Here are two superlative recordings by one of the country's most accomplished community-based ensembles, the sixteen-year-old Cleveland Jazz Orchestra. Traditions
, recorded in June 1999, refers to a nearly century-long tradition of world-class Jazz in that bustling city on the shores of Lake Erie, admirably summarized by Jazz historian and author Joe Mosbrook in an informative booklet that accompanies the CD, as well as to the fact that eight of its ten selections were written and / or arranged by musicians from Cleveland or northeastern Ohio (the exceptions are Slovenian Joze Privsek's breezy "Meeting with You" and Bill Holman's perceptive arrangement of Thelonious Monk's "'Round Midnight").
Swingin' Together captures the orchestra in a concert appearance at Beachwood, Ohio's Fairmount Temple Auditorium in November '98 with special guest conductor Sammy Nestico, whose charts for the Count Basie Orchestra and other big bands are world-renowned for their originality and uncompromising propensity to swing at any tempo.
Traditions includes compositions by Clevelanders Tadd Dameron ("Our Delight"), Henry Mancini ("Days of Wine and Roses"), CJO bassist Dave Morgan ("Thad Type Tune") and trombonist Paul Ferguson ("Conversations," with its explicit reference to Bill Russo's "Frank Speaking"). Ferguson arranged "Getting Sentimental" (on which he's the featured soloist) and former Ellington vocalist Dolores Parker Morgan's medley, "Sometimes I'm Happy" and "There'll Be Some Changes Made" with other charts by Ohioans Willie Smith ("Our Delight"), Rich Shanklin ("Days of Wine and Roses"), Bill Dobbins ("Darn That Dream") and Chas Baker (Antonio Carlos Jobim's "So Many Stars"). The not-for-profit CJO is comprised of nineteen full-time musicians, several of whom are Jazz educators at area colleges, and their combined experience enlivens every aspect of the ensemble's makeup from snappy section work to clear-eyed soloists, none of whom is less than impressive. Besides Ferguson ("Getting Sentimental," "Conversations"), Morgan ("Darn That Dream") and trombonist Baker ("Days of Wine and Roses"), they include music director / trumpeter Jack Schantz ("Wine and Roses," "Conversations," flugel on "'Round Midnight"), tenors John Klayman ("Our Delight," "So Many Stars"), altos Rich Shanklin ("Our Delight") and Kent Engelhardt ("Meeting with You"), pianist Dan Wall ("Our Delight," "Darn That Dream," "Thad Type Tune"), drummer Mark Gonder ("Meeting with You"), trumpeter Sean Jones and tenor Peter Mills ("Thad Type Tune"). Traditions is a first-class endeavor from start to finish, as is its companion disc, Swingin' Together, which showcases many of the same top-drawer musicians plus the superlative young pianist Chip Stephens (now with the Woody Herman Orchestra), who is given room to blow on no less than nine of the eleven Nestico-designed charts, and drummer Jim Rupp, another outstanding player who's the driving force behind the latest Herman Herd under Frank Tiberi.
Many of Nestico's most widely acclaimed (and oft-played) compositions and arrangements were written for the Count Basie Orchestra, and the CJO offers a credible impersonation of Basie's peerless ensemble on "The Blues Machine," "88 Basie Street," "Ya Gotta Try," "A Warm Breeze," "The Wind Machine" and others. The concert opens with Nestico's "Dimensions in Blue" and closes with a humorous five-minute monologue by Sammy about various aspects of writing and arranging. Besides the Nestico charts already named, the program includes three standards ("Who's Sorry Now," "Fascinatin' Rhythm," "Sweet Georgia Brown") and instrumental versions of songs made popular by vocalists Louis Armstrong ("It's a Wonderful World") and Joe Williams ("Smack Dab in the Middle").
As on Traditions , the orchestra is loose-limbed and swinging while soloists are exemplary, with Stephens leading the way and saxophonists Shanklin, Klayman, Engelhardt, Dan Heasley and Kenny Anderson; trombonists Ferguson and Vaughn Weister; trumpeter Schantz and drummer Rupp (who lights a roaring fire under Nestico's irrepressible "Ya Gotta Try") weighing in with forceful statements of their own. Ohio is home to a number of estimable Jazz ensembles including those from Toledo and Columbus, and with these two releases the CJO shows clearly that it merits inclusion with them in the front ranks of the country's finest regional orchestras.
Traditions : Our Delight; Days of Wine and Roses; Sometimes I'm Happy / There'll Be Some Changes Made; Meeting with You; Darn That Dream; I'm Getting Sentimental Over You; 'Round Midnight; Thad Type Tune; So Many Stars; Conversations (62:00).
Swingin' Together : Dimensions in Blue; Who's Sorry Now; The Blues Machine; 88 Basie Street; Fascinatin' Rhythm; Ya Gotta Try; Sweet Georgia Brown; It's a Wonderful World; Smack Dab in the Middle; A Warm Breeze; The Wind Machine; Some Musings by Sammy (62:08).
Traditions : Jack Schantz, music director, trumpet; Kent Engelhardt, Rich Shanklin, John Klayman, Peter Mills, George Shernit, reeds; Schantz, Lou Pisani, Joe Miller, Doug Huey, Sean Jones, trumpets; Paul Ferguson, Vaughn Wiester, Chas Baker, Paul Hungerford, trombones; Dan Wall, piano; Dave Morgan, bass; Mark Gonder, drums; Dolores Parker Morgan, vocals.
Swingin' Together : Schantz, music director, trumpet; Engelhardt, Shanklin, Klayman, Dan Heasley, Kenny Anderson, reeds; Ferguson, Weister, Baker, Hungerford, trombones; Schantz, Pisani, Huey, Dennis Reynolds, trumpets; Chip Stephens, piano; Doug Richeson, bass; Bob Fraser, guitar; Jim Rupp, drums.