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Big Band Report

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

By Published: August 4, 2011
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

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