Heigh Ho, Heigh Ho, It's Off To Jazz We Go . . .
While that may seem an unlikely basis for a jazz concert, Shew and his sidekicks made it work, thanks in part to the presence of a frequent visitor to the area, Los Angeles-based pianist / singer John Proulx, who blended seamlessly with Shew, bassist Michael Glynn and drummer Cal Haines in an engaging session that began with a Snow White medley ("Whistle While You Work," "Someday My Prince Will Come," "Heigh Ho, Heigh Ho, It's Off to Work We Go") and ended more than two hours later with the Academy Award-winning song from Disney's ill-fated Song of the South, "Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah" (it's a shame that this marvelous film from 1946, the first to combine animated sequences and live actors, is no longer being shown, as moviegoers have thus been deprived of seeing and appreciating one of the most impressive screen performances ever given, by the incomparable James Baskett as Joel Chandler Harris's wise and wondrous story-teller, Uncle Remus).
But back to the concert. Proulx not only played piano but sang a number of Disney favorites including "Supercalafragilisticexpialadocious" (how's my spelling?),"Bibbity Bobbity Boo," "Alice in Wonderland" and "Beauty and the Beast," and Shew even sang a couple himself ("No, this is not a new career for me," he assured the audience). It's remarkable how many of these songs have become a familiar part of the cultural landscape, from "When You Wish Upon a Star" and "I've Got No Strings" (Pinocchio) to "Never Never Land" (Peter Pan), "The Bare Necessities" (Jungle Book), "Chim Chim Cheree" (Mary Poppins), "Who's Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf" (the animated short The Three Little Pigs) and those others already mentioned. Together, they made for an offbeat but positively delightful evening of jazz.
Somewhat farther from home, Betty and I were in Prescott, AZ, the last weekend in August for the eleventh annual Prescott Jazz Summit (and our fourth or fifth; the memory is hazy). Trumpeter Mike Vax, who also directs the Stan Kenton Alumni Band, is the Summit's chief organizer (Vax and his wife Peggy now live in Prescott), and he invites musicians from the West Coast and beyond plus a few locals to take part in the weekend's concerts and other activities. Those activities included a "meet the musicians" dinner on Friday, a Saturday afternoon dance, a Sunday jazz brunch and Sunday evening jam session at a local restaurant. This in addition to three concerts, one a Friday noon freebie at Prescott's courthouse square. Betty and I stayed, as we always do, at a b&b, the Pleasant Street Inn, with our friends Norm and Mary Tompach, trombonist / singer / arranger Scott Whitfield and his wife, singer Ginger Berglund. This year we were joined by Scott's eight-year-old daughter, Grace, who says she wants to be a veterinarian.
As for the musicians, besides Vax, Whitfield and Berglund, they included Vax's friend since middle school, trumpeter Fred Radke, who now leads the Harry James Orchestra; Rusty Higgins, one of the Los Angeles area's leading saxophonists; ex-Count Basie vocalist Dennis Rowland, who now lives in Phoenix; another Phoenix resident, the splendid tenor saxophonist Tony Vacca; former Kenton drummer Gary Hobbs; the well-known guitarist Jack Petersen, who lives in Prescott; Peggy Vax (who doubles as wife / trombonist) and a number of others who together comprised a big band for the Saturday evening concert. The Summit will return next year, again on the last weekend in August. If you'd like details, you can find them at www.prescottjazz.com
If there is anything that could lure me across the country to East Stroudsburg, PA, it would be a festival honoring my all-time saxophone hero, Zoot Simswhich is why I'm sorry I can't be there November 13 for ZootFest, an afternoon of jazz and memories in honor of Zoot and his longtime colleague Al Cohn, whose memorial collection is housed on the campus of East Stroudsburg University. Musicians scheduled to appear include Phil Woods, Bob Dorough, Bill Crow, Lew Tabackin, Bill Goodwin, Sam Stephenson, Ronnie Free and the COTA Festival Orchestra. If it were more than a one-day event I'd seriously consider going, but that's a long way to fly for an afternoon, especially on the heels of our trip to Los Angeles in October for the LAJI's four-day "Modern Sounds" event and day-long tribute to Stan Kenton. If you'd like details about ZootFest, phone 570-422-3828 or go online to www.jazzatesu.com
The Westchester (NY) Jazz Orchestra opened its 2011-2012 concert season September 24 with Grammy-winning saxophonist / composer Joe Lovano as its special guest. Other concerts include Master Keys (December 3), a tribute to the music of Bill Evans, Ahmad Jamal and Herbie Hancock; Bossa! Tango! Flamenco! (January 28), hosted by WJO music director Mike Holober; and The Music of Stevie Wonder and Ray Charles (April 14). For details, go to www.westjazzorch.org.
Composer / arranger / bandleader Russell Garcia, long a resident of New Zealand, returns to the States this fall to celebrate his ninety-fifth birthday (that's not a typo!) with visits to (and concerts in) Los Angeles and Oakland, CA, and New York City. Garcia will be onstage at Catalina's Bar & Grill in Los Angeles (October 26), Yoshi's in Oakland (November 1) and the Iridium Jazz Club in NYC (November 6), accompanied by singers Shaynee Rainbolt and Terese Genecco, among others. As an aside, Garcia will also be leading his big band at the Los Angeles Jazz Institute's salute to West Coast jazz, "Modern Sounds," October 20-23. A rare chance to see and appreciate a living legend who has not only been a celebrated Hollywood studio composer and arranger but has worked over the years with Louis Armstrong, Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, Mel Torme, Sammy Davis Jr., Anita O'Day, Julie London, Sarah Vaughan, Peggy Lee, Judy Garland, Cleo Laine, the Gershwin brothers, Count Basie, Miles Davis, Johnny Hodges, Stan Kenton, Maynard Ferguson, Harry James, Bette Davis, Fred Astaire, Eleanor Powell, Mickey Rooney, Henry Mancini, Elizabeth Taylor, Charlie Chaplin, Marvin Hamlisch, Clint Eastwood and Bill Holman. Mind you, that's only a partial list!
The 29th annual Frank Mantooth Jazz Festival will be held Saturday, February 4, at New Trier High School in Winnetka, IL, with special guests Nicholas Payton and the Chicago Jazz Ensemble plus performances by the Marquis Hill Black-Tet, the Michigan State University Jazz Orchestra and the New Trier Jazz Ensemble. For details, go to www.ntjazz.com
Rollins, Jazzed Media Honored
Saxophonist / composer Sonny Rollins is one of five outstanding artists chosen to receive the 2011 Kennedy Center Honors, to be presented December 4 at the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC, as a part of the 34th annual national celebration of the arts . The other honorees are singer Barbara Cook, singer / songwriter Neil Diamond, cellist Yo Yo Ma and actress Meryl Streep. Other jazz artists who have received the Kennedy Center honors are Ella Fitzgerald, Count Basie, Benny Goodman, Dizzy Gillespie, Lionel Hampton,Benny Carter, Quincy Jones and Dave Brubeck. The Honors gala will be recorded for broadcast as a two-hour primetime special Tuesday, December 27, on CBS-TV. Rollins' latest CD, Road Shows, Vol. 2, was released September 13 on Doxy / Emarcy Records.
The Colorado-based record label Jazzed Media has won two more awards for its documentary Stan Kenton: Artistry in Rhythm, these from the American Pixel Academy, a coalition of professionals and educators in the field of electronic moving pixels. The documentary earned EMPixx Platinum Awards in the documentary and best use of music categories. It was produced and directed by Graham Carter, founder of Jazzed Media, and had previously won a 2011 Telly Award and 2011 Videographer Award of Excellence. The 168 EMPixx Platinum awards were chosen from a record-breaking field of more than 1,100 entries from the U.S. and Canada.
Horns to Havana
Thanks to JAZZEd, the magazine of the Jazz Education Network (whose third annual Conference will be held January 4-7 in Louisville, KY), we've learned about a splendid program called Horns to Havana, which this month is sending a planeload of donated musical instruments to four Cuban music academies. Also on board will be a team of jazz musicians and brass, percussion and woodwind repair technicians. Horns to Havana was set up as a cultural interchange between the American jazz community and Cuban music students following a visit to the island in October 2010 by trumpeter Wynton Marsalis and the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra for a week of performances and workshops. For information about the program, go to www.hornstohavana.org
The Last of the Freshmen Are Gone
Bob Flanigan and Ross Barbour, the last remaining members of the groundbreaking Four Freshmen vocal quartet, died within a three-month span this summer. Flanigan, 84, passed away May 15 in Las Vegas; Barbour, 82, August 20 in Simi Valley, CA. Flanigan, who retired from performing in 1992 but continued as the Freshmen's manager until his death, was the group's original lead singer and doubled as trombonist. Barbour, whose brother Don was also a member of the group when it was formed at Butler University in Indianapolis, was a baritone who doubled on drums. The Four Freshmen played their first club date in Fort Wayne, IN, in September 1948. Two years later, bandleader Stan Kenton heard them singing in Dayton, OH, and arranged to have them record for Capitol Records. The Freshmen scored a hit in 1952 with "It's a Blue World" and followed that with other chart-toppers including "Mood Indigo," "Day by Day," "It Happened Once Before," "How Can I Tell Her?" and, in 1956, "Graduation Day," later covered by such groups as the Beach Boys. Besides the Beach Boys, the Freshmen are credited with having influenced the Lettermen, the Four Preps, the The Manhattan Transfer and other vocal groups. Between 1953-58 the Freshmen won DownBeat magazine's Readers Poll as best vocal group five times. The group continues performing today with new members Vince Johnson, Brian Eichenberger, Bob Ferreira and Curtis Calderon.
And that's it for now. Until next time, keep swingin' . . . !
New and Noteworthy
1. John MacLeod Rex Hotel Orchestra, Our First Set (no label)
2. Sammy Nestico / SWR Big Band, Fun Time and More Live (Haenssler)
3. Gordon Goodwin's Big Phat Band, That's How We Roll (Telarc)
4. Dave Stahl Band, From A to Z (Abee Cake)
5. Fred Hess Big Band, Into the Open (Alison)
6. Tempest Little Big Band, 'Round Midnight (Tempest Jazz)
7. Knoxville Jazz Orchestra, Fleet Street (Max Frank Music)
8. Peter Tenner Jazz Orchester, 10117 Berlin (Mons)
9. Dave Grusin, An Evening with Dave Grusin (Heads Up)
10. Tim Davies Big Band, Dialmentia (Origin)
11. Mt. Hood Jazz Band & Combos, Gan Bei (Sea Breeze Vista)
12. Magnetic Big Band, Repetition (Black & Blue)
13. Cal State-Long Beach Concert Jazz Orchestra, Great Northern Express (No Label)
14. Tromso Big Band, In Traffic (Turnleft)
15. U.S Naval Academy Band, Next Wave (USNA)