562-985-7065 or online at

Also on the horizon . . .

Saxophonist Kim Richmond has announced plans for the third annual Northwoods Jazz Camp, to be held May 16-19 at the Holiday Acres Resort in Rhinelander, WI (three hours north of Madison, four hours east of Minneapolis). A faculty of jazz professionals will teach instrumental master classes, improvisation, jazz listening, combo and big band playing, with combo concerts each night (open to the public) wherein advanced students sit in with the pros.

New this year is a big band. Richmond hopes to host 20-30 students ages 21 or older. No prior expertise is required, and spouses are welcome to attend free, with a charge only for meals. The faculty is led by Richmond and trumpeter Clay Jenkins. For more details and fees, go online to

The passing of a giant

Pianist Oscar Peterson died of kidney failure December 23 at his home in Mississauga, Ontario, Canada. He was eighty-two years old. Thus ended a life and a career that were beyond description. Peterson's place in history is assured. He was quite simply one of the greatest jazz pianists who has ever lived. While the usual comparisons will be made, Peterson's talent was truly incomparable. No one before or since has played the piano as he did, and perhaps no one ever will. I recall, when listening to Peterson for the first time, turning to my brother Tom and saying, "He plays faster than I can think!" Fast was only a part of Peterson's repertoire; he was blessed with great imagination, taste and sensitivity, all of which he brought to bear throughout a long and storied career that began when he was a teen-ager in his home city of Montreal.

Peterson's trios—first with bassist Ray Brown and guitarist Barney Kessel, later with guitarist Herb Ellis, drummer Ed Thigpen, bassist Nils-Henning Orsted Pedersen and others—were legendary, as was his phenomenal keyboard technique. Slowed by a stroke in 1993 that cost him partial use of his left hand, Peterson recovered and continued playing almost to the end of his life. I have no "inside stories" to share, only a deep and abiding admiration and appreciation for Oscar Peterson, as a musician and as a man. We'll not see (or hear) his like again.

Before leaving the topic, it should be noted that another superlative jazz musician passed away in December. Alto saxophonist Frank Morgan, once considered an heir-apparent to Charlie Parker's crown before he was sidelined by a drug habit that led to thirty years in prison, died December 17, one week before his seventy-fourth birthday, in Minneapolis, MN.

Morgan recorded a number of albums in the early 1950s with world-class musicians such as vibraphonist Milt Jackson, drummer Kenny Clarke, saxophonist Wardell Gray and trumpeter Conte Candoli, but by the middle of the decade was doing hard time in San Quentin. His comeback began after his release in 1986 with an appearance at New York's Village Vanguard, and he kept on playing and recording until the end, having recently returned to the States after a three-month tour of Europe with pianist Rein de Graaff's trio.

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

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