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Big Band Report

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

By Published: November 8, 2011
Charming as Mandel's concert was, it ran longer than anticipated, and so the second performance, re-creating arrangements by Shorty Rogers from Marlon Brando's motorcycle-gang clunker The Wild One, started well behind schedule. To compound the problem, the concert was interspersed with scenes from the film, which was so appalling that if Brando hadn't already earned a reputation as one of Hollywood's biggest stars it's unlikely he could have survived such a fiasco and earned the distinguished career he later had. As for the music, it was typically soundtrack-y, not something you were likely to hum on the way home, but capably dispatched by the Fred Selden-led orchestra, which, I noted, was "excellent and well-prepared." As a little soundtrack music can go a long way, Selden chose to amplify it with several pieces written for Shorty's Giants: "Infinity Promenade," "The Sweetheart of Sigmund Freud," and, most welcome of all, the irrepressible "Short Stop." Tenor saxophonist Jerry Pinter was showcased on "Blues for Brando," Selden (alto) on "Infinity Promenade," Selden, Pinter, trombonist Alan Kaplan and trumpeter Ron King on a "source cue" from the film entitled "First Jukebox." Despite having to watch those dreadful film clips, a bright and pleasurable concert.

The evening's third and final performance, "Jazz Themes from The Subterraneans," music from Andre Previn's soundtrack for the film inspired by the Jack Kerouac novel of that name, was to have ended at 10:45. Instead, it started at 10:45. A handful of diehards remained, including this one, but after two selections—"Bread and Wine," "Guido's Blackhawk"—I quietly excused myself and headed upstairs to bed. Fourteen-plus hours of jazz in various forms was quite enough for one day.

Sunday, October 23

Sunday, the last day of "Modern Sounds," began as usual with a filmed anthology, "West Coasting," that embodied clips of Les Brown's band, the Dave Pell Octet, Mel Torme
Mel Torme
Mel Torme
b.1925
vocalist
, Pete Jolly
Pete Jolly
Pete Jolly
1932 - 2004
piano
, the Shorty Rogers Big Band, Jimmy Giuffre, Lou Levy
Lou Levy
Lou Levy
1928 - 2001
piano
, Anita O'Day
Anita O'Day
Anita O'Day
1919 - 2006
vocalist
, Richie Kamuca
Richie Kamuca
Richie Kamuca
1930 - 1977
sax, tenor
and Frank Rosolino
Frank Rosolino
Frank Rosolino
1926 - 1978
trombone
. That preceded Ken Poston's tribute to the legendary sound engineer Roy DuNann who was there to discuss his groundbreaking work for Contemporary Records in the 1950s. Also taking part in the discussion were audio engineer Bernie Grundman and John Koenig, the son of Lester Koenig, founder and president of Contemporary, who lured DuNann away from Capitol Records.

The last of the four poolside concerts was devoted to the music of jazz French horn player John Graas
John Graas
John Graas
b.1924
, with Ken Wiley sitting in for Graas and leading a nonet whose other members were trumpeter Jeff Bunnell, tubaist Bill Roper, alto Bruce Babad, tenor Glen Berger, baritone Bob Carr, pianist Konrad Paszkudszki, bassist Jennifer Leitham (good to have her back on the West Coast) and drummer Dick Weller. Sadly, the sound system did Wiley no favors (he was for some unknown reason seated in the back row next to Weller) and his wind-blown French horn was barely audible through the first several numbers. Nevertheless, another well-played set from the album Jazz-Mantics including "Jazz Overture," "Argyles," "Let's Fall in Love," "Blue Haze," "6-4 Trend," "Flip Tip" and "I.D."

I approached the next concert with trepidation, as its title, "Orbits in Sound: the 12-Tone Compositions and Arrangements of Spud Murphy
Spud Murphy
b.1908
," was less than inviting. Having endured two hours of twelve-tone discord the day before, I was not eager to hear more of the same. On the other hand, I reasoned, you've come this far . . . how much discomfort can another hour of it cause? So I found a seat near the back of the room and prepared for the worst, when—holy Schoenberg, Batman!—I found myself listening to some of the loveliest and most enchanting music I'd heard all week! Needless to say, I was taken completely by surprise. Is this the way twelve-tone jazz can sound? The way it should sound? If so, what had I been listening to on Saturday? I had to learn more about Lyle "Spud" Murphy, a man whose name I had heard but whose music I hadn't. Murphy (given name Stefanovic) was born in Germany, grew up in Salt Lake City, was a multi-instrumentalist who once served as a staff arranger for Benny Goodman
Benny Goodman
Benny Goodman
1909 - 1986
clarinet
, had a long career as a composer and arranger in Hollywood, and was an educator who is perhaps best known for his 1,200-page textbook, "System of Horizontal Composition" (also known as the Equal Interval System). Murphy died in 2005, two weeks short of his ninety-seventh birthday.


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