Toshiko Akiyoshi: The Music Keeps Her Young
As the theatre was darkened during the Sunday evening performance, I was using, as I have on a number of other occasions, a small light attached to my key chain to enable me to scribble a few notes between each number. I was doing so during the Akiyoshi quartet's opening set when someone to my left hurled her program at me. It bounced off Betty, whizzed past my torso and landed at Wes Pfarner's feet. Needless to say, we were surprised, as it marked the first time anyone had ever objected to my using the light to take notes. While I'll admit that it could be troubling to some, I must affirm that I never use the light while the music is playing, only when those onstage are talking or otherwise preparing for the next selection. Reckoning that the offender had no more programs left to fling my way, I continued the note-taking until intermission, after which I moved from my choice dead-center seat in the mezzanine to a back-row seat where I could use the light without fear of encountering airborne missiles. Before doing so, however, I had to explain to a number of people who I was and why I was taking notes. If you've read this far you've already absorbed the results of my endeavor. As for the future, I can't say I won't visit the Lensic again, but you can bet I won't be going there any time I have to take notes.
Erwin Lehn: A Little-Known Giant Passes
Erwin Lehn, one of my musical heroes, died March 20 in Grunstadt, Germany, three months short of his ninety-first birthday. Why is he one of my heroes? Well, after World War II had ended, and with it the Nazis' ban on "swing music" (including jazz), Lehn was among the first to step up to the plate and form his own big band, originally called the Sudfunk-Tanzorchester (Southern Radio Dance Orchestra), which he led for forty years until his retirement in 1991. The orchestra continues today as one of Germany's finest under its new name, the SWR Big Band. Through the years a handful of American jazz artists spent time in the orchestra including trumpeters Don Rader and Lee Katzman and trombonists Bobby Burgess and Joe Gallardo, while Lehn's band and the SWR have welcomed such guest artists as trumpeters Maynard Ferguson, Chet Baker, Don Ellis, Arturo Sandoval and Bobby Shew; trombonists Rob McConnell, Frank Rosolino and Kai Winding; saxophonists Phil Woods, Sal Nistico, Herb Geller, Bill Holman, Frank Foster, Buddy Tate and Bob Mintzer; clarinetists Buddy DeFranco and Tony Scott, guitarist Barney Kessel and harmonica virtuoso Toots Thielemans. Although Lehn's ensemble began life as a dance orchestra, he soon turned toward contemporary jazz and made his name in that realm. Lehn's band was first-class in every respect, thanks to superior personnel including Bernd Rabe, one of the finest lead alto players I've ever heard. I was introduced to the band by another departed friend, Bill Swanson, and I'll always be grateful to him for that.
Also Noted in Passing . . .
Dick Buckley, whose deep baritone voice was a welcome sound to jazz fans in the Chicago area for more than half a century as host of popular radio programs on WAAF, WAIT and for thirty-one years on WBEZ, died July 22 at age eighty-five. "To listen to Mr. Buckley," wrote arts critic Howard Reich, "was to receive an education in the inner workings of jazz, no matter how much you thought you knew about the subject." As one who listened often while working in the Chicago area from 1977-97, I'd second that. As a deejay in that part of the country, Buckley was second to none. He "retired" in 2008 when WBEZ slashed its jazz programming in favor of an all-talk format. That was a great loss to jazz in Chicago, as is his passing.
Wendell Logan, a composer of jazz and concert music who more than two decades ago founded the Jazz Studies department at the Oberlin (Ohio) Conservatory of Music, a part of Oberlin College, died June 15 in Cleveland. He was sixty-nine years old. Logan, who played saxophone and trumpet, joined the Oberlin faculty in 1973, but it was not until 1989 that he was able to make Jazz Studies a full-fledged major in which students can earn a bachelor of music degree. Before coming to Oberlin, Logan taught at Florida A&M, Ball State and Western Illinois universities. His honors include a Guggenheim Fellowship (1991), and his music has been recorded by Orion and other labels.