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Big Band Report

Big Band Jazz: It's Not Just for Guys Anymore

By Published: August 4, 2011

It was inevitable, of course, that many of those who played with DIVA in those early years would soon be moving onward and upward, and even a partial list of the band's alumnae is quite impressive.

Back in the early '90s, Stanley Kay, one-time back-up drummer for the incomparable Buddy Rich
Buddy Rich
Buddy Rich
1917 - 1987
drums
, later a manager of such artists as Maurice Hines, Michelle Lee and Paul Burke and the entertainment director for the New York Yankees, had a good idea: the time had come, he reasoned, to assemble an all-woman big band that would be more than a novelty act and could stand its ground against the best bands anywhere regardless of gender. Knowing he would need a drummer who could drive a band in the manner of his former employer, Kay reached out to Sherrie Maricle who agreed not only to anchor the rhythm section, but to help put the band together.

And so it was that in 1992 DIVA was born, and Stanley Kay's idea became a reality. From the outset, DIVA was a band that could stare down any other and come away holding a winning hand, and it has only gotten better as the years have passed. DIVA released its first album, Something's Coming (Perfect Sound) in 1995, and it was a revelation. Here at last was a big band comprised not of women trying to play jazz but of world-class jazz musicians who happened to be women. Six more albums have followed, the most recent conducted by the celebrated composer / arranger Johnny Mandel
Johnny Mandel
Johnny Mandel
b.1925
arranger
and recorded in concert at Dizzy's Club Coca-Cola in the band's home base, New York City. An early champion was the late saxophonist / arranger Tommy Newsom
Tommy Newsom
Tommy Newsom
1929 - 2007
saxophone
, best known as Johnny Carson
Johnny Carson
1925 - 2005
drums
's sometime comic foil on The Tonight Show, who lent his considerable talents to helping make the band sound better, and to whom its fifth album, TNT: A Tommy Newsom Tribute (Lightyear, 2005) is dedicated.

It was inevitable, of course, that many of those who played with DIVA in those early years would soon be moving onward and upward, and even a partial list of the band's alumnae is quite impressive. Tenor saxophonist Virginia Mayhew
Virginia Mayhew
Virginia Mayhew
b.1959
sax, tenor
was on that first album in '95, as were baritone Claire Daly
Claire Daly
Claire Daly

sax, baritone
, trombonist Audrey Morrison, bassist Mary Ann McSweeney and trumpeters Louise Baranger, Ingrid Jensen
Ingrid Jensen
Ingrid Jensen
b.1966
trumpet
and their peerless leader, Liesl Whitaker (known then by her maiden name, Sagartz). Others who have passed through the reed section include Carol Chaikin, Anat Cohen
Anat Cohen
Anat Cohen

sax, tenor
, Tia Fuller
Tia Fuller
Tia Fuller

saxophone
, Karolyn Kafer, Ann Patterson, Karolina Strassmayer, Carol Sudhalter
Carol Sudhalter
Carol Sudhalter

saxophone
, Erica von Kleist and Scheila Gonzalez. Besides those already named, trumpeters Laurie Frink and Barbara Laronga, trombonist Lolly Bienenfeld, pianists Roberta Piket, Ellen Rowe
Ellen Rowe
Ellen Rowe

piano
and Deanna Witkowski
Deanna Witkowski
Deanna Witkowski
b.1972
piano
, bassists Jennifer Leitham and Nicki Parrott, and guitarists Sheryl Bailey
Sheryl Bailey
Sheryl Bailey
b.1966
guitar, electric
and Dida Pelled
Dida Pelled
b.1988
guitar
are among the alumnae who have fashioned successful careers of their own. Bailey and Pelled appeared on DIVA's most recent album, Johnny Mandel: A Man and His Music (Arbors Records, 2011), and Whitaker returns from time to time when she is able to take a leave of absence from her day gig as lead trumpet for the U.S. Army Blues.

In spite of those losses, DIVA continues to perform and record, boasting a starting lineup today that is arguably stronger than ever. When Whitaker's not available, lead trumpet duties are in the capable hands of Tanya Darby in a section that includes veteran Jami Dauber and newcomer Nadje Noordhuis. The saxophone section embodies rising stars Sharel Cassity
Sharel Cassity
Sharel Cassity

saxophone
, Janelle Reichman , Nicki and Lisa Parrott and Lynn Gruenwald alongside the experienced Leigh Pilzer, the trombone section Deborah Weisz
Deborah Weisz
Deborah Weisz

trombone
, Sara Jacovino
Sara Jacovino
b.1983
trombone
, Leslie Havens and Jennifer Krupa (who divides time with the U.S. Navy Commodores). Maricle leads a strong rhythm section whose other members are pianist Tomoko Ohno and bassist Noriko Ueda
Noriko Ueda
Noriko Ueda

bass, acoustic
.

With DIVA showing the way, other notable all-women bands have been formed both here and abroad. Alumna Ann Patterson leads her own California-based band, Maiden Voyage, and that state also houses the blue-chip Montclair Women's Big Band. Further north, Washington state is home to the Seattle Women's Jazz Orchestra. The Midwest is represented by the recently formed Chicago Outskirts Big Band, New York City by the Kit McClure Big Band as well as DIVA. Overseas, Germany is home to the United Women's Jazz Orchestra while Crissy Lee leads an all-female band in the UK. Slowly but surely, women are making inroads into what has traditionally been an all-male domain, that of the big band. Audiences are taking notice, and jazz is better for it. Stanley Kay's idea, as it turns out, had merit, and he lived long enough to see it realized via the emergence of one of the country's leading big bands, a band that needs no qualifying asterisk next to its name. Viva DIVA!, a swinging ensemble that affirms with every note that women can not only play jazz, but play it as well as their male counterparts. One day, if wishes come true, similar bands will be active in every decent-sized city in this country and around the world. Until then, applaud and appreciate what we now have.

Au Revoir Frank Foster, George Graham

Big-band jazz lost another stalwart champion July 26 when composer / arranger / saxophonist Frank Foster
Frank Foster
Frank Foster
1928 - 2011
saxophone
died at his home in Chesapeake, VA. He was eighty-two years old. Best known as a member (and later leader) of the Count Basie
Count Basie
Count Basie
1904 - 1984
piano
Orchestra, Foster's many compositions included the jazz standard "Shiny Stockings," which has been played by big bands around the world since it was introduced by the Basie orchestra in the late '50s. He contributed many other songs to the Basie book including "Blues in Hoss' Flat," "Down for the Count," "Back to the Apple" and "Blues Backstage." After eleven years with Basie (1953-64), Foster struck out on his own, performing with various groups and later leading his own ensembles—Living Color, the Non-Electric Company, Swing Plus and the Loud Minority Big Band. In addition to his recordings with Basie and others, he recorded more than twenty-five albums as leader of his own groups. In June 1986, he succeeded trumpeter Thad Jones
Thad Jones
Thad Jones
1923 - 1986
trumpet
as leader of the Basie orchestra and remained in that position until 1995. Meanwhile, he had become an educator, teaching in the New York City public school system and at the State University of New York at Buffalo (SUNY). Foster earned two Grammy awards for arranging while leading the Basie orchestra, and in 2002 received the prestigious Jazz Masters Award from the National Endowment for the Arts, one year after suffering a stroke that ended his playing career. He continued writing and arranging, producing commissioned works for Jazz at Lincoln Center, the Chicago Jazz Ensemble and the Harpers Ferry Historical Association, among others.

That same day, George Graham, one of the jazz world's premier lead trumpeters for more than four decades, died at his home in Apple Valley, CA. Graham hadn't played since he suffered a paralyzing stroke several years ago; before that, he was a first-call studio musician who doubled as lead player for some of the West Coast's most proficient bands, including more than twenty years (and ten albums) with the Bob Florence
Bob Florence
Bob Florence
1932 - 2008
band/orchestra
Limited Edition. Graham also played with bands led by Tom Kubis, Gerald Wilson
Gerald Wilson
Gerald Wilson
b.1918
composer/conductor
, Ray Anthony
Ray Anthony
Ray Anthony
b.1922
trumpet
, Louie Bellson
Louie Bellson
Louie Bellson
1924 - 2009
drums
and Benny Carter
Benny Carter
Benny Carter
1907 - 2003
sax, alto
, among others, and in groups backing such headliners as Frank Sinatra
Frank Sinatra
Frank Sinatra
1915 - 1998
vocalist
, B.B. King
B.B. King
B.B. King
b.1925
guitar, electric
, Rosemary Clooney
Rosemary Clooney
Rosemary Clooney
1928 - 2002
vocalist
, Diane Schuur
Diane Schuur
Diane Schuur
b.1953
vocalist
and Dionne Warwick
Dionne Warwick
Dionne Warwick
b.1940
vocalist
. He performed at the Academy Awards ceremony eight times, at the Emmy Awards seven—and that barely scratches the surface. The list of film and television credits is almost endless.

Besides being a great trumpeter, Graham was a great guy as well, down to earth and fun to hang with. I first met him in South Carolina, and my opening remark was, "You look like Jack Sheldon
Jack Sheldon
Jack Sheldon
b.1931
trumpet
." No, he replied, I'm not Jack Sheldon but I just recorded an album with him, by the Tom Kubis Big Band. "Tom who?" I asked. "I'll send you a copy," he said. Several weeks later, a package arrived in the mail; in it were an LP by Graham—All the Right Stuff (Outstanding Records, 1995) and one of the most spectacular big-band CDs I'd ever heard, Slightly Off the Ground, (Sea Breeze, 1991) by none other than the Tom Kubis Big Band, featuring Jack Sheldon on vocals ("Play It Again Sam") and trumpet ("Who Can I Turn To," "Which Craft?"), and George Graham leading an awesome trumpet section (Wayne Bergeron
Wayne Bergeron
Wayne Bergeron

trumpet
, Dan McGurn, Stan Martin, Charlie Peterson). It was one of the nicest gifts I'd ever received, and continues to hold a place of honor in my ever-expanding big-band CD library.

Besides the LP, Graham recorded three CDs under his own name: With a Lot of Help from My Friends (1994), With More Help from My Friends (1999) and How About Me? (2001), and they are definitely worth checking out. The first two shouldn't be hard to find, as they are on Sea Breeze Records; How About Me? was recorded on Graham's own label, Pippo Avenue, but with the same great lineup of sidemen and special guests (Bob Florence, Bob and Calabria McChesney, Trey Henry, Ray Brinker) accompanied by Tom Kubis and His Electric Orchestra (and no solos by Graham who plays only lead). There have been many outstanding lead trumpeters in the long history of jazz, and there's no doubt that George Graham's name belongs near the top of any such list. As Kubis said of him: "When the name George Graham comes up as it relates to my music, I think it's gonna be musical; it's gonna be intense; it's gonna sound better than I could have ever expected; it's going to be performed by a consummate professional who takes pride in every note and phrase that he plays."

In closing, a few words from my review of With More Help from My Friends: "The first thing one notices about trumpeter George Graham is his absolutely gorgeous tone; the second is that no matter how small or elusive the musical target, he never misses; the third is that this consummate lead trumpeter is also a remarkably sure-fingered and persuasive jazz soloist." George Graham was all that and more. He will be greatly missed, as will Frank Foster. RIP, guys.

An Embarrassment of Riches?

The Los Angeles Jazz Institute, which has already lined up almost thirty groups and individuals to take part in its next Jazz Festival, "Modern Sounds: Celebrating the West Coast Big Band Sound," October 20-23 at the Los Angeles Airport Marriott Hotel, has added an extra day of big-band jazz October 24 to mark the one-hundredth anniversary of the birth of Stan Kenton
Stan Kenton
Stan Kenton
1911 - 1979
piano
, featuring an array of Kenton alumni and others taking part in concerts and panel discussions, plus rare films and a special "meet the alumni" reception. There will be three concerts in all, two by an all-star alumni band directed by Bill Holman
Bill Holman
Bill Holman

band/orchestra
, Bill Mathieu and Bob Curnow, the other by the Collegiate Neophonic Orchestra of Southern California directed by its founder, Jack Wheaton. Kenton alumni slated to take part include Howard Rumsey
Howard Rumsey
Howard Rumsey
b.1917
, Peter Erskine
Peter Erskine
Peter Erskine
b.1954
drums
, Carl Saunders
Carl Saunders
Carl Saunders
b.1942
trumpet
, Steve Huffsteter, Bill Trujillo
Bill Trujillo
b.1930
, Joel Kaye, Al Yankee, Dave Stone, Larry McGuire and John Mitchell. And as if that weren't enough . . .

"Modern Sounds" promises to be another spectacular event, with twenty-eight concerts in four days in addition to the usual films, panels and special presentations ("Sleepy Stein and the Birth of Jazz Radio," "The Contemporary Records Story," "the Pacific Jazz Records Story"). Concerts will celebrate the music of Kenton, Holman, Shorty Rogers
Shorty Rogers
Shorty Rogers
1924 - 1994
trumpet
, Woody Herman
Woody Herman
Woody Herman
1913 - 1987
band/orchestra
, Gerry Mulligan
Gerry Mulligan
Gerry Mulligan
1927 - 1996
sax, baritone
, Johnny Richards, Jimmy Giuffre
Jimmy Giuffre
Jimmy Giuffre
1921 - 2008
clarinet
, Shelly Manne
Shelly Manne
Shelly Manne
1920 - 1984
drums
, Pete Rugolo
Pete Rugolo
Pete Rugolo
b.1915
composer/conductor
, Marty Paich
Marty Paich
1925 - 1995
composer/conductor
, Spud Murphy
Spud Murphy
b.1908
, Don Fagerquist, Bud Shank
Bud Shank
Bud Shank
1926 - 2009
saxophone
, Bob Cooper
Bob Cooper
1925 - 1993
saxophone
, Chet Baker
Chet Baker
Chet Baker
1929 - 1988
trumpet
, Jack Montrose
Jack Montrose
b.1928
, John Graas
John Graas
John Graas
b.1924
and Clifford Brown
Clifford Brown
Clifford Brown
1930 - 1956
trumpet
, among others. There'll be ensembles led by Holman, Russell Garcia
Russell Garcia
Russell Garcia
1916 - 2011
composer/conductor
, Johnny Mandel
Johnny Mandel
Johnny Mandel
b.1925
arranger
, Terry Gibbs
Terry Gibbs
Terry Gibbs
b.1924
vibraphone
, Bobby Shew
Bobby Shew
Bobby Shew
b.1941
trumpet
and Dave Pell
Dave Pell
Dave Pell
b.1935
saxophone
, plus vocals by Sue Raney
Sue Raney
Sue Raney
b.1940
vocalist
. Wow! For tickets and information, phone 562-200-5477 or go online to www.lajazzinstitute, org

New CD Benefits Japanese Earthquake / Tsunami Victims

On July 13, a new CD, From California with Love (CD Baby/Indys, 2011), the proceeds from which will be used to benefit victims of the recent earthquake and tsunami in Japan, was released and made available for sale at CD Baby. Performing on the CD are Tierney Sutton
Tierney Sutton
Tierney Sutton
b.1963
vocalist
, Kendall Kay, Christian Jacob, Frankie Randall, Johnny Holiday, Sam Most
Sam Most
Sam Most
1930 - 2013
flute
, Dick Noel, Leslie Lewis
Leslie Lewis
Leslie Lewis

vocalist
, Gerard Hagen
Gerard Hagen

piano
, Alan Broadbent
Alan Broadbent
Alan Broadbent
b.1947
piano
and the late singer Chris Connor
Chris Connor
Chris Connor
1927 - 2009
vocalist
. None of the tracks has been heard before and most were recorded especially for this project. For more information, go to www.from-california-with-love.com

New Mexico Jazz Festival

The sixth annual New Mexico Jazz Festival was held July 19-31 in Albuquerque and Santa Fe. This year's headliners were singer / composer Mose Allison
Mose Allison
Mose Allison
b.1927
composer/conductor
, singer Dee Dee Bridgewater
Dee Dee Bridgewater
Dee Dee Bridgewater
b.1950
vocalist
, saxophonist Maceo Parker
Maceo Parker
Maceo Parker
b.1943
saxophone
, the Preservation Hall Jazz Band, guitarist John Pizzarelli
John Pizzarelli
John Pizzarelli
b.1960
guitar
, bassist Christian McBride
Christian McBride
Christian McBride
b.1972
bass
and pianist Randy Weston
Randy Weston
Randy Weston
b.1926
piano
. Others performing included guitarist Michael Anthony, singer Patti Littlefield and guitarist Bucky Pizzarelli
Bucky Pizzarelli
Bucky Pizzarelli
b.1926
guitar
. I'd say more but the fact is I didn't attend any of the events. There was simply nothing that moved me to leave the house and drive to Santa Fe or to Albuquerque's Outpost Performance Space (unlike last July, when I did make the trip to Santa Fe to see and hear the Toshiko Akiyoshi
Toshiko Akiyoshi
Toshiko Akiyoshi
b.1929
piano
/ Lew Tabackin
Lew Tabackin
Lew Tabackin
b.1940
sax, tenor
Big Band with guest artist Bobby Shew). Maybe next year . . .

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

New and Noteworthy

August 2011

1. The H2 Big Band, You're It! (Jazzed Media)

2. Captain Black Big Band, Untitled (Posi-Tone)

3. Gordon Goodwin's Big Phat Band, That's How We Roll (Telarc)

4. Stan Kenton / DePaul University, Double Feature (Tantara)

5. Fred Hess Big Band, Into the Open (Alison)

6. Rick Wald 16 / NYC, Play That Thing (Glowbow Records)

7. Mike Cato Tentet, Nimmons 'n' Nine . . . Now (MCCO Records)

8. Jazz Conceptions Orchestra, Untitled (151 Records)

9. Clarke / Boland Big Band, Complete Live Recordings at Ronnie Scott's (Rearward)

10. Brooks Tegler Big Band, That's It! (Maxngruber Records)

11. UNT Two O'Clock Lab Band, Under the Radar (UNT Jazz)

12. Heart of North Carolina Jazz Orchestra, Jazz Encounters (Self Published)

13. U.S. Navy Commodores, 40th Anniversary Celebration (USN Jazz)

14. Jamie Begian Big Band, Big Fat Grin (Innova)

15. University of Missouri Concert Jazz Band, Vertigo (AW Jazz)


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