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Big Band Report

On the Brighter Side . . .

By Published: January 8, 2003
Having surveyed last month the generally deplorable state of Jazz, especially big-band Jazz, here in the Lower Forty-Eight, it's good to be able to usher in the New Year with better news in the form of a response to that column from Randy James who writes in part:

"I live in Fort Worth [Texas], which is thirty minutes south of Denton, where the famous One O'Clock Lab Band at [the University of] North Texas resides. I attend the fall concert [there] every year, and every year it sells out (the concert was last week, with [saxophonist] Dick Oatts guesting). Also, I have missed two Maynard Ferguson concerts recently due to tickets selling out. The Navy Commodores swung into town and I missed that one too . . . no tickets left. Doc Severinsen [came] to town last year, [and] I had to get nosebleed tickets because all the good seats were sold out. Harry Connick Jr. sells out here also. Others I recall with a full house over the last couple of years include Toshiko Akiyoshi, the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra, the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra and the Woody Herman Orchestra.

"I have a couple of other great experiences I forgot to mention, Randy writes in a later e-mail. "The first was when I went to see Bill Watrous with the One O'Clock Lab Band one year. Much to my dismay, they [were] sold out. We saw Bill [standing] in the lobby. He was floored that [the concert] was sold out. We told him we had come to see him but had no tickets. He said, "Come backstage, I'll tell them you're friends [of mine] from the area. So we watched from backstage until a few seats came open. Watrous is a first-class guy. Very funny, witty, humble, knowledgeable and talented.

"Another great experience I had is with Jon Faddis. He has a bad rep, but I found him very friendly. He even let my wife take [a picture of me] with him. It sits proudly in my living room. I've met [Faddis] twice and don't understand where the bad reputation came from. He [is] very gracious and friendly (and funny).

Sounds like things are humming in Fort Worth, and we're more than happy to share the news. Those who are looking to relocate might keep it in mind.

Remembering a giant

While I'm usually more than a little leery whenever the word "greatest or "legendary is used to describe a particular Jazz musician, there's no reluctance in writing that this month marks the tenth anniversary of the passing of one of the greatest trumpeters who ever lived, the legendary John Birks (Dizzy) Gillespie. It's hard to believe that a decade has passed since Diz walked among us, as his music remains as fresh and dynamic today as it was when he was writing and / or playing it from the early '40s until his death in January '93.

"Dizzy was a man who shared everything he knew, says saxophonist Benny Golson. "He had no secrets.

Phil Woods, who says he owes a part of his later success to the intervention and encouragement of Diz and Art Blakey when he was despondent about his future in Jazz, says, "The amazing thing was the yin and yang of Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie. Bird was the meteor who wasn't around a long time. He came, he changed [the music] and he left. But Dizzy was the arranger, the composer, the reader, the sober, industrious one. Everybody knew who the boss was. Dizzy was the teacher, the one who passed it on.

"I learned more from my three years with Dizzy, says pianist Junior Mance, who was a member of Gillespie's big band from 1958-61, "than [from] all of my music teachers, even in the music school that I dropped out of. I remember spending hours at a time in his basement studio being shown chord changes that I never knew existed. How to comp, how to accompany instrumentalists . . . that to play the right chord changes I had to listen. I learned a lot of things that weren't in the books.

"I can't decide whether I learned more from [Dizzy] about music or life — but it was probably the latter, says bassist John Lee, now program director of the Dizzy Gillespie Alumni All-Stars Big Band. "He always had fun every night. We'd travel sixteen hours sometimes, but no matter how tedious the trip, when we hit the stage I never saw him mad or cranky. The man was filled with so much love, and he gave so much to all of us. His presence is so huge that it doesn't feel like he's gone.

"When the U.S. government wanted to put its best foot forward, says Woods, recalling the Gillespie big band's mid-'50s tours to South America and the Middle East, "it sent Jazz. I personally feel [that] Dizzy should have been sent a few more times to Iran and Baghdad. We might have avoided a whole lot of trouble [there]. Use music, not guns.

Music and laughter were Dizzy Gillespie's ammunition, and no one was a better marksman than he.

Our thanks to Ken Franckling of UPI, from whose recent article about Diz the above quotes were "borrowed.

"Autumn Eve" honors Woody

Another of Jazz's renowned figures, bandleader Woody Herman, was remembered in October with a ceremony and concert at the Hollywood Forever cemetery in California. Even though he's gone, Woody's band plays on, and the Woody Herman Orchestra, now directed by Frank Tiberi, was the star attraction at the "Autumn Eve observance, playing a number of the band's memorable tunes and welcoming as its guests saxophonist Joe Lovano and vocalist Shelby Lynne. Chuck Niles of KKJZ-FM was master of ceremonies, and those invited to take part (I'm not sure that all of them were able to attend) included Herman alumni John LaPorta, Pete Candoli, Billy Bauer, Don Lamond, Terry Gibbs, Cy Touff, Bill Perkins, Chuck Flores, Dick Hafer, Bill Trujillo, Jack Nimitz, Bill Berry (who has since passed away), Andy McGee, Phil Wilson, Jake Hanna, Joe LaBarbera, Alan Broadbent, Polly Podewell and Dave Carpenter. Also slated to perform were the Berklee College of Music's Rainbow Band (directed by trombonist Wilson) and the Jazz America Youth Orchestra. Like Dizzy Gillespie, Woody Herman was one of a kind, and wherever he is, he must have been flashing that famous smile as another of his Thundering Herds showed an audience how hip and exciting big-band music can be.

On a sadder note, one of the key members of Woody's "new Herd, baritone saxophonist / road manager Mike Brignola, was seriously hurt in December when his van was broadsided by another car after an appearance in Washington state. Last we heard, Mike was out of intensive care, back in Pennsylvania with family and on the road to recovery, and that is good news indeed. The Herd won't be the same without him. Get well soon, Mike! We hope to see you anchoring that marvelous saxophone section again in short order. And as for everyone else . . .

Until next time, keep swingin'!

NEW & NOTEWORTHY: January 2003

  1. Dutch Jazz Orchestra: You Go to My Head (Challenge)
  2. John Fedchock NY Big Band: No Nonsense (Reservoir)
  3. Stan Kenton: With the Danish Radio Jazz Orch (Storyville)
  4. Danny D'Imperio: Big Band Bloviation (Rompin')
  5. United Women's Orchestra: Virgo Supercluster (JazzHaus)
  6. Cal State Universityï"Hayward: Excursions (CSUH)
  7. Rob McConnell Tentet: Thank You, Ted (Justin Time)
  8. Ed Wilson Big Band: Song for Joel (WMP)
  9. Knoxville Jazz Orchestra: A Year in the Life . . . (KJO)
  10. Dayton Jazz Orchestra: Just Playin' Around (DJO)


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