Gold Medalists Abound at Big Band Olympics
There was time left before supper for Poston's summary of Lucraft / Kenton's Jazz International and one more concert, this one by Bulgarian pianist Milcho Leviev's band. These were compositions, according to the program, that were "commissioned by and contracted for the Bulgarian National Radio and TV Big Band," for whom Leviev worked before he was dismissed by the Communists in charge who took exception to some of his song titles, especially the "Anti-Waltz." ("Why must it be 'anti?'" they asked. "You must change the name.") Needless to say, Leviev did not change it, nor did he suppress his aversion to the Party and its bosses. Instead, he came to America and soon found himself working with the Don Ellis Orchestra. Leviev's program consisted of five of his originals and Ellis' composition "Simple Samba" (perhaps one of the brightest and most accessible tunes he ever wrote). The opening number, the well-named "Sturdy," brought to the fore Leviev, trumpeter Stout, trombonist Jock Ellis, guitarist John Chiodini and an emphatic coda by drummer Erskine. The "Anti-Waltz" was next, with acrobatic solos by trombonist Alan Kaplan ("Actually a written solo," said Leviev, "which is harder than improvising"), alto Fred Laurence Selden and Erskine. The glossy "Voyage Again" featured Chiodini and tenor Gary Herbig, the raucous "Blues in 10" Leviev and Selden (on flute). After "Simple Samba" (crisp solos by trumpeter Bunnell, tenor Herbig, trombonist Kaplan [not written this time], tenor Terry Harrington, Chiodini, Leviev and Selden on alto), the band wrapped things up with Leviev's "Golden Fleece." A generally pleasing concert that had far more ups than downs.
After supper, those who hadn't caught an early flight or were otherwise unable to stay to the end gathered in the Marquis Ballroom for the Olympics' most eagerly awaited event, the all-star tribute to Rob McConnell and the Boss Brass. And it is here that the "tactical error" alluded to earlier emerged. Instead of the Boss Brass, there onstage, unannounced and largely unwelcome, were Montreal's Jazz Kidz who proceeded to replicate more than half their concert from Friday afternoon as audience members squirmed uneasily in their seats. Call me a curmudgeon, but putting the Jazz Kidz in that spot, with or without prior notice (there was none) was, in my opinion, clearly a mistake. I can't say whose mistake it was but can report that those with whom I spoke afterward were not pleasedand that is putting it mildly. Seeing the Kidz onstage in lieu of the Boss Brass was akin to ordering filet mignon and being served a Big Mac. Before any rash conclusions are drawn, I should make it unequivocally clear that I have no ax to grind with youngsters who are trying to play jazz, even those whose skills are at best rudimentary, and applaud them whenever and wherever I canI even put my money where my mouth is, having made a donation as some of the Kidz roamed the auditorium, instrument cases wide open, their tiny voices pleading, "Won't you help support the Jazz Kidz?" There is, however, a proper time and place for everything, and this was definitely not that time or place. The audience was told and believed it had come to see and hear the Boss Brass, not the Jazz Kidz, who had already performed twice, at the "bonus" event on Wednesday and in the ballroom on Friday (same program each time, by the way, as that's all they have learned). As noted, I don't know why the Kidz were inserted as an unbilled "opening act" for the Boss Brass, but their impromptu recital was unwarranted and earned the LAJI no friends. Now back to the music . . .
Although the concert had been slated to begin at 8:30, it was well after nine before the Boss Brass alumni and colleagues made their way onstage and the audience settled in to enjoy some exhilarating big-band fare. Imagine their surprise when the band was joined for the first two numbers"Georgia on My Mind," "Bei Mir Bist du Schoen"by vocalists from none other than the Jazz Kidz! Betty, who was barely hanging in there by this time (which I suspect was also true of others in the audience), lasted through those numbers and a couple more before heading upstairs to bed. At 9:20, the Brass finally opened its "share" of the concert with McConnell's tasteful arrangement of "Just Friends," and it was smooth sailing from there on. Trumpeter Shew and tenor Keller were the soloists on "Friends," while tenor Neumann was featured on "What Are We Here For?" One of McConnell's most buoyant compositions, "The Waltz I Blew for You," came next (solos by tenor Keller and leader MacLeod on flugel), followed by Kai Winding's "Slow Grind," spotlighting the trombone section, and the standard "Street of Dreams" (Shew, trumpet; Whitfield, trombone; Thompson, piano).