Big Band Jazz: It's Not Just for Guys Anymore
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 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 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 ensemblesLiving 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 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 Limited Edition. Graham also played with bands led by Tom Kubis, Gerald Wilson, Ray Anthony, Louie Bellson and Benny Carter, among others, and in groups backing such headliners as Frank Sinatra, B.B. King, Rosemary Clooney, Diane Schuur and Dionne Warwick. He performed at the Academy Awards ceremony eight times, at the Emmy Awards sevenand that barely scratches the surface. The list of film and television credits is almost endless.