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Big Band Report

Swingin' on a Riff . . . Hangin' by a Thread?

By Published: June 14, 2013
Supper prevailed, however, after which New Zealand-born pianist Alan Broadbent, who has been busy composing and arranging for various groups and accompanying singers almost from the day he left the Woody Herman
Woody Herman
Woody Herman
1913 - 1987
band/orchestra
band in the early '70s, expressed his happiness to be part of a big band again, and set about proving it with a series of captivating charts that spanned two sets and consumed more than two hours. Broadbent took the first solo on his composition "Between the Lines" (based on "All the Things You Are"), with other discourses by trombonist Whitfield, baritone John Mitchell and alto Glen Berger, and was out front again on "Swee'pea," written for Billy Strayhorn
Billy Strayhorn
Billy Strayhorn
1915 - 1967
piano
. Bruce Babad's soprano sax shimmered on "Love in Silent Amber" (written for the Herman band), as did Doug Webb's tenor on "The Long White Cloud." Babad and Carl Saunders shared solo honors on the Latin-style "Chris Craft," Broadbent and tenor Jerry Pinter on the well-grooved "Woody and Me," which ended the first set.

Broadbent opened Set 2 with his striking arrangement of "America the Beautiful" (as you've never heard it before), with Pinter and Saunders providing the solo voices. Broadbent and bassist Putter Smith were showcased on the lovely "Encino Nights," alto Berger on the irresistible "Don't Ask Why," dedicated to Irene Kral
Irene Kral
Irene Kral
1932 - 1978
vocalist
. The session would have ended with "Sonny Stitt
Sonny Stitt
Sonny Stitt
1924 - 1982
saxophone
," a charismatic tour de force for Saunders, tenor Webb and drummer Bernie Dresel, but the audience clamored for an encore, and Broadbent obliged with another of his admirable compositions, "Journey Home," enhanced by his lithe piano, Saunders' always meteoric trumpet and Webb's muscular tenor. A lovely way to end an evening.

Saturday, May 25

Saturday morning began, as Friday had, with a film, this one "Jazz West Coast: The Big Bands and Arrangers," surveying bandleaders and arrangers from Shorty Rogers, Stan Kenton, Johnny Richards and Les Brown
Les Brown
Les Brown
1912 - 2001
composer/conductor
to Nelson Riddle
Nelson Riddle
1921 - 1985
arranger
, Billy May
Billy May
Billy May
1916 - 2004
composer/conductor
, Neal Hefti
Neal Hefti
Neal Hefti
1922 - 2008
trumpet
, Count Basie
Count Basie
Count Basie
1904 - 1984
piano
, Woody Herman, Johnny Mandel
Johnny Mandel
Johnny Mandel
b.1925
arranger
, Henry Mancini
Henry Mancini
Henry Mancini
b.1924
piano
and Gerald Wilson
Gerald Wilson
Gerald Wilson
b.1918
composer/conductor
, with additional footage of Nat Cole, Andre Previn
Andre Previn
Andre Previn
b.1929
piano
and Bobby Darin. As the film wasn't shown until 11 a.m., a lunch break preceded the day's opening concert, by Chicagoan Lou Rovner's Small Big Band (a tentet with six front-liners and a four-member rhythm section). I doubt that anyone was prepared for what Rovner and his group had to offer, which should be filed under "pleasant surprises." While the songs may have been familiar, Rovner's quirky arrangements clearly were not. Rovner not only takes liberties with melodies and harmonies, he sometimes turns them upside down and inside out, as for example on "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" or "Paper Moon," neither of which was easily recognizable but was nonetheless captivating. Rovner opened with Mel Torme
Mel Torme
Mel Torme
b.1925
vocalist
's seldom-heard "Hi Fly," then reworked the usually even-tempered "Body and Soul" into a lively swinger that encompassed brawny solos by trombonist Charlie Morillas and baritone Jay Mason. The tongue-in-cheek "Ball Game" and whimsical "Paper Moon" (which Betty thought was overly long) were followed by the standard "Like Someone in Love," played in the style of Neal Hefti's "Li'l Darlin,'" with a chorus of "Blues in the Night" thrown in for good measure. The band closed with a relatively plain-spoken reading of Miles Davis
Miles Davis
Miles Davis
1926 - 1991
trumpet
' "Milestones" (solos by pianist Mark Massey, tenor Billy Kerr, bassist Randy Landas). Other soloists of note were Kim Richmond (alto, soprano sax) and trumpeter Ron Stout. Drummer Jack LcCompte anchored an able rhythm section that included Massey, Landas and guitarist Will Brahm. Another not-to-be-missed concert (which, gauging the size of the audience, many people apparently did).


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