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The USC Thornton School of Music: Studio Jazz Band 2000 (2002)

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I'd have liked nothing better than to list the personnel on Studio Jazz Band 2000, but the album's graphics (small red type on black background) are so poorly conceived that doing so would have required a magnifying glass and the better part of a day, which was asking too much. Thankfully, that's about the only blemish defacing an otherwise untarnished recital by one of the country's leading college-level Jazz ensembles, which doesn't record often but definitely makes the most of every visit to the studio and / or concert hall. The album's title is slightly misleading, as only four of its dozen selections were recorded in 2000, four others in 1996, two in '95 (one of them in concert) and one each in '98 and '99. But as the quality never varies (it's outstanding all the way) the actual recording dates are unimportant. What is meaningful is the music itself, which is seldom less than inspiring — and would have been almost as marvelous even without the ensemble's notable guest artists, pianist Bob Florence ("Earth"), trombonist Bill Watrous ("Slightly Off the Ground," "Purple Porpoise Parkway"), trumpeter Marvin Stamm ("My Funny Valentine"), drummer Louie Bellson ("Drum Foolery") and vocalists Carmen Bradford ("Young and Foolish") and Barbara Morrison ("You Go to My Head") who make it a breezy twosome on Mercer Ellington's "Things Ain't What They Used to Be." The SJB's enterprising students seem to have no trouble keeping pace with their more experienced guests who are galvanized in turn by the energy and enthusiasm of their youthful hosts. Bellson, that most musical of big-band drummers, is at the top of his game on his composition "Drum Foolery" while Watrous uses triple-tonguing, multiphonics and other clever devices to craft breathtaking solos on Tom Kubis's "Off the Ground" and "Parkway." John Thomas, an associate professor in the USC Jazz Studies department and director of the ensemble, gives the young scholars memorable trumpet lessons on "When I Fall in Love" and "Blow Your Horn" (the last written by Bellson for trumpeter Clark Terry) and Stamm does likewise on "Valentine." Bellson wrote "Quiet Riot" which features the SJB's Trevor Lawrence on drums with pianist Donald Vega, trumpeter Dale Carley and tenor Bill Prouten. Florence, who arranged the bustling opener, Stanley Turrentine's "Sugar" (solos by pianist Elijah Brueggemann and baritone Garret Kobse), is undoubtedly one of the most tasteful pianists on "Earth," as he proves again on his composition of that name. Other topnotch student soloists include alto Evan Francis ("Young and Foolish"), trumpeter Brian Swartz ("Slightly Off the Ground") and tenor Phil Vieux ("Off the Ground," "Purple Porpoise Parkway"). A glistening gem of an album, well-recorded, splendidly performed and warmly recommended.

Contact:Shelly Berg, School of Music, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, CA 90089-0851. E-mail sheltberg@aol.com

Track Listing: Sugar; Earth; Quiet Riot; Young and Foolish; You Go to My Head; Things Ain't What They Used to Be; When I Fall in Love; Slightly Off the Ground; My Funny Valentine; Purple Porpoise Parkway; Blow Your Horn; Drum Foolery (65:48).

Personnel: The USC Thornton School of Music Jazz Band directed by John Thomas with special guests Bob Florence, piano; Marvin Stamm, trumpet; Bill Watrous, trombone; Louie Bellson, drums; Carmen Bradford, Barbara Morrison, vocals.

Record Label: USC

Style: Big Band


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