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Big Band Report

Some Words of Explanation . . .

By Published: January 2, 2009
As this is the first Big Band Report filed since October 2008, a brief accounting of the reasons seems in order. The fact is that I've not been well since midsummer. The good news is that I seem to have turned a corner and hope to be my old self again in short order. The spring is back in the step, the smile has returned to the face, and once a few ancillary matters have been dealt with things should soon be returning to something akin to normal. My thanks to those who have expressed their concern, offered advice and let me know that my reviews and columns at AllAboutJazz have been missed.

Home Is Where the Band Is

As I was essentially confined to home base for a almost two months, it was good to start going out again in December, and what better place to start than with a visit to The Outpost Performance Space to see and hear the rapidly improving Albuquerque Jazz Orchestra and its director, the world-renowned trumpeter Bobby Shew. Betty and I were able to stay for only the first of the evening's two sets but that was enough to persuade us that the band is sounding better than ever under Shew's astute guidance. He has introduced new charts to the book, several of which were performed for the first time at The Outpost, and the orchestra took to them like ducks to water, with crisp section work and inspired solos. As Shew puts it, his goal is for the AJO to perform "extremely challenging music by various writers from around the world, many of them unknown to the American Jazz scene...while maintaining a connection with the great music from the past history of big-band music."

Four subs were on duty that evening, sitting in for ensemble members who were in Chicago for the annual Midwest Band Clinic, and they proved far more than adequate in filling out the trumpet, trombone and reed sections, with a fourth dep, Michael Olivola, on bass. The AJO has new bandstands and will soon have leather-bound cases in which to carry their music, with band uniforms also in the works and perhaps a CD to follow. The orchestra's next gig is in February 2009 as a part of the annual Albuquerque Jazz Festival.

Somewhat Farther from Home...

The Los Angeles Jazz Institute hosted a tribute January 13 to bassist Howard Rumsey, now in his ninety-second year, at the Lighthouse in Hermosa Beach, the legendary home from 1949 to the early 1960s of Howard Rumsey's Lighthouse All-Stars. The list of renowned musicians who played or sat in with the All-Stars is mind-boggling, starting with trumpeters Shorty Rogers, Maynard Ferguson, Stu Williamson, Miles Davis, Conte Candoli, Chet Baker and Rolf Ericson and including saxophonists Bud Shank, Bob Cooper, Jimmy Giuffre, Zoot Sims, Bill Perkins, Jack Nimitz and others, trombonists Frank Rosolino, Milt Bernhart and Bob Enevoldsen, pianists Hampton Hawes, Marty Paich, Claude Williamson, Pete Jolly, Russ Freeman and Sonny Clark, and drummers Shelly Manne, Max Roach and Stan Levey, to name only some.

Besides fronting the All-Stars, Rumsey was busy encouraging younger players by placing them in the spotlight every Easter week at the Lighthouse. The long list of apprentices includes Charlie Haden, Ben Tucker, Tommy Tedesco, Don Rader, Les McCann, Charles Lloyd, Gary Lefebvre, Mike Wofford, Gabe Baltazar, Bob Florence, Lanny Morgan, Steve Huffsteter, Pete Christlieb, Richard Torres, Pinky Winters, Bob Maize, Warren Luening, Don Friedman and many others. The dinner and concert in December featured performances by many of the artists who got their start at the Lighthouse during those Easter week concerts, thanks to Rumsey's warm-hearted generosity.

Our heartiest congratulations and best wishes to one of the largely unsung heroes of West Coast jazz, Howard Rumsey, who deserves the honor as much as anyone else we could name.

Speaking of the L.A. Jazz Institute...

Don't forget to mark your calendars for May 21-24 2009, the dates of the next Ken Poston / LAJI big-band festival at the Four Points Sheraton LAX Hotel with a wonderful "bonus" event for early-bird registrants on May 20. This next extravaganza is called "A Swingin' Affair," and for good reason (more than twenty of them, in fact). As usual, Poston and the LAJI have outdone themselves in recruiting many of the finest big bands in the Los Angeles area to perform. As of October (with more to come) they included Gordon Goodwin's Big Phat Band, the Frank Capp Juggernaut, Med Flory's Jazz Wave featuring SuperSax, the Carl Saunders Be-Bop Big Band, Ron Jones' Influence Jazz Orchestra, Roger Neumann's Rather Large Band, Emil Richards' Hollywood All-Star Band, and large ensembles led by Tom Kubis, Bill Watrous, Les Hooper, Chris Walden, John Altman and Alf Clausen. And as always, top-rank college groups perform at poolside during the lunch break each day, preceded by interesting films and panel discussions.

The bonus event this time is a whopper: a day-long bus trip to Las Vegas to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the Stan Kenton Orchestra's recording, Live From The Las Vegas Tropicana (Capitol, 1959). There'll be a concert that evening at the Tropicana Hotel featuring an all-star big band with Kenton alumni including some who were in the band during the 1959 engagement that resulted in Kenton's classic album. There is no extra charge for the event for the first one hundred VIP registrants. For information, phone 562-985-7065 or go online to www.lajazzinstitute.org

And Speaking of Stan Kenton...

The Oakland, California-based Mike Vax Big Band featuring Kenton alumni will make its annual spring bus tour to the East Coast from mid-April to early May. The band has already secured an anchor date, April 26, for the Central PA Friends of Jazz in Harrisburg. The band, sponsored by Friends of Big Band Jazz in Oakland, will be offering free clinics for young musicians and performing concerts in high schools and colleges. Besides Vax himself, Kenton alumni include Kim Richmond, Joel Kaye, Carl Saunders, Dennis Noday, Kenny Shroyer, Roy Wiegand, Mike Suter and Gary Hobbs.

For information about the tour, phone Mike Vax, 925-427-6666 or 925-872-1942, or e-mail him at vaxtrpts@aol.com

Odds 'n Ends from Here 'n There

Before his untimely passing in May 2008, composer / arranger / pianist / leader Bob Florence was planning to record another CD with his Limited Edition big band. Even though overwhelmed by sorrow, the band came together and decided to complete the project as a tribute to its fallen leader. Most of the charts are brand new, written by Florence for the occasion. The album should be released later in 2009.

The Vanguard Jazz Orchestra's CD, Monday Night Live at the Village Vanguard (Planet Arts, 2008), has earned two Grammy award nominations, for Best Large Jazz Ensemble and Best Instrumental Arrangement (Bob Brookmeyer's arrangement of "St. Louis Blues"). The album also made National Public Radio's Top 10 CD list for 2008. Live at the Village Vanguard, a double CD, is dedicated to the orchestra's long-time bassist, Dennis Irwin who passed away in March 2008.

The Monterey Jazz Festival, a leader in jazz education since 1958, has been named the top jazz festival in the world for the third year in a row in the annual Jazz Times magazine readers' poll. Also, NEA Jazz Master and long-time MJF performer, saxophonist James Moody, and 2007 MJF artist-in-residence, trumpeter Terence Blanchard, have been nominated for Grammy awards in the Best Jazz Instrumental Solo category for their improvisations on Dizzy Gillespie's "Be-Bop" on the album Live at the 2007 Monterey Jazz Festival on MJF Records.

And finally, we must note with sadness the passing in 2008 of two more giants on their respective instruments, pianist Dave McKenna (October 18) and trumpeter Freddie Hubbard (December 29).

McKenna, one of the music's most skilled accompanists, hardly needed a rhythm section, so powerful and incisive was his active and thunderous left hand. In a more low-key fashion, he claimed he wasn't really a jazz musician. "I play saloon piano," he said. "I like to stay close to the melody. I'm a player of tunes first; I add my interpretations second." McKenna named Nat King Cole, a splendid jazz pianist who is most fondly remembered as a best-selling pop singer, as his main influence. He also lauded the work of pianists Art Tatum and Teddy Wilson. During his long career, McKenna performed with a who's who of jazz greats including Charlie Ventura, Woody Herman, Gene Krupa, Zoot Sims, Al Cohn, Buddy Rich and Bobby Hackett, and backed such well-known singers as Tony Bennett, Rosemary Clooney and Daryl Sherman.

Hubbard, in a career dating from 1958, played on more than three hundred recordings, many with such jazz legends as Miles Davis, Thelonious Monk, John Coltrane, Sonny Rollins, Ornette Coleman and Cannonball Adderley. "He influenced all the trumpet players who came after him," said fellow trumpeter Wynton Marsalis. "We all listened to him. He had a big sound and a great sense of rhythm and time but the hallmark of his playing was his exuberance." While Hubbard wasn't well-known as a writer, he earned a special place in my heart for his wonderful composition "Up Jumped Spring." The Grammy-winning trumpeter had suffered from coronary problems for some time and was hospitalized following an attack the day before Thanksgiving. Thanks for the memories, Dave and Freddie.

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


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