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Big Band Report

"Modern Sounds," or: Running a Marathon in Full Body Armor

By Published: November 8, 2011
Between the afternoon and evening concerts, and shortly before suppertime, the aforementioned Meet the Alumni reception was held on a patio adjoining the Marquis Ballroom. As several of the alumni were rehearsing for the evening performance, they attended the gathering as best they could. The weather was brisk, as it had been all week, while the food, such as it was, consisted mainly of cheese and crackers (with some fruit added). Betty and I departed early and went to supper.

When we returned, it was almost time for the grand finale, a performance by an all-star big band comprised partly of Kenton alumni and directed in order by Bill Mathieu and Bob Curnow. By my count, there were about a dozen or so alumni in the orchestra including its sparkplug, drummer Peter Erskine. Mathieu, one of Kenton's (undeservedly) lesser-known arrangers, led a program that consisted wholly of his superlative charts and partly of songs from the classic album Standards in Silhouette, which Mathieu arranged. Those songs were "Willow Weep for Me" (which led off both the concert and the album) and "The Thrill Is Gone." One of Mathieu's more recent charts, "The Whole Man" (a snappy tribute to Bill Holman featuring trumpeter Carl Saunders) was among the highlights. To complete the program, Mathieu chose "Skylark," "I Loves You Porgy" and three more of his tasteful originals, "Keeps," "Magic Lantern" and the intrepid closer, "Blues New." Besides Saunders, the ardent soloists included alto Selden, tenors Trujillo and Yankee, trombonist Eric Jorgensen and bassist John Belzaguy. Several of Mathieu's unrecorded charts, by the way, can be heard on the new album Double Feature, Vol. 2 (Tantara Productions 1127), expertly performed by the NOVA Jazz Orchestra from Minneapolis.

After a brief intermission, Bob Curnow took the baton to crown the Kenton tribute with a series of his own dynamic charts, starting with a crowd-pleasing choice, "The Star Spangled Banner" (from the Kenton album National Anthems of the World, which Curnow arranged). Next up was the theme from the James Bond film Live and Let Die, followed by Erskine's drum showcase, "Artistry in Percussion," and a feature for pianist Rich Eames, the lovely "Interlude." Erskine, Jorgensen, Eames, trombonist Les Benedict and baritone Joel Kaye shared blowing space on Curnow's "Chicago III Suite," while trumpeter Bobby Shew was featured on the ballad "My Foolish Heart." Curnow ended the concert and the remembrance on a high note, presenting his heartwarming and picturesque "Kenton Kollage," written for and first performed by Germany's world-class SWR Big Band on the album Towednack (CK Records, 2002). Needless to say, the audience rose en masse to confer a standing ovation as the Kollage's endmost theme, "Artistry in Rhythm," neared its breathtaking conclusion. What a glorious way to end an arduous yet thoroughly gratifying five days of scintillating West Coast Jazz!


With "Modern Sounds" ended and fading rapidly into the rear-view mirror, the question before the bar is: do Ken Poston and his hard-working sidekick, Eric Frankhauser, ever sleep? Already the theme and (partial) lineup for next May's semi-annual event have been announced. "Music for Moderns," featuring big-band themes from the post-war period that witnessed the birth of bebop and progressive jazz, is set for May 24-27, again at the Los Angeles Airport Marriott Hotel. Here's a foretaste of what's in store: music by the Dizzy Gillespie
Dizzy Gillespie
Dizzy Gillespie
1917 - 1993
, Boyd Raeburn
Boyd Raeburn
, Benny Goodman, Charlie Barnet
Charlie Barnet
Charlie Barnet
1913 - 1991
, Gene Krupa and Chubby Jackson
Chubby Jackson
Chubby Jackson
1918 - 2003
bass, acoustic
big bands (the last performing Tiny Kahn's incendiary charts); Duke Ellington's Liberian Suite; Woody Herman's concert works (Ebony Concerto, Summer Sequence and more); Tadd's Delight: the Music of Tadd Dameron
Tadd Dameron
Tadd Dameron
1917 - 1965
; Charlie Ventura
Charlie Ventura
Charlie Ventura
1916 - 1992
sax, tenor
's Bop for the People; Krazy Kat: Artie Shaw
Artie Shaw
Artie Shaw
1910 - 2004
's 1949 big band and Gramercy 5; New Directions: Woody Herman's Woodchoppers; The Real Birth of the Cool: Music of Claude Thornhill
Claude Thornhill
Claude Thornhill
1909 - 1965
featuring arrangements by Gil Evans
Gil Evans
Gil Evans
1912 - 1988
and Gerry Mulligan; Fuller Bop Man: Music of Gil Fuller
Gil Fuller
; the Buddy Rich
Buddy Rich
Buddy Rich
1917 - 1987
Alumni Band; and Norman Granz
Norman Granz
' "The Jazz Scene" featuring the arrangements of Mulligan and Eddie Finckel
Eddie Finckel
. See anything you like? For information, phone 562-200-5477 or check out the website,

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

New & 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. Rodger Fox's Wellington Jazz Orchestra, Journey Home (Tbone)

4. Dave Stahl Band, From A to Z (Abee Cake)

5. Gerald Wilson Orchestra, Legacy (Mack Avenue)

6. Tempest Little Big Band, 'Round Midnight (Tempest Jazz)

7. Knoxville Jazz Orchestra, Fleet Street (Max Frank Music)

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