John Burnett, a transplanted Englishman who is best known to Chicagoans as the morning host at WDCB–FM, a Jazz–oriented outlet of the College of DuPage, has had a life–long love affair with big bands, especially those that flourished during America’s golden age of big–band music, also known as the Swing Era. He’d always dreamed of leading a band of his own, and in January ’99 made that dream a reality by forming the John Burnett Orchestra whose main purpose is to help keep big–band swing alive in the Chicago area. Burnett stocked the ensemble with some of Chicago’s most able–bodied sidemen, added vocalist Frieda Lee from the Jazz Members Big Band and scored an impressive coup by persuading poll–winning clarinetist Buddy DeFranco to sit in as guest soloist on the orchestra’s debut album, the aptly named Swingin’ in the Windy City. As a glance at the song listing affirms, Burnett’s no radical when it comes to big–band Jazz — most of these tunes were popularized by Basie, Goodman, Lunceford, Miller, Dorsey and other Swing Era goliaths. About the most “modern” chart on the menu is trombonist Slide Hampton’s “Blues,” which was probably written for one of Maynard Ferguson’s monster bands from the mid–’60s. But the ripened lineage of these songs doesn’t stop any of ’em from swinging, which is what the album is all about. The orchestra gently pushes the eight–ball into Freddie Green’s “Corner Pocket” and has enormous fun with Louis Prima’s “Sing, Sing, Sing,” Frank Foster’s “Shiny Stockings” and Buster and Benny Moten’s “Moten Swing,” among others. Drummer Bill Byan is a tom tom–thumping Krupa clone on “Sing, Sing, Sing,” complementing well–shaped choruses by DeFranco, tenor saxophonist Frank Catalano and trumpeter Terry Connell. Hoagy Carmichael’s “Stardust” is another highlight, thanks to eloquent trumpet phrases by Connell and Mike McGrath. Trombonist Harry Kozlowski is radiant on the ballad “My Foolish Heart,” trumpeter Jim Donovan likewise “I’ve Got the World on a String.” DeFranco and pianist Mike Flack are the soloists on Johnny Green’s “Out of Nowhere,” Donovan and Flack share center stage on “Shiny Stockings” and McGrath glows warmly on Brooks Bowman’s “East of the Sun.” Following “Moten Swing” (arranged by Ernie Wilkins; solos by Flack, tenor David Kublank and trumpeter Mike Shires), the orchestra boogies through Harry Neeck’s steaming “Hot Java Jump” with Flack, alto Rich Corpolongo and trombonist Tom Stark dancing around the changes. DeFranco’s third impressive solo, on the closing “Blues,” is preceded by a similarly moving statement from trombonist David Gross. Lee, meanwhile, displays her ample vocal talents on “’Deed I Do” and the Gershwins’ “Our Love Is Here to Stay” but could have been more successful on the latter if she’d paused long enough to learn Ira’s lyrics. Burnett’s newly–minted orchestra, a brash and brassy ensemble whose sharp–eyed rhythm section shadows and accentuates its every move, makes Swingin’ in the Windy City as agreeably refreshing as a midsummer breeze.
Contact:John Burnett, 630–844–1066; e–mail ispburn@gateway net. Web site, www.cljazz.com
Track Listing: Corner Pocket;
Personnel: John Burnett, leader, conductor; Rich Corpolongo, David Creighton, alto sax; Frank Catalano, David Kublank, tenor sax; Bruce Mack, baritone sax; Terry Connell, Mike McGrath, Mike Shires, Jim Donovan, trumpet; David Gross, Tom Stark, Harry Kozlowski, Bill Walsh, trombone; Mike Flack, piano; Geoff Lowe, bass; Bill Bryan, drums; Frieda Lee, vocals. Guest soloist