Jacksonville: Big City, Big Band, Big Plans
Besides the River City Big Band, the SJRC ensembles now include River City Satin Swing: The Little Big Band (a nine-piece version of the larger band); River City Back Beat (a smaller ensemble providing light jazz and jazz education for schools); River City Brass Pack (a quartet or quintet that performs a variety of music from classical to pops for parties, weddings, schools and other events); River City 126 (one to six musicians who play at various events); St. Johns River City Brass Band (performing marches, patriotic themes and American folk songs); River City Fusion (three or four horns and rhythm blending jazz and rock); and River City Dixie Jazz (performing music reminiscent of New Orleans and Bourbon Street). All that in only twenty-five years! The SJRCB biography is a textbook example of what can (and should) be done to help resuscitate big-band Jazz. If you'd like more information about the band and / or its programs, e-mail diantha@RiverCityBand.com or go to the web site, www.RiverCityBand.com
Out and About
I must confess that during its first three years, for various reasons I won't summarize here, Betty and I have had almost no connection with the annual New Mexico Jazz Festival, held for two weeks each summer. That changed on Sunday, July 19, when I drove to Santa Fe (Betty was indisposed) to see and hear tenor saxophonist Jimmy Heathleading the Generations Band in concert at the Lensic Theatre. I was prompted not only by the rare chance to see Jimmy but to check out one of my favorite young(er) tenors, Eric Alexander, who shared the front line with Heath, trumpeter Terell Stafford and alto saxophonist Andrew Speight. The concert was preceded by an afternoon "meet the musician" session in which Heath was interviewed by J.B. Spellman, former deputy chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts, who flew in from Washington, DC, to conduct the session. As it turned out, his was a relatively easy task, as Heath is an accomplished raconteur with a sharp memory and a wealth of interesting anecdotes. He is also, at age 82, a marvelous saxophonist, as he proved that evening. Alexander was also on his game, as was the former Aussie, Speight, and especially Stafford, a dynamo on every number. Once onstage, Jimmy Heath explained the group's name, the Generations Band: "The three guys standing next to me," he said, "are all in their forties; Eric's the youngest at exactly forty. Our pianist (David Hazeltine) is fifty, our bassist (Ray Drummond) is sixty, our drummer (Jimmy's brother, Tootie Heath) is seventy-four, and I'm not gonna say which one of us is in his eighties!"
The septet played one ninety-minute set without pause, opening with Billy Strayhorn's venerable "Take the 'A' Train" (well, they'd not had much time to rehearse). After Jimmy Heath's "The Quota," the front-liners played a "ballad medley," each one choosing one song. Stafford began with "Old Folks," Speight was up next with "Autumn in New York," followed by Heath ("Lover Man") and Alexander (Leonard Bernstein's "Some Other Time"). Blue Mitchell's lively samba, "Funjii Mama," preceded Jimmy Heath's solo feature, "'Round Midnight," and his funky "Gingerbread Boy," which would have ended the concert save for the audience's demand for an encore. For that, the band chose a guaranteed crowd-pleaser, "On Green Dolphin Street." A splendid concert all-round.