Marching to a Jazz Tempo
The UNM Jazz Band 1's concert Saturday evening marked the end of a day-long event in which high school and middle school bands presented mini-concerts at UNM and were evaluated by professionals who rated ensembles and individuals and offered suggestions designed to further improve their performances. This year's judges were saxophonists John Davis (University of Colorado), Pete Mills (Denison University) and and an old friend, trumpeter Rob Parton (Capital University). UNM's guest artist, trumpeter Lujan, was born in Albuquerque, where he learned to play trumpet at an early age before embarking on a long and successful career that has included time in big bands led by Clark Terry, Gerald Wilson, Bill Holman and Ray Charles; performances with such popular entertainers as Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett, Robert Goulet, Wayne Newton, Debbie Reynolds, Aretha Franklin and Bob Hope; lead trumpet in national tours of a number of Broadway musicals, and performances on many motion picture soundtracks. He has taught at several universities in California and elsewhere, served as director of the Cape Cod Youth Jazz Orchestra, and teaches jazz theory, composition, arranging and trumpet privately. On this evening, Lujan was preceded onstage by director Glenn Kostur's well-prepared UNM ensemble, which opened the concert with Bob Brookmeyer's lively "Boom Boom," the standard "Skylark" (arranged by Brookmeyer) and Steely Dan's "Bodhisattva," arranged by Fred Sturm. The soloists, each of whom was exemplary, included tenor Scott Jacobsen and trumpeter Elliot Kuzio ("Boom Boom"), pianist Sean Umstead and alto Sam Reid ("Skylark"), guitarist Brandon Chapman, trombonist Joe Schripsema and baritone Orlando Madrid ("Bodhisattva").
Lujan, who tends to make his home in the higher register, opened his half of the program with Wolf Kerschek's "The Main Theme" and his own "Bella Blue," sharing solo space on the former with Jacobsen, on the latter with Jacobsen, Reid, Umstead and the trumpet section. Following the late Peter Herbolzheimer's lovely "Ballad for a Friend," Lujan closed with a pair of his compositions, "Raw Silk" and "El Zapato" ("The Shoe"), named for and dedicated to trumpet hero and fellow Albuquerquean Bobby Shew, who was in the audience. He received solid support from the UNM band whose soloists (Jacobsen, Reid, Umstead, Schripsema, tenor Chris Ogden among them) were in splendid form, as was the rhythm section, spearheaded by drummer Alex Beamer and including Umstead, Chapman and bassist Diego Flores. As for Lujan, while I can appreciate his exceptional technique and virtuosity, I must confess that his solos didn't really grab me emotionally. In other words, more clinical than visceral. But you've gotta love a musician who brings his mother to the concert, as Lujan did.
It's not often that the Jazz Ambassadors, who work from a prearranged set list, make room for a guest artist but when you're in the hometown of one of the world's foremost jazz trumpeters, namely Mr. Shew, it presents an opportunity that is simply too enticing to let pass. The Ambassadors performed seven selections (the last three with vocalist Marva Lewis) before inviting Shew onstage to play three. Good as the Ambassadors are, these were, to me, the evening's unequivocal highlights, starting with Freddie Hubbard's buoyant "Up Jumped Spring" and including Billy Strayhorn's plaintive "Lush Life" (played on flugel with only the rhythm section) and Kurt Weill's "Speak Low," on which Shew traded choruses with the Ambassadors' impressive jazz trumpet soloist, Kevin Watt. Speaking of the rhythm section, pianist Tim Young, guitarist Jonathan Epley, bassist Jeff Lopez and drummer Todd Harrison were outstanding on every number.