The IAJE Crosses the Border
After checking in at the Sheraton Hotel on Wednesday afternoon, January 8, several hours before the evening performances that were to open the 30th annual conference of the International Association for Jazz Education (the first ever held outside the continental U.S.), I decided to scope out the area by walking about six or seven blocks to the main venue, the Metro Toronto Convention Centre.
I was doing fine until I reached Front Street, where the Centre is located, at which point I became rather, shall we say, disoriented (some would say “lost”). After checking out the nearby subway station (no, that wasn’t it) I walked toward the Crowne Plaza Hotel, hoping to find someone there who could point me in the right direction.
I had almost reached the hotel when I saw a man standing on a corner looking about as lost as I was. “Do you know where the Convention Centre is?” he asked.
”No,” I replied, “but I’m going to the hotel here to try and find out.”
“I’ll walk along with you,” he said.
Approaching a young woman who looked to be a hotel employee, I asked if she could show us the way to the Convention Centre. She smiled, nodded her head, ushered us inside, led us to an elevator and instructed us to go down one level where we would find a clearly marked walkway connecting the hotel to the Convention Centre. We thanked her and were on our way.
As we walked along I asked my companion where he was from. “New York,” he replied.
“That’s good for you,” I said, “because the IAJE is holding its conference there again next year, and from what I’ve heard, every other year after that.”
“Yeah,” he said. “It’s nice to be living there.”
“So,” I continued, exploring other conversational possibilities, “are you a listener, as I am, or a player?”
“I’m a player,” he said.
“What do you play?”
“I play piano.”
“And what’s your name?”
After Kenny picked me up off the floor I told him what a big fan I am, how much I’ve enjoyed his playing on any number of albums over the years. He smiled politely, thanked me and disappeared into the hundreds of others milling about in the Convention Centre lobby. As I watched him go I was thinking that it is memories such as these that help make every IAJE conference a special occasion.
I’d ridden the shuttle from airport to hotel with Chris Vadala, an excellent saxophonist who is director of Jazz Studies at the University of Maryland (I did recognize Chris, having seen him perform at several IAJE conferences in the past). This year, he and trumpeter Bobby Shew were guest soloists Friday afternoon with the Florida Community College Jazz Ensemble from Jacksonville. That was one of a number of impressive performances that we’ll survey in due course. First, the nuts and bolts.
More than six thousand educators, admininistrators, musicians, students, music dealers, exhibitors, journalists and Jazz enthusiasts attended this year’s historic event, which included performances, workshops, clinics, panel discussions, research presentations, technological discussions, interviews with such renowned Jazz artists as pianist Oscar Peterson, and of course the usual mammoth exhibit hall with its captivating array of booths promoting schools, record labels, sheet music distributors, the media, Jazz festivals, instrument manufacturers, the armed forces and other special interest groups. Sessions were held at the Convention Centre and the nearby Fairmont Royal York Hotel, about which more later.
Every year brings with it a number of meaningful awards and presentations, and the 2003 IAJE President’s Award, which honors individuals for extraordinary contributions in the field of Jazz education, was presented, appropriately enough, to Canada’s own Oscar Peterson, a giant of the piano for more than half a century and co-founder of Toronto’s Advanced School of Contemporary Music. In cooperation with the National Endowment for the Arts, three musicians are singled out annually as “American Jazz Masters” for their remarkable contributions to the Jazz tradition. This year’s honorees, each of whom received a one-time-only Fellowship grant of $20,000, were saxophonist Jimmy Heath, drummer Elvin Jones and vocalist Abbey Lincoln (who was in Toronto but unable to attend the Friday evening ceremony, having been taken ill earlier in the day).
Dan Haerle, a pioneer in the development of Jazz curricula, electronic music, keyboard ensembles and small-group instruction, is the newest member of the Jazz Education Hall of Fame, joining an illustrious list of colleagues that includes Billy Taylor, Clark Terry, Leon Breeden, Marian McPartland, Lionel Hampton, Woody Herman, Count Basie, Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Charlie Parker, Benny Carter, Dizzy Gillespie, Maynard Ferguson, Max Roach, Ella Fitzgerald, Dave Brubeck and others. The Lawrence Berk Leadership Award, endowed by the Berklee College of Music and named in honor of the school’s founder and president emeritus, was presented to Jamey Aebersold, a well-known saxophonist and authority on Jazz education and improvisation whose Play Along books and Summer Jazz Workshops have served as educational models and springboards for musicians all over the world.
The ASCAP / IAJE Commission, co-sponsored by IAJE and the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers, this year honored Jazz’s octogenarian “energizer bunny,” Marian McPartland (who later enlivened a marvelous Friday evening concert). Premiering their winning compositions were trombonist Robin Eubanks (in the Established Jazz Composer category) and drummer John Hollenbeck (Emerging Jazz Composer). Eubanks’ “Full Circle,” Hollenbeck’s “Folkmoot” and “Haloes,” written by 2003 Gil Evans Fellowship recipient Patrick Zimmerli, were peformed by the Jamie Begian Big Band during the conference’s grand opening session Thursday afternoon. The Evans Fellowship, funded by the Herb Alpert Jazz Endowment Fund, identifies an emerging composer from an international field of candidates.
Engish-born bassist Dave Holland, whose trophy case has been rapidly expanding of late, earned the International Jazz Festivals Organization’s International Award, while Canadian saxophonist Janet Fair received the 2003 Lil Hardin Armstrong Jazz Heritage Award, presented each year by the IAJE Women’s Caucus.
So much for the nitty gritty. Now back to the memories . . .
Following my brief encounter with Kenny I went to the press room to pick up my credentials and learned that PR expert Don Lucoff was unable to attend this year because of illness pneumonia, to be more specific (hope you’re feeling better, Don; see you next January in NYC). After wandering around the Centre for a while, I caught most of a six o’clock performance by bassist David Young’s quintet. They were fine, but I was less impressed than I thought I’d be by the front line of trumpeter Kevin Turcotte and tenor saxophonist Perry White. Don’t know why, as each is a competent player. Maybe I wasn’t yet in a “blowing mood.”
The mood was brightened considerably by a delicious spaghetti supper followed at eight o’clock by a half-hour-long “preview” concert in the Centre’s Constitution Hall by Great Britain’s strapping Midland Youth Jazz Orchestra with guest vocalist Lee Gibson, who’s as lovely to look at as she is to hear. Ms. Gibson was fabulous on “Over the Rainbow,” as was the ensemble on every number including the thunderous finale, Bill Holman’s spine-tingling arrangement of “Malaga.” MYJO, ably directed by John Ruddick, would present an encore performance, again with Ms Gibson, at eleven o’clock Saturday morning. Following MYJO in the main hall were the Benny Green / Russell Malone Duo, the Yellowjackets (featuring tenor saxophonist Bob Mintzer) and drummer Marlon Simon and the National Spirits. At midnight, flutist / saxophonist Jane Bunnett and the Spirits of Havana performed in the Centre’s John Bassett Theatre.
Things were so slow on Thursday morning (no big bands performing) that I sat in for a while on a workshop at the Fairmont entitled “Who Asked You Anyway?” sponsored by the Jazz Journalists Association and conducted by Paul de Barros and Dan Ouellette. The three-part workshop covered the rudiments of Jazz reviewing, but as I wasn’t up to doing any homework (participants were asked to review a concert performance and bring it to the next session for a one-on-one critique with Ouellette or de Barros), I didn’t stay for the whole session, choosing instead to go downstairs to the hotel’s Imperial Room to hear an exciting noontime concert by the University of Toronto’s Ten O’Clock Jazz Orchestra (conducted by Paul Read) whose well-shaped program opened with Gershwin’s “But Not for Me” and closed with Bob Mintzer’s splendid arrangement of Herbie Hancock’s “One Finger Snap.” Then it was upstairs again to the Concert Hall for one of the day’s most pleasant surprises, the ESMP(École Secondaire Monique-Proulx) Big Band from Warwick, Quebec, which must be somewhere near Montréal. The ensemble was quite good, especially considering the fact that it was made up of students ages 13-16 in grades 7-11. And here’s the kicker the trumpet, trombone and reed sections, fifteen members strong, were all girls! What a refreshing sight that was! And to ice the cake, they were terrific. There were a few guys in the band as memory serves, most of the rhythm section but the soloists were girls too, and one of them, sixteen-year-old flutist Carolaine Doyon, was not only good, she was outstanding, playing with warmth, maturity and a feeling for Jazz well beyond her years on a Jeff Jarvis tune that I got the composer to spell for me only to lose the scrap of paper on which it was written. After scribbling Carolaine’s name, I said to her, “Carolaine, stay with music. You really have a bright future. Here’s my card; go to that web site next month to see your name mentioned.” So Carolaine, here it is. And the advice still stands; stay with music. I expect to hear your name again a few years down the road.
As is usually the case, I skipped the grand opening session at two o’clock in favor of lunch, returning at three to see and hear the Scott Gwinnell Jazz Orchestra from Detroit with guest soloist and resident nice guy David Liebman (if you’ve not heard the band’s CD, Basement Vibes, it’s worth checking out). As no big bands were scheduled from four to five, I opted for a trio session in the Fairmont Ballroom (one of the more listener-friendly venues) led by pianist / vocalist Dena DeRose, and was not disappointed. Without making any comparisons (we’ve already had that debate online), let’s just say that Dena can sing, and she can play.
With the Exhibit Hall scheduled to open at six o’clock Thursday evening, as it always does, the IAJE had chosen in its wisdom to schedule two of the best bands at the conference, The Dave McMurdo Jazz Orchestra and Navy Commodores, side-by-side at five o’clock, McMurdo at the Fairmont, the Commodores at the Convention Centre. Much as I longed to be in both places at once, I had to see Dave and say hello, so I stayed at the Fairmont, hoping to catch at least some of his concert before sprinting over to the CC to sample the Commodores (by that time I’d learned that there was an indoor walkway between the Fairmont and Convention Centre, which are separated by about three long city blocks, a useful piece of information for one who’d brought only a light jacket to Toronto in January). By the time I reached the Centre the line for entry to the Exhibit Hall was already quite long that I decided to join it and catch the Commodores some other time (that time, as it turned out, was on the plane ride home as I listened to one of the finest service-band albums I’ve ever heard, The Commodores Live! ).
Friday evening’s performances in Constitution Hall began with the IAJE Sisters in Jazz Collegiate All–Stars (Nicole Johaenntgen, alto and soprano sax; Jennifer Kruppa, trombone; Kara Baldus, piano; Ashley Summers, bass; Elizabeth Goodfellow, drums) directed by Christine Jensen, and the John Patitucci Group with pianist Renee Rosnes, drummer Billy Drummond and vocalist Luciana Souza. I skipped those but managed to find a seat in the crowded auditorium for a highly praised performance by the Danish Radio Jazz Orchestra, conducted by Jim McNeely and again featuring Rosnes at the piano. That was enough for one evening, as I had no interest in seeing David Murray and the GWO KA Masters. B> So it was back to the hotel to prepare for Friday.
First up that day was the University of Massachusetts Studio Orchestra with guest saxophonist Ernie Watts, a string section, oboes, English horns and even voices on Oliver Nelson’s “There’s a Yearnin’,” all splendidly conducted in the Bassett Theatre by Jeff Holmes (the band opened with another highlight, Mike Tomaro’s charming arrangement of Irving Berlin’s “Let’s Face the Music and Dance”). I really hated to miss out on the Thelma-Yellin Big Band from Israel at eleven, but the University of North Florida Jazz Ensemble was performing in Constitution Hall, and I simply couldn’t pass that up. UNF, conducted by Keith Javors and featuring (on “Angel Eyes”) guest saxophonist (and faculty member) Bunky Green, a past president of IAJE, was an appetizing prelude to the lunch hour, after which it was back to Constitution Hall what was billed as a tribute to the late Nick Brignola by the spectacular Keilwerth Saxophone Section led by alto Mike Smith and including soprano / tenor Dave Liebman, alto / tenor Don Braden, tenor Ernie Watts, baritone Gary Smulyan and a cookin’ rhythm section (Bill Mays, piano; Buster Williams, bass; Matt Wilson, drums).
The two o’clock hour on Friday and Saturday is set aside for visiting the Exhibit Hall, with performances resuming at three, on Friday by the aforementioned Florida Community College Jazz Ensemble with Vadala and Shew sitting in on “Beautiful Love,” “In a Sentimental Mood” and Clifford Brown’s “Daahoud.” Another memorable performance, unfortunately scheduled simultaneously with the Sammons Youth Jazz Orchestra from Cedar Hill, Texas, directed by Bart Marantz and featuring guest alto Mike Smith. The four o’clock hour was open, but at five I had the pleasure of meeting Jamie Begian from New York, one of the nicest young musicians we encountered all week. Unfortunately, much of the music his band plays is well off our radar screen, and even though we stayed until the end there wasn’t a lot to hold one’s interest.
Supper was followed by another highlight, the aforementioned concert at the Bassett Theatre by the Marian McPartland Trio (Don Thompson, bass; Barry Elmes, drums). Ms. McPartland, now in her eighth decade, blended wonderful keyboard artistry with incisive wit, and one can even forgive her for referring to Johnny Burke / Jimmy Van Heusen's "Like Someone in Love" as having been written by “Rodgers and Hammerstein or maybe Rodgers and Hart.” We’ve had those senior moments too. Friday evening’s concerts in Constitution Hall began with sets by the IAJE and NFAA (National Foundation for Advancement in the Arts) Clifford Brown / Stan Getz Fellowship recipients (Philip Dizak, trumpet; Joris Roelofs, alo sax; Mahesh Balasooriya, piano; Gabe Noel, bass; Zachary Harmon, drums) and vocalist Nnenna Freelon, accompanied by pianist Takana Miyamoto, guitarist Scott Sawyer, bassist Wayne Batchelor, drummer Woody Williams and percussionist Beverly Botsford. Arriving fashionably late, I found a seat before the presentation of the American Jazz Masters awards and awaited an appearance by trombonist Slide Hampton and the World of Trombones, scheduled for 9:45. No way that was going to happen. After the Jazz Masters awards were presented and the acceptance speeches made, Slide’s “Terrific Twelve” (a dozen of the world’s greatest Jazz trombonists, plus Slide himself and rhythm) took the stage, and were joined midway through the set by yet another trombone master, the great Bill Watrous. The ‘bones wrapped things up around 11:30 or so, erasing any chance of my attending the dance and party at the Fairmont sponsored by the African American Jazz Caucus, as the Dizzy Gillespie Alumni All-Star Band, also led by Hampton and featuring guest vocalist Nancy Wilson, was yet to come. I’m glad I stayed up late for that one, as the All-Stars and Ms. Wilson were in great form. In case there are any doubts about the “All-Star” designation, here’s the starting lineup. Judge for yourself. Slide Hampton, music director, trombone; Randy Brecker, Michael Philip Mossman, Lew Soloff, Greg Gisbert, Byron Stripling, trumpets; Frank Wess, Antonio Hart, alto sax; Jimmy Heath, James Moody, tenor sax; Gary Smulyan, baritone sax; Robin Eubanks, Jay Ashby, David Gibson, trombones; Douglas Purviance, bass trombone; Renee Rosnes, piano; John Lee, bass; Marty Ashby, guitar; Dennis Mackrel, drums; Duke Lee, percussion. Be honest; wouldn’t you stay up late to hear a band like that? (You can also hear most of them on a recently released album, Things to Come, recorded in concert at Pittsburgh’s Manchester Craftsmen’s Guild.)
Saturday, the last day of the conference, opened on a bright note with a visit to the Fairmont’s Imperial Room for the second of two Instrumental New Music Reading sessions (I try to catch at least one of them each year, as coordinator Lou Fischer always has a group of outstanding musicians on hand to sight-read new charts, and I leave with my faith in the future of big-band Jazz renewed). At eleven, I trekked upstairs to the Concert Hall to hear director Gordon Foote’s superlative Jazz Orchestra I from McGill University in Montréal. That was a no-brainer, as two of their albums ( Something Personal, Sang-Froid ) had earned places of honor on my annual Top Ten list in Cadence magazine of the year’s best recordings (college or pro), and a third, the recently released Conundrum, most of which I’d previewed before the conference, will no doubt earn similar recognition.
To see and hear the McGill ensemble I had to forgo a second performance (at the Convention Centre) by the Midland Youth Jazz Orchestra and most of another, in the nearby Fairmont Ballroom, by Toronto’s Humber College, although I caught some of that one by racing back and forth between numbers. What I heard of Humber (with guest tenor Pat LaBarbera) was quite good, while McGill was mildly disappointing, which I would attribute partly to an inhospitable venue (the smaller Ballroom was better suited acoustically to accommodate a big band) and partly to a program that emphasized subtlety and color at the expense of exuberance and power (although things perked up near the close with Holman’s arrangement of “Indiana” and Oliver Nelson’s take on “Down by the Riverside”). Even so, McGill is the real deal, and one need only listen to any of their albums to erase any doubt about that.
At noon, I caught part of a spirited set in the Imperial Room by the Clifford Brown / Stan Getz All-Stars before being confronted at one o’clock by another difficult choice: the Garfield High School Jazz Ensemble from Seattle, WA (Concert Hall) or the Thomson Big Band from Singapore (Ballroom). Also during that hour, the Maritime Jazz Orchestra featuring trumpeter Kenny Wheeler was appearing at the Metro Centre’s Constitution Hall. I chose Garfield High, largely because the guest soloist was one of my favorite players, Bill Watrous, who was featured on J.J. Johnson’s “Lament.” It proved to be an excellent choice, as director Clarence Acox has sculpted one of the country’s finest high-school Jazz ensembles (Watrous said he was awed by their talent), and the hour was loaded with one highlight after another, from Fernando Gelbard’s “Candy Bar” to (trumpeter) Ray Brown’s “In Orbit.” Still, I wish I could have seen and heard the Thomson band (not to mention MYJO and Humber). There must be a way in which the IAJE schedulers can separate (as much as possible) appearances by big bands so fanatics such as I don’t have to face such difficult choices. Maybe next year . . .
After lunch on Saturday, I passed up a two-hour interview / panel discussion with Oscar Peterson at the Metro Centre in favor of sessions by the BET Sisters in Jazz Collegiate All-Stars (Fairmont Imperial Room) and HBCU (Historically Black Colleges and Universities) All-Star Big Band (Fairmont Ballroom) with guests Jimmy Owens (trumpet) and Ed Thigpen (drums). Even without the legendary Gerald Wilson conducting (as he had the year before in Long Beach, CA), the Basie-oriented HBCU band was smokin’ from the outset, much to the delight and appreciation of a standing-room-only audience. After coming back down to earth, I hustled upstairs to the Concert Hall for another hair-raising performance, this one by the crackerjack Columbus (OH) Jazz Orchestra under its recently hired conductor, Byron Stripling (who doubled on trumpet). Again, there’s no point in rehearsing the details; one had to be there (especially for the weekend's most remarkable trumpet solo, by ex-Chicagoan Brad Goode). But if you’re ever in an area where Stripling and the CJO are playing, do whatever it takes to stop by and listen. You won’t regret it.
After applauding the CJO I grabbed a couple of Subway sandwiches and headed for the “Kenton Hang,” where I was able to meet face-to-face a number of those with whom I’d been exchanging e-mails at the Kentonia online site. Former Kenton trumpeter Mike Vax is one of them, and another former Kenton stalwart, tenor saxophonist Bill Trujillo, who now lives in the Las Vegas, NV, area, also stopped by. I’d have stayed longer but had to wolf down the Subs and dash over to the Metro Centre to grab a place in line for the gala closing concert, featuring not one but three awesome big bands starting with a special “reunion” performance by Rob McConnell and the Boss Brass with guest trumpeter Ingrid Jensen, followed by the Hugh Fraser Big Band with guest Lorraine Desmarais and Montréal’s Vic Vogel Big Band with guest Jane Bunnett, with the entire concert broadcast live in Canada on CBC Radio 1 and CBC Radio 2, and in the U.S. by WGBO in Newark, NJ. By the time I arrived at the Centre (shortly after seven o’clock) the line was already out the door, but some friends and I managed to find decent seats in the spacious auditorium and prepared ourselves to enjoy the concert. As we said, the Boss Brass was first up, and to be honest, I’ve heard them play better on other occasions. Everyone was efficient, especially flugel Guido Basso, trombonist Alistair Kay and tenor Rick Wilkins (there’s no way they could be otherwise) but there was no perceptible spark, and Jensen’s solo on “Indiana / Groovin’ High” was, to put it as charitably as possible, uninspired.
By then I’d learned how to sneak backstage (one’s media credentials cut no ice with security guards), so after the Boss Brass hit their last note I hurried to the “green room” to see a couple of the guys I’d met before Rob, Guido, saxophonist P.J. Perry and to meet some of the others including Wilkins (who’s also one of my favorite arrangers). I wanted to say hello to Don Thompson, another of my heroes, but missed him. On the other hand, I had a wonderful conversation with Vic Vogel who, as it turns out, is a fellow Zoot Sims devotee. Alas, Vic and I talked through much of Hugh Fraser’s performance, which I later heard was topnotch. But one can’t do everything.
Another year, another cornucopia of indelible sights and sounds to press in one’s memory book. I’ll leave you with one of my fondest impressions.
On Thursday afternoon, Dave Liebman introduced me to bandleader Scott Gwinnell, whose debut album I’d reviewed last year. During the course of the conversation Scott said to me, “So tell me, Jack, did you have your own big band?”
Somewhat taken aback by the question, I said to him, “Scott, I’m not a musician.“
“You could have fooled me,” he said.
That alone was enough to have made this IAJE conference a memorable one for me. See you in New York!
Another Colossus is Gone
The world of big-band Jazz lost another of its giants last month when composer / arranger / educator / trombonist William Russo died in Chicago at age seventy-four. While perhaps best known for his groundbreaking compositions and arrangements for the Stan Kenton Orchestra in the early ’50s, Russo wrote music in a number of genres including classical (one of his works, “Titans,” was conducted at Carnegie Hall by Leonard Bernstein and the New York Philharmonic with Maynard Ferguson the featured trumpeter) and served from 1965 until his retirement last June as head of the contemporary music program at Chicago’s Columbia College. In recent years he had led the twenty-member Chicago Jazz Ensemble, which recorded two excellent CDs, the first (self-titled) for the Chase Music Group, the second ( Kenton a la Russo ) for Hallway Records. Included on that one are a number of Russo’s celebrated compositions and arrangements for Kenton including ”230 North, 820 West,” “Frank Speaking,” “Eager Beaver” and “Portrait of a Count.” “Frank Speaking” was written for trombonist Frank Rosolino, “Portrait of a Count” for trumpeter Conte Candoli. Russo conducted the Chicago Jazz Ensemble at Joe Siegel’s Jazz Showcase less than a week before his passing. Much of Russo’s finest music for Kenton can be heard on the 1952 album New Concepts of Artistry in Rhythm, and all of his arrangements for the orchestra are included in Mosaic’s excellent four-disc set, Stan Kenton: The Complete Capitol Recordings of the Holman and Russo Charts.
But the Legacy Lives On
One of the members of Russo’s Chicago Jazz Ensemble, trumpeter Orbert Davis, has been named a “Chicagoan of the Year” by Chicago magazine for his “MusicAlive!” program, which uses music as an avenue to help educate inner-city children. Davis was honored with six other Chicagoans last month in a ceremony at the Four Seasons Hotel. The trumpeter’s most recent CD, Priority, released last April, has been doing well, moving into the Top 10 on the National Radio list of most-often-played new releases. Davis has also written music for films (including Tom Hanks’ Road to Perdition ), and his Concerto for Jazz Quartet and Orchestra was performed in October by the Fox Valley Symphony.
A Few More Notes
Germany, whose Jazz scene is one of Europe’s most active, has formed the Federal Jazz Association (what a great idea!) to bring together the various groups involved in the music musicians, concert promoters, record labels, journalists, educators with an eye toward expanding its influence beyond the country’s sixteen federal states to the national and international levels. The FJA plans to follow the pattern established in Scandinavia to broaden public funding and support for Jazz organizations within the various countries. We wish them well.
And finally . . . you simply can’t keep a good man down. John Fedchock, whose prized King 2B+ trombone was stolen three years ago at New York’s LaGuardia Airport (the model had been discontinued in 1989), got together with King trombones last year to help them recreate the legendary horn. As a consultant on the project, Fedchock gave his input from the perspective of a professional musician, helping to make the design as close to his vintage horn as possible. As a result, Fedchock is once again playing a King 2B+ (and no doubt keeping a watchful eye on the trombone case as well). “John’s advice,” says King brass product manager Fred Powell, “was the key to bringing back one of the all-time great trombone designs The King 2B+.”
That’s great news, and I’m happy that things worked out for John, but to be honest, he sounds as good to me on any horn he plays.
That’s it for now. Until next month, keep swingin’!