Marching to a Jazz Tempo
The Army ensemble, which according to director William McCulloch spends about 100 days a year on the road and was starting a four-week tour covering New Mexico, Texas and Oklahoma, raised the curtain with the Sinatra favorite "Come Fly with Me," swung into Mercer Ellington's "Jumpin' Pumpkins" and continued with Rick Margitza's "Widow's Walk" (featuring tenor saxophonist Pat Shook) and Dizzy Gillespie's "Ow!" before Lewis took center stage to sing "Do Nothin' Till You Hear from Me," "The Good Life" and "Ain't Nobody." After Shew's trio of tunes, the band graciously invited three members of the Manzano High School jazz ensembletenor saxophonist Samantha Sword-Fehlberg, trumpeter Kyle Bality and bass trombonist Jason Sullivanto sit in on the Basie chart-topper "April in Paris." Before wrapping things up with the usual Armed Forces Salute, the ensemble made way for the Rio Grande Ramblers, a Dixieland septet from within the band who delighted the audience with spirited versions of "Avalon" and "I Found a New Baby." Lewis returned at the end of the concert to sing Irving Berlin's "God Bless America" and an encore, "The Birth of the Blues." In all, a pleasing performance with not many wasted moments.
Chico and Rita
Before moving on, a few words about Chico and Rita, which earned an Academy Award nomination as best animated feature but lost to an American film, Rango. Told mostly in flashback, it's the dramatic story of a young jazz pianist and his on-again, off-again romance with a talented and ambitious young singer whom he literally drives from his arms to the bright lights and glamour of New York City. In a way, it's a typical boy-meets-girl, boy-loses-girl scenario but more engaging than most, especially when it comes to the music. The story begins in Cuba in 1947, a time when jazz reigned supreme and a new twist on the theme, called bebop, was being pioneered by such giants as Parker and Gillespie. The film's score, written by Valdes, who is now in his 90s, incorporates music by the jazz luminaries named earlier as well as the brilliant but hot-tempered conguero, Chano Pozo, whom Chico and his manager befriend, only to see him shot to death in cold blood in a New York eatery (based loosely on fact, as Pozo was killed in a nightclub brawl at age thirty-three). The story has a happy ending of sorts as Chico is "re-discovered" by young American jazz buffs after years in obscurity and returns to the States where he is at last reunited with Rita, the love of his life. The hand-drawn animation is (relatively) rudimentary but highly effective, while the music is beyond reproach. Warmly recommended.
And the Winner Is . . .
In March, the city of Prescott, AZ, handed out its second annual Bucky Awards for outstanding arts events, and a surprise winner was the Prescott Jazz Summit whose director since its inception nearly a dozen years ago has been Mike Vax, who played lead trumpet with the Stan Kenton Orchestra in the early '70s. That's well-earned recognition for an event that has drawn world-class musicians to Prescott since it was launched to coincide with the new millennium. Among those who have performed there: Bob Florence, Bud Shank, Carl Saunders, Marvin Stamm, Bill Perkins, Lennie Niehaus, Scott Whitfield, Terry Gibbs, Pete Jolly, Buddy de Franco, Ed Shaughnessy, Dennis Rowland, Rusty Higgins, Jack Petersen, Roy Wiegand, Reggie Thomas, Jeff Colella, Tony Vacca, Fred Radke, Bill Tole and even Toni Tennille (of The Captain and Tennille) who lives in Prescott and headlined a marvelous big-band concert a couple of years ago. Betty and I have journeyed to the Summit five or six times and plan to be there for No. 12, which is set for August 24-26. For information, go online to www.prescottjazz.com or www.mikevax.net
What's in a Name?
Perhaps more than we suspect, as Ken Poston has changed the name of the Los Angeles Jazz Institute's upcoming event, to be held May 24-27 at the L.A. Airport Marriott Hotel, from "Music for Moderns" to "Jivin' in Bebop." The four-day festival "is all big-band bebop," Poston explained, "so hopefully [the new title] is a little less vague." No matter the reason, a Poston event by any name is always captivating and worthwhile. For information, phone 562-200-5477 or go online to www.lajazzinstitte.org
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