Gold Medalists Abound at Big Band Olympics
Friday evening's much-anticipated final performance was by the Bill Holman Band whose leader has been credibly described as the dean of American big-band arrangers. Holman celebrated a birthday four days before the concert, but discretion precludes my saying how many he has tallied. What can be said is that Holman's charts are an acquired taste, as they are invariably profound and elaborate and don't swing in the kind of open-handed manner favored by Basie, Herman or other mainstream bands. A case in point was the serpentine opener, "No Joy in Mudville," whose stout-hearted soloists were baritone Efford and twenty-year-old trombonist Eric Hughes. Hughes stepped into the breach again, this time with alto Bruce Babad, on a chart whose name sounded to me like "The Bandicoot Affair" (I could be wrong). Trumpeter Ron Stout was front and center on "Someday My Prince Will Come," trombonist Martin on "All the Way." The next tune, "Bemsha Swing" (solos by Stout, alto Billy Kerr, pianist Jacob, drummer Peter Erskine) was drawn from Brilliant Corners, Holman's recorded tribute to the music of Thelonious Monk. Alto Babad soloed eloquently on "Lover Man," trumpeter Summers and baritone Efford on "In Your Own Sweet Way." Nearing the end of the evening, Holman decided to don his "swinging cap" for the last two numbers, his own "Front Runner" and the standard "After You've Gone." The soloists on "Runner" were trumpeter Stout and alto Kerr, on "After You've Gone" Stout, Efford and tenor Tom Peterson. A lovely way to end a day and evening.
Saturday, May 28
After the morning film (which included clips of such relatively obscure European big bands as those led by Boy Edgar and Gustav Brohm) and a "meet the bandleaders" panel with Leviev, Walden and Vig, another group of young musicians (two groups, actually) came onstage as part of the Los Angeles Jazz Society's ongoing Bill Green Mentorship Program. The ensembles, one nine members strong, the other eleven, comprised of students ages 16-18, were co-directed by Scott Whitfield and Roger Neumann. The smaller band was up first, opening with "Stompin' at the Savoy" and continuing with "Blue Monk," "Li'l Darlin'" and "Autumn Leaves" before making way for the larger group, which performed "You Stepped Out of a Dream," "Billie's Bounce," Clare Fischer's "Morning" and the standard "My Shining Hour." The ensembles were fairly together, the solos about what would be expected from high school kids ages 16-18.
Valery Ponomarev, the Russian trumpeter who first gained notice in this country as a member of the Jazz Messengers, led his big band later that afternoon in a program titled "Our Father Who Art Blakey," which, as the name suggests, consisted of music associated with the Messengers and re-scored for a large ensemble. The band had only one rehearsal, which accounts in part for some ragged passages along the way, along with the fact that these bop tunes don't lend themselves readily to a big-band format. Nevertheless, the hard-working ensemble did its best to brighten Bobby Timmons' "Moanin,'" the flag-waving "Web City," the venerable "Caravan," Clifford Jordan's "Jor-du," the sunny bossa "Pensativa" and Benny Golson's "Blues March." Ponomarev crafted some hip solos, as did trumpeters Shew and Saunders, altos Ann Patterson and Tom Peterson, pianist Jon Mayer and especially tenor saxophonist Charles Owens. High marks for diligence, slightly lower for content.
After another panel session featuring Toshiko Akiyoshi, Lew Tabackin and former members of their bandShew, Peterson, Gary Foster, Steve Huffsteter, Rich Cooper, Mike PriceHungarian vibraphonist Tommy Vig and his band made a positive first impression with "Rise and Shine," a fast-moving express based on Sigmund Romberg's "Softly as in a Morning Sunrise," on which Vig, trumpeter Bunnell and tenor Billy Kerr were the splendid soloists. As Vig's charts were extended with ample room for soloists to stretch, the band played only four numbers. The others were "In Memory of Monk," based on "'Round Midnight"; a riff on "Body and Soul" whose name sounded to me like "Buddy and Solito," and "In Memory of Dizzy," based on "A Night in Tunisia." As was true of every band, Vig presided over a number of engaging improvisers including saxophonists Kerr, Jeff Driskill and Keith Bishop; trumpeters Bunnell and Ron King; trombonists Bruce Otto and Charlie Morillas, pianist John Beasley and bassist Putter Smith (whose graceful duet with Vig on "Buddy" was among the highlights).