All About Jazz: The web's most comprehensive jazz resource

Serving jazz worldwide since 1995
All About Jazz: The web's most comprehensive jazz resource

Big Band Report

From Charlie Christian to Charlie Parker

By Published: September 4, 2012
It's not often one has a chance to see and hear a dozen of New Mexico's premier jazz musicians together onstage (or almost so) for a single concert, but that is what took place August 11 as an overflow audience welcomed the Charlie Christian
Charlie Christian
Charlie Christian
1916 - 1942
guitar, electric
Project and SuperSax New Mexico to the Albuquerque Museum of Art and History near Old Town. Both groups were enhanced by the presence of trumpet master (and Albuquerque native) Bobby Shew
Bobby Shew
Bobby Shew
b.1941
trumpet
whose playing, as always, was a model of resourcefulness and taste. With the Charlie Christian Project, conceived by bassist Micky Patten as a tribute to the legendary guitarist who gained fame with the Benny Goodman
Benny Goodman
Benny Goodman
1909 - 1986
clarinet
Sextet and Orchestra before he died in March 1942 at age twenty-five, Shew discarded his typically modern approach to soloing in favor of a swing-era style that was more in keeping with the spirit and substance of Christian's pre-bop work with Goodman and others. Meanwhile, guitarist Michael Anthony, long a mainstay in Hollywood studios before relocating to New Mexico several years ago, proved to be a superb stand-in for Christian himself, while Patten and drummer Cal Haines provided unflagging rhythm.

With Shew alternating on various numbers between trumpet, cornet and flugelhorn, the quartet opened with the irrepressible "Royal Garden Blues" and continued through "Rose Room," "Love Me or Leave Me," Christian / Goodman's "Seven Come Eleven," Barney Kessel
Barney Kessel
Barney Kessel
1923 - 2004
guitar, electric
's "Salute to Charlie Christian," "Lonesome Road," "Rosetta," "Stardust" (a showpiece for Shew's cornet) and "Limehouse Blues." Haines, acting as emcee, invited the audience to dance, and the area in front of the bandstand was filled for several numbers. There were, as it turns out, almost two shows for the price of one, as a lone (and quite attractive) brunette, dancing by herself, added a unique series of interpretive moves to the proceedings before she was encouraged to audition her erotic pirouettes and come-hither glances elsewhere (as I remarked to a friend, "all she needs is a pole"). Whoever the woman was, she wasn't really doing any harm, simply trying to make the concert about her, not the music. She almost succeeded.

After an intermission, SuperSax NM charged into the breach with a crackling rendition of "Blue 'n Boogie," after which the group's sole newcomer, alto saxophonist Sam Reid, was given the first sax solo, on Dizzy Gillespie
Dizzy Gillespie
Dizzy Gillespie
1917 - 1993
trumpet
's "Salt Peanuts." Reid was sitting in for the nonet's elder statesman, octogenarian Arlen Asher, who was recovering from recent surgery. The rest of the lineup remained intact: Shew, Haines, alto Dave Anderson, tenors Kanoa Kaluhiwa and Lee Taylor, baritone Glenn Kostur, pianist Bert Dalton and bassist Michael Glynn (guitarist Anthony joined the group for its final number, Gillespie's "A Night in Tunisia"). "Blue 'n Boogie" and "Salt Peanuts" were followed by "Star Eyes," "Cool Blues," "Parker's Mood," "Be-Bop," "Just Friends" and "Tunisia."

For those who may be unaware of its history, the original SuperSax was formed in Los Angeles circa 1972 by saxophonist Med Flory
Med Flory
Med Flory
1926 - 2014
sax, tenor
and bassist Buddy Clark
Buddy Clark
b.1929
, the concept being to orchestrate solos by the legendary Charlie Parker
Charlie Parker
Charlie Parker
1920 - 1955
sax, alto
for a full saxophone section. SuperSax recorded several best-selling albums and earned a Grammy award in 1974 before disbanding in the early 1990s. Two years ago, Haines decided to resurrect SuperSax in New Mexico, and the Museum concert was the group's fourth gig since then. The irrepressible Flory, who turned eighty-six on August 27, is an outspoken booster of SuperSax NM and gave his blessing to using the original charts. With those charts in hand, and plenty of rehearsal time under its belt, SuperSax gave an electrifying performance, complete with emphatic solos by Shew, Dalton, Reid, Kaluhiwa and Kostur, superior timekeeping by Haines and Glynn, and finger-busting ensemble work by the saxophones. In sum, a highly enjoyable performance, tempered only by the unhappy thought that a group this good can't find steadier employment.

Bloviation X 2

I got to thinking as I listened to them on headphones recently while working out that drummer Danny DImperio, who earned his stripes with the likes of Woody Herman
Woody Herman
Woody Herman
1913 - 1987
band/orchestra
and Maynard Ferguson
Maynard Ferguson
Maynard Ferguson
1928 - 2006
trumpet
, among others, recorded two of the more electrifying big-band albums of the last decade or so, Big Band Bloviation, Vols 1 and 2, and that no more than a handful of big-band enthusiasts may even be aware of their existence. I do know it took me forever to find copies (and I'm supposed to know what I'm doing), and to this day I couldn't tell anyone without doing any research where to find them. I can't speak to D'Imperio's motivation except to say that it obviously doesn't include record sales. Nevertheless, he has produced a pair of albums that beyond a doubt deserve to be widely heard, as they embody the finest elements of big-band jazz performed by musicians whose creds are beyond reproach. I don't know how D'Imperio persuaded so many topnotch artists to perform as sidemen in his ensemble; I'm only happy he did.

To begin with, any trumpet section led by the indomitable Dave Stahl
Dave Stahl
b.1949
is guaranteed to earn a blue ribbon, and when it embodies such other standouts as Greg Gisbert, Joe Magnarelli
Joe Magnarelli
Joe Magnarelli
b.1960
trumpet
, Chris Persad Group, The Dautaj, Marcus Gilmore , Coquito, Fri, Dennis Dotson
Dennis Dotson
b.1946
and Glenn Drewes, so much the better. In the reed section, you won't find a sharper or more engaging tenor saxophone soloist than Eric Alexander
Eric Alexander
Eric Alexander
b.1968
sax, tenor
(dig his breathtaking two-minute introduction to Tadd Dameron
Tadd Dameron
Tadd Dameron
1917 - 1965
arranger
's "Good Bait" on Vol. 1), while award-winning baritone Gary Smulyan
Gary Smulyan
Gary Smulyan
b.1956
sax, baritone
and longtime D'Imperio teammate Gary Pribek on alto more than hold their own in the ad-lib department. Tenors Lew Tabackin
Lew Tabackin
Lew Tabackin
b.1940
sax, tenor
and Ralph Lalama
Ralph Lalama
Ralph Lalama
b.1951
saxophone
sit in briefly on Vol. 2. Trombones? How about John Mosca, Larry Farrell, Bruce Eidem and Jason Jackson
Jason Jackson
Jason Jackson

trombone
. There are no lemons in that bunch. Turning to the rhythm section, all that need be said is that the lead accompanist is pianist Barry Harris
Barry Harris
Barry Harris
b.1929
piano
. Guitarist Peter Bernstein
Peter Bernstein
Peter Bernstein
b.1967
guitar
is there too, as are D'Imperio and bassist Peter Mack.

Impressive as the ensemble and soloists are, D'Imperio's choice of material is arguably even more so, much like delicious frosting on a well-baked cake. Besides "Good Bait," the selections on Vol. 1 include Willie Maiden
Willie Maiden
b.1928
's "Three More Foxes" (scorching solos courtesy of Persad, Magnarelli and Gisbert), bassist Sam Jones
Sam Jones
Sam Jones
1924 - 1981
bass, acoustic
' irresistible "Del Sasser," Don Sebesky
Don Sebesky
b.1937
arranger
's marvelous arrangement of "Danny Boy" (a vehicle for Stahl's Maynard-like trumpet), Wes Montgomery
Wes Montgomery
Wes Montgomery
1925 - 1968
guitar
's "Four on Six," Alan Broadbent
Alan Broadbent
Alan Broadbent
b.1947
piano
's "Adam's Apple," Bird's "Red Cross" and Clifford Brown
Clifford Brown
Clifford Brown
1930 - 1956
trumpet
's "Daahoud." Vol. 2 opens with Phil Kelly
Phil Kelly
Phil Kelly
b.1937
composer/conductor
's "Sweet Georgia Upside Down," which precedes Frank Loesser's "Brotherhood of Man" (nicely arranged by Tony Klatko), the standard "Come Rain or Come Shine," Diz's "Groovin' High," Mike Abene's classic "Fox Hunt," Bill Stapleton's "Bill's Blues," Lee Morgan
Lee Morgan
Lee Morgan
1938 - 1972
trumpet
's delightful waltz, "Ceora," and Parker's lyrical "Yardbird Suite." Vol. 1 and tracks 4, 7 and 8 on Vol. 2 were recorded in October 2001, the other tracks on Vol. 2 in November 2003. And everything sounds as though it could have been recorded in the last week or so. This isn't meant to be a review (that has already been done) but more a reminder that there are at least a couple of terrific big-band albums out there somewhere that you may not have heard but definitely should.

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

New and Noteworthy

1. James Morrison, Snappy Too (Morrison Records)

2. Aschaffenburger Big Band, Second Take (Main-Echo)

3. Stan Kenton / U Wisconsin-Eau Claire, Double Feature, Vol 3 (Tantara Productions)

4. JazzMN Big Band, Enriching Life with Jazz (Self Published)

5. NYJO, A Christmas Carol in Six Movements (Stanza Music)

6. Alon Yavnai / NDR Big Band, Shir Ahava (NDR)

7. Landes Jugend Orchester Bayern, Wie Heisst der Typ? (Self Published)

8. Millennium Jazz Orchestra, Distrust All Rules (MJO>

9. Big Band Burghausen, Blue Truth (B'Jazz)

10. Red Bank Jazz Orchestra, Strike Up the Band! (Hip City Jazz)

11. University Big Band, Stompin' at the University (Cat Sound Records)

12. Kansas City Jazz Orchestra, Live on the Plaza (KCJO Records)

13. Harry Smallenburg Jazz Ensemble, Just What I Was Thinking (Self Published)

14. Eyal Vilner, Introducing the Eyal Vilner Big Band (Gut String Records)

15. University of Northern Iowa Jazz Band One, Let Go (Self Published)



comments powered by Disqus