"Modern Sounds," or: Running a Marathon in Full Body Armor
While I'm also an outspoken champion of Gerald Wilson's music, it must be said that I found his concert disappointing as well. The main problem here was the orchestra, which (to me) seemed ill-prepared and sloppy. Nothing you can really put your finger on, but you know when it's happening (or in this case, not happening). Wilson's charts were fine but the ensemble seemed to be sight-reading them, starting with "Blues for the Count" and continuing through the boisterous finale, "The Sax Chase," featuring guess which section. Other tunes on the menu were "Clair de Lune," "Blues for Yna," "Milestones," variations on Stravinsky's Firebird Suite and "September Sky." Although each had its moments, there were other times when everyone seemed to be winging it, which is surprising when the talent pool includes such respected names as Randall Willis, Louis Taylor, Kamasi Washington, Les Benedict, Maurice Spears, Ron Barrows, Brian O'Rourke and the conductor's son, guitarist Anthony Wilson, who wasn't listed on the program but showed up anyway. Perhaps I'm over-reacting and set the bar too high. The band did make a lot of noise, and Wilson should be given extra credit for conducting anything at age ninety-three. But the concert as a whole was less than persuasive, and there was no encore this time around. Perhaps everyone's ears were on overload after twenty-five concerts in four days. And for some of them there was more to come, as the LAJI's day-long salute to Stan Kenton was to start at 10 a.m. Monday.
Monday, October 24
Yes, Betty and I were among those who stayed around for the Kenton celebration. Had we not, how could you possibly read all about it? Not in The New York Times, that's for sure (or even The Los Angeles Times, for that matter). On the other hand, Will Friedwald was there to cover the event for the Wall Street Journal, and his report should appear there in a few days (or weeks; he wasn't sure). Be that as it may, the tribute to Kenton got under way as advertised at 10 o'clock Monday morning with an audio / visual presentation, "Treasures from the Archives," covering the early Kenton era with clips from Will Cowan shorts from 1944 onward, beginning with "Artistry in Rhythm" and vocals by Anita O'Day and Gene Howard. There were a number of home movies by drummer Shelly Manne (narrated "in the moment" by Flip Manne) and audios by Jimmy Valentine, one of which was the tape of a 1956 reunion in Balboa of the original Kenton orchestra. The reunion, which was a complete surprise to Kenton, was arranged by the orchestra's original bassist, Howard Rumsey, who was in the audience on Sunday to relive the experience. Rumsey turns ninety-four on November 7. Other videos included an appearance by the orchestra on the Music 55 television show and another in which Stan and Duke Ellington engage in a playful two-piano duet.
Following lunch, a Kenton Alumni panel discussion, moderated by Larry Hathaway, needed more chairs, as the number of alumni taking part was almost as large as the audience (an exaggeration, but not by a wide margin). Hathaway asked each of the alums to talk about how he became acquainted with Kenton and got on the band, which was more than enough fodder to consume an hour. The panelists were Bob Curnow, Bill Mathieu, Joel Kaye, Bill Trujillo, Peter Erskine, Carl Saunders, Mike Suter, Al Yankee and one non-alumnus who was nevertheless close to Kenton as an educator, Jack Wheaton.
Speaking of Jack Wheaton, he was one of several panelists who had to leave early, as he was leading the Collegiate Neophonic Orchestra of Southern California in the afternoon's opening concert, less than half an hour after the panel discussion. The CNO began its performance with a fanfare from the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey (nicely played) and followed with a Mike Barone arrangement of "Besame Mucho," Carlos Santana's "Europa," "Intermission Riff," "Street of Dreams," "Artistry in Bolero," "Perdido" and Johnny Richards' arrangement of the ballad "Somewhere," from West Side Story. The large orchestra included one French horn player, Emalina Thompson (spelling courtesy of Jeff Thompson, no relation), and she was quite good. Also, Wheaton revealed along the way that one of his trumpeters is named Miles Davis! (no, he didn't solo). These are, as Wheaton noted, among the cream of the crop when it comes to college jazz musicians in Southern California (most were from Cal State-Fullerton or Cal State-Long Beach), and they were alert and ready for action. The preparedness showed, as every number was played with enthusiasm and assurance.