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Big Band Report

Yet Another "Dream Band"

By Published: July 10, 2008
As there's not much happening jazz-wise this month, I thought it would be fun (not to mention controversial) to put together a "dream band" comprised of many of my all-time favorite players. Not based on big band tenure per se, even though all of these gentlemen (alas, there are no ladies) enriched many a large ensemble during their long and illustrious careers. No, this is strictly personal—a list of those who, if I had a big band, I'd love to hear playing in it night after night, year after year. And so, as the saying goes, without further ado, here's the JB All-Star Dream Band, Version 1.0:

The trumpet section: Clifford Brown, Dizzy Gillespie, Maynard Ferguson, Conte Candoli, Carl Saunders.

The reed section: Art Pepper, Sonny Stitt, alto sax; Zoot Sims, Stan Getz, tenor sax; Lars Gullin, baritone sax.

The trombone section: Frank Rosolino, Carl Fontana, J.J. Johnson, Bob Brookmeyer.

The rhythm section: Oscar Peterson, piano; Ray Brown, bass; Buddy Rich, drums.

For better or worse, there you have it. I only regret that there wasn't room to include many more of the outstanding musicians I've heard over the years, but the line must be drawn somewhere. One may reasonably question the absence of a guitar (or vibes) in the rhythm section, a partial answer to which is that the three giants named above certainly need no help. Another is that there have been so many great guitarists I couldn't possibly narrow the list to only one. And to me, the addition of a vibraphone would serve only to unsettle the balance of as perfect a rhythm section as one could envision. If there had to be one, the choice would come down to three: Terry Gibbs, Lionel Hampton or Milt Jackson.

But let's take it from the top, namely the trumpet section. Many eyebrows surely will be raised by the inclusion of Conte Candoli and Carl Saunders alongside such legends as Brown, Gillespie and Ferguson. All I can say is, they are among the best I've ever heard, playing lead or jazz, so they earned their seats on the bus. Yes, I can hear the irate chorus now: "How could you have an all-star trumpet section without (fill in the blank)?" The answer is, there are only enough chairs for five, and I chose the ones I'd want in my dream band. Those who'd deign to argue will have to form their own band. And FYI, if I were to add a sixth trumpet strictly for jazz solos, the name Marvin Stamm leaps to mind.

Moving on to the reed section, some may shake their heads and wonder, "Who's Lars Gullin?" A Swede, actually, who died in 1976 before reaching age fifty and who also happens to be my favorite baritone saxophonist. "But you (gasp!) left out Gerry Mulligan?" Sadly, yes, as he's my second favorite baritone and there is only room for one. If the band had a Stan Kenton-style section with two baritones, Mulligan definitely would be the other. To me, Art Pepper was a lock for one alto chair, whereas Sonny Stitt barely squeezed into the second, ahead of Cannonball Adderley, Phil Woods, Bud Shank and a host of others including, of course, the peerless Bird, Charlie Parker. Why not Parker? For one thing, he wasn't at his best in a big-band setting; for another, even as I recognize his unquestioned genius, I don't think even he swung harder than Stitt, whose earnestness and artistry I've always admired. In an extremely close call, Stitt by a whisker.

Filling the tenor chairs, on the other hand, was a piece of cake. I simply penciled in the first two names that came into my head, then searched the memory bank for anyone I'd rather have in their shoes. No one came even close. More than happy, I'd be grateful and honored to have Sims and Getz in my band. Same goes for the trombones—Rosolino, Fontana, Johnson, and for variety, perhaps the best valve trombonist in the business (with apologies to Rob McConnell and Bob Enevoldsen, who made the choice difficult), Bob Brookmeyer. No bass trombone; they'd just have to handle the lower register themselves.

Oscar Peterson is my pianist. Always has been, always will be—while Buddy Rich is without a doubt in my mind the greatest big band drummer I've ever heard. As for bassists, all the best ones sound basically alike to my untrained ears, so I picked one who almost everyone agrees was one of the best in any surroundings, Ray Brown. I don't think that's a bad choice.

If the band leans toward modern, that's because I first became interested in jazz in the late 1940s, when bebop was in flower and Bird and Diz ruled the world, and have only a passing knowledge of what came before it (hence the omission of such icons as Louis Armstrong, Jack Teagarden, Bix Beiderbecke, Sidney Bechet, and so on). Even so, I know there are those who may be displeased by some of my choices—perhaps even all of them. That's what makes the world go 'round. If you do have a bone (or two) to pick, I'd like to hear from you. Let me know who you'd want in your "dream band," and why. I may even print your comments, and if they are persuasive enough, perhaps there'd be some changes in the JB All-Star Band, Version 2.0. My e-mail address is bigbandman@earthlink.net

'I'm Diggin' in the Rain...'

Betty and I were invited to attend a Jazz Under the Stars program June 28 at the Albuquerque Museum of Art. On our arrival, we were greeted, to paraphrase the Tom Kubis composition, by "high winds and a good chance of Wayne"—er, rain. The winds were indeed fierce but the rain chose to move in another direction and ended shortly before the concert by Los Angeles-based pianist Rob Mullins and his trio (Adam Cohen, bass; Evan Stone, drums). The trio was actually a quartet, as Mullins added a second keyboardist, young Louis Schwartz, an Albuquerque Academy grad who's in his freshman year at the University of Southern California and is one of Mullins' private students.

Mullins, who used to gig around Albuquerque and Santa Fe in the early 1980s, has had a successful career on the West Coast playing, teaching and writing for television (where his credits include "The Proud Family," "Moesha," "King of Queens," "Soulfood" and "The Parkers"). He recently released his seventeenth album, Storyteller, from which much of the material in the first half of the concert was taken (we stayed only until intermission, as the winds and occasional rain had given Betty a chill). The first three numbers—"In the Sun," "Storyteller," "Escher's Etude"—were long on design and technique but short on improvisation, perhaps a step (or less) removed from smooth jazz (about which I'm no expert). That changed on the fourth selection, as the group was joined by local tenor saxophonist Kanoa Kaluhiwa for Mullins' "B-Flat Major Etude," Duke Ellington's "In a Sentimental Mood" and one of Mullins' earlier compositions, a funk / rock piece entitled "Red Shoes." Everyone was given solo space except Schwartz (nicknamed Napolean Dynamite by Mullins) who played a rhythmic "Freddie Green" role behind the others and was for the most part inaudible. Even though Mullins' style isn't my cup of tea, it was a pleasant enough session, enhanced by the leader's amusing commentary, and it was especially generous of him to allow a local player who's still in his teens to gain some valuable performing experience with a group of seasoned pros.

A Last Farewell to Bob Florence

A memorial service was held June 15 at Catalina's in Hollywood for pianist Bob Florence who died a month earlier, only five days before his seventy-sixth birthday. The standing-room-only audience was treated to music by Florence's Limited Edition (whose piano chair was vacant); the Phil Norman Tentet, with whom Bob had also been the pianist (Christian Jacob assumed the unenviable task of sitting in for him); and singer Vicky Carr, backed by the Limited Edition conducted by her music director, Andy Howe. In addition to the music, there were remembrances by longtime friends and colleagues including Norman, Mike Vax, Kim Richmond, Norm Tompach, Don Shelton, Paul Myers and Tom Peterson, and written messages from Julie Andrews and Johnny Mandel. A granddaughter, Merrisa Marcucella, read an original poem, and a daughter, Melanie Funsten, presented a slide show of Bob's life. Those who've reported on the service have described it as a memorable afternoon, one that honored and celebrated the life of a brilliant musician and devoted family man who will be greatly missed.

Remembering Brownie

The Philadelphia Music Project will present a symposium October 31-November 1 focused on the presentation, celebration and documentation of the life, music and legacy of legendary trumpeter Clifford Brown. Brownie's son, Clifford Brown Jr., will serve as master of ceremonies, with performances by Terence Blanchard, Benny Golson (composer of "I Remember Clifford"), Lou Donaldson, Marcus Belgrave and the UArts Jazz Ensemble, and a new John Fedchock composition dedicated to Brownie and performed by the Lars Halle Jazz Orchestra.

Besides workshops, panel discussions and the presentation of papers, the symposium will include keynote addresses by Nat Hentoff, Lewis Porter, Nick Catalano, Don Glanden and Alan Hood, and the premiere of Glanden's video documentary, "Brownie Speaks." Glanden is head of Graduate Jazz Studies at Philadelphia's University of the Arts. For information, contact Maryanne Mele (mmele@uarts.edu) or phone 215-717-6127.

Bill Finegan

Bill Finegan, a renowned big band arranger who co-led the groundbreaking Sauter-Finegan Orchestra in the 1950s, died June 4 at age 87. Finegan began arranging in the late 1930s for Tommy Dorsey and Glenn Miller (for whom he arranged such hit songs as "Little Brown Jug," "Song of the Volga Boatmen," "Sunrise Serenade" and "Serenade in Blue," among others). After working for a time with Horace Heidt and Les Elgart, he became the main arranger for the Dorsey band. In 1952, his friend Eddie Sauter suggested that they form their own band. In spite of its complex music, often featuring a fife and piccolo on top and tuba and bass trombone on the bottom, the band was a critical if not popular success and recorded about a dozen albums. Its biggest hit was "The Doodletown Fifers," based on a Civil War song, "Midnight Sleigh Ride." In 1985, four years after Sauter's death, Finegan conducted a 30-year reunion of the S-F Orchestra at the University of Bridgeport in Connecticut. Even though immobilized for the last twenty years of his life by a spinal injury, Finegan continued to write and teach music.

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




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