Light flourishes, grand pronouncements, fleeting and flitting figures, sudden shifts in mood, and wide emotional arcs are part and parcel of the music created by the Alan Chan Jazz Orchestra. Chan, a classically trained pianist who came up in Hong Kong, hopped all over the United States while honing his writing skills. He studied jazz arranging as an undergraduate at the University of Miami, acquired a master's degree in composition at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, did his doctoral work at the University of Southern California, and sharpened his pen as a member of the BMI Jazz ...read more
Big bands these days are being taken in many directions, one of which is eastward. Alan Chan, born and raised in Hong Kong and educated in part in the U.S. (at the universities of Miami and Southern California), has deftly blended Asian tradition with American jazz on Shrimp Tale, the splendid debut recording by his three-year-old Los Angeles-based orchestra. Growing up in Hong Kong, Chan says, he was exposed mainly to classical and Chinese folk music, from which he drew his early inspiration. It was while studying classical composition at USC that he met and was encouraged by faculty members ...read more
An elaborate box set from the Danish Storyville label: seven CDs and one DVD, paying tribute to Duke Ellington's arranger and composer Billy Strayhorn that--alas--doesn't quite live up to the ambitions of it's makers. Ask yourself, was Strayhorn truly the shadowy figure implied by the title? While the bulk of his work was achieved out of the public eye, Billy Strayhorn was no shrinking violet. He subbed" for Ellington on piano with the band and played on record dates with various constellations of Ellington sidemen throughout the 1950s, most prominently as leader of the ...read more
Was Buddy Rich really the world's greatest drummer"? The answer to that speculative question is debatable, of course, and opinions may vary, as they no doubt do on what kind of a person (or persons) he was when not weaving his particular brand of magic behind a drum kit. Buddy's remarkable talents as a drummer and his ambivalent and often volatile nature were the twin focus June 1 of a spectacular Buddy Rich alumni reunion and concert at the KiMo Theatre in Albuquerque. The idea for the reunion was first broached to trumpeter Bobby Shew, an Albuquerque ...read more
Midsummer is a quite magical time to be in Sweden. The long, dark winter is over and now, as the sun stays resolutely above the horizon, the Lutheran natives shed their somber demeanor, dress in traditional costumes, dance around maypoles decorated with garlands of flowers, drink far too much aquavit and have such a good time they forget all about it the morning after. In 1963 Swedish jazz fans had added reason for celebration: for four weeks, the Duke Ellington band toured the nation's folkparkerna, or people's parks," to rapturous acclaim. Ellington's men were a world away ...read more
There's actually an asterisk after the title of the Ed Partyka Jazz Orchestra's latest album, Hits! Vol. 1 In small print, at the bottom left-hand side of the jacket, are the words except track 8." As Partyka explains in the liner notes, much of the album is comprised of a cross section of the music that has generated the most enthusiastic response" from audiences, and thus the orchestra's hits." The exception is track 8, Hair of the Dog," a staple in the EPJO's repertoire since 2009, which Paryka says is the only serious" jazz piece in an otherwise foursquare and ...read more
When Herschel Evans died in 1939, Buddy Tate took his place in the Count Basie band. Basie used Tate's muscular, blues- based tenor as a foil to the lighter toned playing of Lester Young. Tate played with Basie for the next nine years fulfilling the same role with Young's successors, Don Byas, Illinois Jacquet, Lucky Thompson and Paul Gonsalves. He went on to play with Hot Lips Page, was in singer Jimmy Rushing's backing band, and from 1953-1974 led the house band at New York's Celebrity Club. Occasionally he would break off to tour ...read more
For the second album as leader of his jazz orchestra, New York-based Pete McGuinness says he has returned to [his] roots," fashioning a series of dapper themes that embody his forward-looking point of view while swinging in the grand tradition of such legendary ensembles as Basie, Herman, Thad Jones and others. When someone like Bill Holman says (as he does) wonderful writing," the tendency is to sit up and take notice. One keynote that's immediately clear is that Holman is, as usual, spot on, and that McGuinness ranks high among the jazz world's most skillful contemporary composer / arrangers, one ...read more
Although drummer Art Lillard's Heavenly Band makes its home about as far from heaven as one could plausibly roam--New York City, to be precise--the music it produces on Reasons to Be Thankful (recorded in 2000 and released six years later) evokes at times an empyrean vibe, thanks in part to blissful arrangements by Lillard and guitarist Mark McCarron and spirited blowing by the ensemble. As for the point of view, it might best be described as contemporary swing, employing sophisticated rhythmic and harmonic devices in the service of themes that are firmly anchored in essential tradition. This ...read more
This splendid debut recording by the Nashville Jazz Orchestra is subtitled New Twists on Gershwin Classics." No argument there, starting with the picturesque Cuban Overture" from 1932 and encompassing a trio of songs from the folk opera Porgy and Bess, which premiered three years later. Also on the bill of fare are the standards But Not for Me," Someone to Watch Over Me," How Long Has This Been Going On" and the ambitious Prelude No. 2," deftly arranged by Jamie Simmons as a showpiece for the impressive clarinetist Don Aliquo. Trombonist Barry Green is captivating on But ...read more
Maria Schneider is widely considered one of the finest contemporary band leaders, composers, and arrangers. For two decades, The Maria Schneider Orchestra has generated excitement and sometimes surprise, at club dates, concerts, and festivals and with GRAMMY-winning records on the ArtistShare label, where Schneider pioneered in the process of commissioning recordings by giving subscribers an inside look at the creative process. Recently, her venture into classical music with the recording, Winter Morning Walks (ArtistShare, 2013), featuring soprano Dawn Upshaw and the Australian and St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, won three Grammy Awards, including best contemporary classical composition." Scbneider learned ...read more
On Monday March 24th Dizzy's Club Coca-Cola was the again the scene of a memorable big band concert from the Manhattan School of Music Concert Jazz Band under the direction of Justin DiCioccio. On the occasion of Sammy Nestico's 90th birthday, the director (who was a cohort of Nestico's in White House dance bands of the 60's and 70's) focused on the legendary charts that the famed composer/arranger wrote for the Count Basie Band from 1966-84. Beginning with such excursions into seminal swing scripts as 88 Basie Street" and Have a Nice Day" the band launched an ...read more
Summoning Juan Tizol's travel-worn Caravan" to raise the curtain on a big-band album poses a challenge for any arranger, one that John La Barbera easily brushes aside on the third recording as leader of his own ensemble. And while Caravan" dazzles in La Barbera's capable hands, it is merely the opening salvo in a session that smolders from end to end, clearly rivaling and and some ways even trumping his Grammy Award-nominated debut album, On the Wild Side. One after another, La Barbera's well-framed charts tantalize the ears and quicken the heart while bringing out the very ...read more
Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra Mesa Arts Center Mesa, Arizona March 7, 2014 The Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra, one of the best big bands in the nation for three decades, swung mightily all night long with strong section work and stylish solos arranged for specific members, per Duke Ellington and Count Basie. A brief post-intermission QA period from triumverate co-leaders bassist John Clayton, saxophonist Jeff Clayton and drummer Jeff Hamilton added personal insights for a full house of enthusiastic Arizona fans. With John Clayton fronting the band as director, the concert opened with Georgia on My ...read more
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