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"A Swingin' Affair" Outshines Its Name

Jack Bowers By

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With an appreciative bow and genial tip of the hat to the late Chairman of the Board, Frank Sinatra, the Los Angeles Jazz Institute named its semi-annual big-band soiree May 21-24 at the Sheraton LAX Four Points Hotel "A Swingin' Affair." Was the event able to live up to its name? In the immortal words of Gov. Sarah Palin, "You betcha!"

As is always true of these events, "A Swingin' Affair" was more marathon than sprint with twenty large ensembles performing in four days in addition to three films, four panel discussions, memorial tributes to Bud Shank and Bob Florence, and an audio-visual presentation by Ken Poston marking the sixtieth anniversary of trumpeter Miles Davis' groundbreaking album, The Birth of the Cool.

Prologue

There was a "bonus" event on Wednesday, May 20, but as it involved close to a ten-hour bus ride to Las Vegas and back, departing around 7:30 a.m. and returning near midnight, Betty and I decided to pass, arriving instead at the Sheraton Four Points at roughly one o'clock Wednesday afternoon. The concert that evening at the Tropicana Hotel celebrated the golden anniversary of the Stan Kenton Orchestra's notable recording, Live from the Las Vegas Tropicana. We were told that at least two members of that 1959 Kenton group, saxophonists Bill Trujillo and Billy Root, were among the performers, and the ensemble was conducted by Kenton alumnus Carl Saunders. While that was happening, Betty and I rested and prepared ourselves mentally and physically for what lay ahead.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

As those who had ridden the three buses to Vegas and back returned late the evening before, Thursday's session started at noon with the first of four poolside concerts, this one by the Santa Monica College Jazz Ensemble directed by Keith Fiddmont. The group opened with four tepid vocals ("Don't Get Around Much Anymore," "What a Difference a Day Made," "Just You, Just Me," "God Bless the Child") before the first instrumental. I didn't catch the name of that one, but the ensemble completed the program with credible readings of "Shiny Stockings," "Killer Joe," "Moanin'" and "Jeannine."

From poolside, we moved indoors to the California Ballroom for a performance by the Les Hooper Big Band, led by the seven-time Gammy Award-nominated composer / arranger who does much of his writing for films and television. Hooper favors a heavy backbeat, which was evident on three of the first four numbers (his "Rooster Parade," "What's Your Hurry" and "How About a Hand for the Band," the last with rhythmic hand-clapping by members of the ensemble). Between them was one straight-ahead chart, Miles Davis' "Freddie the Freeloader," featuring alto saxophonist Bruce Babad. The next number, "Guy Noir's Younger Brother," a takeoff on Garrison Keillor's seedy private eye on A Prairie Home Companion, included apposite trombone solo and narration by the "younger Noir," a.k.a. Bruce Otto. The title of the next number, "Barn Burner," speaks for itself—an up-tempo swinger with solos to match by alto Jeff Driskill, trumpeter Ron King and trombonist Jacques Voyemant. Hooper blended Gershwin's "Summertime" with Davis' "All Blues," stirred in another of his originals, "Too Much Coffee" (featuring tenor Kevin Garren) and closed with "Look What They've Done to My Song," giving half a dozen members of the band a chance to stretch.

Next up was the first of four lively and engaging panel discussions in the smaller San Diego Room, moderated by Larry Hathaway with bandleaders Hooper, John Altman and Frank Capp comprising the panel. As usual, humorous anecdotes and reminiscences abounded, but as they are far more entertaining in person than in print, we won't burden you by attempting to summarize them.

There was one more concert before the supper break, this one by Londoner Altman's band. We'd read that Altman is an Emmy-winning soundtrack composer, as well as an arranger, orchestrator and conductor who has worked on a dozen platinum albums by various artists. What his bio didn't say is that he's also a world-class saxophonist, as he proved on a curved soprano on the impulsive opener, "Our Love Is Here to Stay." Oddly, the band's second number was titled "The Opener," followed by a Jazzed-up version of Rudolf Friml's "Chansonette" (perhaps better known as "The Donkey Serenade") and the venerable "Lester Left Town," showcasing Pete Christlieb on tenor and Andy Martin on trombone. The next two numbers, Clifford Brown's "Joy Spring" (whose melody was played by tubaist Doug Tornquist) and Mario Bauza's "Mambo Inn," are always a pleasure to hear. Altman's "West Coast Chatter," composed especially for the occasion, is a medium-tempo charmer written in the style of Gerry Mulligan. The band wrapped up its session with the Harry Warren standard "I Wish I Knew" (with Altman returning on alto), his "Foregone Conclusion" and Gigi Gryce's "Minority." Besides those mentioned, there were handsome solos by altos Sal Lozano and Danny House, tenor Rob Lockart, baritone Bob Efford, trombonists Otto and Charlie Morillas, pianist Tom Ranier and bassist John Belzaguy.

After supper it was the Frank Capp Juggernaut's turn to swing, thundering zestfully through two sets' worth of luminous charts from the Count Basie book and elsewhere, mainly by arrangers Neal Hefti, Sammy Nestico and Frank Foster. The band showed up with one tenor chair empty; Pete Christlieb had been delayed. Capp asked, "Is there a tenor in the house?" and Roger Neumann responded, saxophone in hand, to sit for the first two numbers until "the late" Mr. Christlieb arrived in time to take his seat for Nestico's "A Warm Breeze." Trumpeter Bob Summers was showcased on Nestico's "Katie" and Foster's "Shiny Stockings," the trombone section (Morillas, Alan Kaplan, Bob McChesney) on Hefti's aptly named "Bag o' Bones." Carl Saunders crafted the first of many mind-blowing trumpet solos on "It Might as Well Be Spring," pianist John Proulx was out front on Hefti's "Girl Talk" (arranged by Nat Pierce), and the band wrapped up Set 1 with a buoyant version of the standard "It Could Happen to You," on which Proulx doubled as vocalist.

Hefti was in the forefront on Set 2, which opened with his "Flight of the Foo Birds" and included "Dinner with My Friends" and "Li'l Darlin.'" Christlieb was featured on the plaintive ballad "We'll Be Together Again," fleet-fingered alto Lanny Morgan on a typically frenetic reading of Ray Noble's "Cherokee," Summers on Benny Golson's "I Remember Clifford." Juggernaut then rang down the curtain on opening day with Basie's "One O'Clock Jump" (solos by Proulx, baritone Adam Schroeder—who stepped in at the last moment for an ailing Jack Nimitz—tenor Terry Harrington, guitarist Barry Zweig and drummer Capp).

Friday, May 22, 2009

Friday's session got off to a more customary start with the first of three engaging film presentations, "Big Bands in the Movies," highlighting onscreen appearances by Charlie Barnet, Benny Goodman, Harry James, Duke Ellington, Jimmie Lunceford, Cab Calloway, Tommy Dorsey, Artie Shaw and Woody Herman. The film was followed at 10:45 by a second panel discussion as moderator Ken Borgers guided bandleaders Neumann, Ann Patterson and Chris Walden through a series of sharp and humorous reminiscences about their careers and the music profession in general.

At noon, it was back to poolside for a hurried snack and a performance by the UCLA Jazz Ensemble led by Charley Harrison. After opening with a couple of Jazz standards (Duke Pearson's "Jeannine," Thad Jones' "Mean What You Say") and Frank Mantooth's definitive arrangement of "Young and Foolish," the band embarked on a three-song salute to Ellington that included "Harlem Airshaft," "I Got It Bad and That Ain't Good" (splendid vocal by Alexandra Isley) and a movement from the Duke's Far East Suite that featured clarinetist Anna Kent. The ensemble exited stage right with Frank Foster's blistering "Hey Jim" from the Basie book.

Ann Patterson's (usually) all-female ensemble, Maiden Voyage, opened the afternoon session in the California Ballroom. Two empty trumpet chairs were filled by Bob O'Donnell and Jeff Kaye (as Patterson quipped, "Every band should have a couple of token guys..."). MV thundered through "There'll Never Be Another You" (crackling solos by trumpeter Ann King, pianist Liz Kinnon and Patterson on alto), then slowed the pace for Dick Cary's trim arrangement of Cedar Walton's "Bolivia." The late Melba Liston arranged the lovely "My Reverie," with trombonist Kari Harris playing Melba's part to perfection. Bassist Erin Wright and baritone Jennifer Hall took charge on Monk's "I Mean You," while Stacy Rowles doubled on trumpet and vocal on "God Bless the Child," and King and Patterson shared blowing space on Buddy Childers' dynamic arrangement of "Killer Joe." The ballad "Longing for Eternity," featuring Kinnon's piano, was dedicated to the late pianist Linda Martinez. The band tried to end the set with Tom Kubis' sunny arrangement of "I Enjoy Being a Girl," but the audience wouldn't hear of it. As a well-earned encore, MV played Charlie Chaplin's "Smile," with solos by Kinnon, flutist Carol Chaikin and a second vocal by Rowles. In sum, a superb concert.

The music was deferred for the next hour by Poston's perceptive appraisal of the history of "The Birth of the Cool," using audio tapes and a video screen to underscore his incisive observations. Then it was back to the Ballroom to hear and enjoy the Chris Walden Big Band, led by one of Hollywood's busiest young composer / arrangers (who also plays a pretty fair trumpet). After raising the curtain with "Cherokee," featuring alto Jeff Driskill and trumpeter Ron King, Walden turned the spotlight on alto Kim Richmond for his arrangement of Disney's "When You Wish Upon a Star" and on pianist Alan Steinberg and trombonist McChesney on the up-tempo "Bailout." Of course, no one but trumpeter Wayne Bergeron could be the main man on Walden's "Wayne-ology," while tenor Rob Lockart was impressive on another of Walden's alluring charts, "Here's That Rainy Day." Walden brought along a vocalist, young Courtney Fortune, who sang passably on "Lost in a Memory," "Smile" and "People Will Say We're in Love." Walden unsheathed his trumpet on "In the Doghouse" and rang down the curtain with his "Film Noir, Part 3," showcasing trombonist Andrew Lippman.

There was time for one more concert before the dinner break, this one by the irrepressible Roger Neumann and his Rather Large Band. Neumann introduced another fine soloist in tenor George Harper who embellished the handsome opener, "All the Things You Are" and yet another rendition of "Cherokee." Also on the menu were Billy Strayhorn's "Take the 'A' Train," a waltz ("¾ of the Time"), an original blues called "Takin' a Walk" and a Charlie Mariano chart, "Nothin' Wrong." Other discerning soloists included Neumann (tenor sax), alto / soprano Sal Lozano, trumpeters Rowles, Jack Coan, Jamie Hovorka and Ramon Flores, trombonists Scott Whitfield, Alan Kaplan and Alisha Ard (continuing her journey after sailing with Maiden Voyage), tubaist Jim Self, pianist Geoff Stradling and bassist Kirk Smith. Neumann brought a vocalist, Madeline Vergari (Mrs. N), who showed excellent range and power on "The Sunny Side of the Street" and "The Shadow of Your Smile." The RLB set the table for supper with an appetizing rendition of the Basie / Joe Williams classic "All Right, Okay, You Win."

After the break, the Rather Large Band was surpassed in the calorie count by Gordon Goodwin's impish Big Phat Band, which quickly charmed the audience with the leader's dazzling arrangement of George Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue," featuring Lozano's clarinet and Driskill's tenor sax. The lively samba "Macho Muchacho" (solos by guitarist Andrew Synowiec and tenor Brian Scanlon) was next, followed by Herbie Hancock's persistent "Watermelon Man," amplified by Goodwin's forceful piano. Goodwin moved to tenor for "The Very Best of Times," which preceded one of his most inspired compositions, the spasmodic and whimsical "Hunting Wabbits" (how the ensemble must love to play that one!) with Lozano, baritone Jay Mason and bassist Rick Shaw dueling in the trenches. Alto Eric Marienthal scorched the pads on "That's How We Roll 'Em" and "Play That Funky Music," while the trumpet section (Summers, Bergeron, Willie Murillo, Dan Savant) came out smokin' on the combative "Back Row Politics." The BPB brought the evening to a close with another version of—what else?—"Cherokee."

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Saturday's wake-up film, "Sinatra Rarities," encompassed a number of film and television appearances by Ol' Blue Eyes including his earnest plea for tolerance from the World War II years, "The House I Live In." The film clips preceded an early (eleven o'clock) poolside concert by the dynamic Citrus College Swing Orchestra from Glendora, CA, ably directed by Robert Slack (who cut them none). This was, to phrase it concisely, one tight and swinging ensemble, from its exhilarating opener, "Strike Up the Band," through the heated finale, Emil Richards' rapid-fire arrangement of the "Flintsones" theme, spotlighting the band's splendid young vibraphonist, Sarah Lindsay. The CC ensemble also boasted one of the weekend's standout vocalists in David Damiani who shined on the Sinatra staples "Come Fly with Me," "Where or When" and "Fly Me to the Moon." Completing the set were persuasive readings of "Moten Swing," the venerable "Stardust" (with Slack on trumpet) and Gordon Goodwin's funky "Act Your Age." Citrus College is without doubt one of the better college bands we've seen and heard at an LAJI event.

Back indoors (the weather had been mild and windy the first three days), it was time for some serious fun as sharp-witted, silver-tongued octogenarian Med Flory led his irrepressible Jazz Wave Big Band and SuperSax onstage for an invigorating performance punctuated by Flory's inimitable ripostes and one-liners. After opening with the "Jazz Wave" theme, the ensemble dove headlong into Johnny Mandel's "Let's Play a Little Wake-Up Music" and Lanny Morgan's barn-burning feature, "It's You or No One." Pianist Tom Ranier was center stage on Bronislau Kaper's "Invitation," tenor Pete Christlieb on "Swingtown," trumpeter Carl Saunders on Flory's "Tempi." SuperSax was next up, wailing exuberantly through Charlie Parker's memorable solos on "Ko-Ko" (a.k.a "Cherokee"), "Just Friends" and "K.C. Blues." Besides Flory, Morgan and Christlieb, the section included tenor Kevin Garren and baritone Adam Schroeder. The Jazz Wave closed the swashbuckling session with Flory's evocative "One for Woody" featuring trumpeter Ron Stout.

Even though there was scarcely enough time to draw a deep breath before the next concert, it was one that few in the audience wanted to miss, as it showcased an exciting band led by one of the world's leading jazz trombonists, Bill Watrous. Composer / arranger Kubis (who would lead his own band on Sunday) was heard from often, thanks to three sparkling originals, "Before You Left," "It Was Change" (based on "There'll Be Some Changes Made") and "It'll Count If It Goes" (from the album Space Available). The band also weighed in with Sammy Nestico's medium blues, "Low Life," "The E.J. Express" (written for Earvin "Magic" Johnson) and Watrous' trombone feature, Johnny Mandel's "Emily." Besides Watrous, the sturdy soloists included trumpeters Stout and Steve Huffsteter, trombonists McChesney and Morillas, soprano saxophonist Phil Feathe}, tenor Glen Berger and pianist Proulx. As my face and left leg were becoming sore from smiling and tapping my foot, I stepped outside as Watrous counted off the final number, Gordon Goodwin's "Mama Llama Samba." When I returned to the Ballroom about twenty minutes or so later, the band was still roaring along, well into the next event, Panel No. 3, on which Watrous was to appear with Flory, Saunders and moderator Larry Hathaway.

The panel offered a welcome respite, as there were two more concerts before suppertime, followed by a memorial tribute to the great saxophonist Bud Shank, and yet another performance (two sets!) by Patrick Williams and the Los Angeles Jazz Orchestra playing music associated with Sinatra. Taking its place in the batter's box at four o'clock was Saunders' formidable Bebop Big Band, which stood the audience on its head at the outset with a blazing rendition of "Dearly Beloved" (solos to match by Saunders and pianist John Campbell). Trombonist Whitfield and trumpeter Summers were out front on "A Little Behind," alto Scanlon and trumpeter Stout on Saunders' "Never Always." Saunders unfurled another of his superhuman solos on Ellington's "In a Sentimental Mood" (even when I see him with my own eyes, I still can't believe it), preceding "Two Bass Hit" (melody courtesy of bass clarinetist Bob Efford) and Herbie Phillips' "Cotton Mouth." Trombonists Whitfield and Martin traded sizzling volleys on the aptly named "Some Bones of Contention," and the band sewed up the splendid performance with Phillips' seductive arrangement of "Invitation," featuring Martin, Scanlon and Saunders.

Seventy-six year-old vibraphonist Emil Richards and the Hollywood All-Star Big Band were next up, and those who were too hungry to stay missed another in a series of first-class concerts. The band came out swingin' on Billy Byers' arrangement of "Come Fly with Me" (showcasing Christlieb's always-unpredictable tenor) and Sammy Nestico's "Blues Machine" (with a host of soloists including alto Lanny Morgan, trumpeter Jeff Bunnell, trombonists Morillas and Linda Small, tenor Doug Webb, pianist Mike Lang and Richards). Nestico composed "Free Flight" and "Freckle Face," sandwiched around "Blues for Sam" and Bunnell's "It's About Time." Quincy Jones' "Hard Sock," arranged by Nestico, cuddled in a cozy groove to complement burnished solos by Richards, Morgan, Morillas and Webb. On my note pad I'd scribbled "swings as hard as any band here." As if to prove the point, Richards and the ensemble brought down the curtain (and the house) with Bunnell's "Mr. Christlieb, I Presume," spotlighting you-know-who in another spectacular tour de force.

While the concert was under way, hotel staff were busy setting up a sandwich / soft drink table in the adjacent lobby to provide food and drink for those attending the Bud Shank Memorial Concert and Tribute. The event was late getting started, and things wouldn't get any better, as it is all but impossible to control the number of friends and colleagues who wish to pay their respects or the length of the musical selections they've chosen. After a written message from trombonist Herbie Harper and remarks by bassist and Lighthouse All-Stars founder Howard Rumsey (who at ninety-two sat through almost every concert), Shank's original rhythm section (pianist Claude Williamson, bassist Don Prell, drummer Chuck Flores) took center stage to play a medley of songs from Porgy and Bess, the ballad "Who Can I Turn To" and "Autumn Leaves." In-person remarks by guitarist Dennis Budimir and award-winning composer Johnny Mandel were sandwiched around a solo recital by pianist Clare Fischer (four extended variations on Jerome Kern's "Yesterdays").

Two-thirds of Shank's last working rhythm section (pianist Bill Mays, bassist Bob Magnusson) was joined onstage by Flores and alto Lanny Morgan for "Lester Leaps In" before Mays and Magnusson played Shank's "Evanescence" (written for pianist Bill Evans) and the samba "Carousels." Ken Poston read a letter from Bill Holman, who was vacationing in Europe, after which Mays, Magnusson and Flores were joined by Christlieb, trombonist Linda Small and baritone Bill Ramsay for Gabe Baltazar's clever composition, "Bop Suey" (announced as Ramsay's), whose tune is comprised of sixteen well-known bop phrases. Although the hour was growing late there was more to come, specifically from Dave Friesen (who I was told played electric cello). While Friesen waited for the proper amplification (which took more than five minutes), I stepped outside, returning shortly afterward for the soul-stirring finale, Shank's compositions "Wildflower" (written for his wife, Linda, who was present) and "Starduster," nicely performed by Webb on tenor, alto Fred Laurence Selden and the rhythm section.

Those partisans who weren't yet emotionally and physically drained took a short break, then returned to the Ballroom (it was almost ten o'clock) to hear the L.A. Jazz Orchestra's "Portrait of Frank Sinatra." And that it was. The ensemble opened with "All or Nothing at All" and followed with "I'll Never Smile Again," "Saturday Night," "South of the Border," "All of Me," "I've Got the World on a String," "In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning" and "Just One of Those Things." The charts were more danceable than deep, albeit with some trim solos by tenor Christlieb, pianist Mays, trumpeter Warren Luening and bass trombonist Bryant Byers ("Saturday Night"). The opening set ended at around 10:30, as did my day. Set 2 included "I've Got You Under My Skin," "You Make Me Feel So Young," "Come Fly with Me," "All the Way," "Nice n' Easy," "The Song is You" and "In the Still of the Night."

Sunday, May 24, 2009

As Film 3 was scheduled later in the day, the session began with another early poolside concert (eleven o'clock) by the Fullerton College Jazz Ensemble directed by Bruce Babad. After opening with Frank Foster's "Blues in Hoss' Flat," the band introduced a nimble-fingered tenor saxophonist, Stephen Spencer, on "Body and Soul." The original "Across the Heart" was next, after which baritone saxophonist Fermin Chavez moved to tenor for a tasteful solo on "In a Sentimental Mood." Bill Holman's arrangement of "Bugle Call Rag" preceded "Black Sugar" (with Chavez on baritone) and Dave Barduhn's arrangement of Juan Tizol's "Caravan" before Babad and the group made its only misstep, inserting one of Charles Mingus' tedious big-band charts, "Fables of Faubus." That made the finale, "Battle of the Bop Brothers," rather a comeback, and a grand one it was with tenors Spencer and Jordan Ferrin going toe-to-toe and scrapping to a well-earned draw.

Alf Clausen, another busy film / television writer who moonlights as a jazz arranger, was first up in the California Ballroom, leading his band through an engaging program of standards and originals, all arranged by Clausen. The groovy opener, "Captain Perfect," which I'd first heard played by Denny Christianson's Canadian ensemble, featured Luening on muted trumpet and Dan Higgins on soprano sax, while "Feelin' So Blue" shined the spotlight on Scanlon's alto. Clausen saluted Thad Jones with "Trollin' for Thad Poles," which led to "Samba de Elencia" and Clifford Brown's "Daahoud" with a vocal by young Denise Donatelli who reappeared on Bobby Troup's "The Meaning of the Blues." "Spring Can Really Hang You Up the Most" heralded trumpeter Summers and pianist Rich Ruttenberg, Clausen's "Looking for the Back Door" Ruttenberg, Luening and baritone Efford. The closer, "Final Farewell," dedicated to Oliver Nelson, Gary McFarland and Duke Ellington, encased typically imposing solos by Summers and Scanlon.

The event's fourth and last panel, "Remembering Bob Florence," was moderated by Kim Richmond who doubled as panelist with Efford, Don Shelton, Steve Huffsteter and Tom Peterson. Many stories were shared about Florence's uncommon talent, humility, warmth, humor and intellect. Little was said about that evening's concert but Richmond promised there would be at least one "surprise" at the end.

I was looking forward eagerly to the next concert, as it showcased a band led by the superb composer / arranger Tom Kubis. After opening with a clever version of W.C. Handy's "St. Louis Blues" (ripping solos by tenor Christlieb and trumpeters Bunnnell and Stan Martin), Kubis reached into his ample bag of tricks and dusted off a classic chart, "Samba Dees Godda Do It," meanwhile soloing on tenor sax alongside guitarist Mike Higgins and trombonist Andy Martin. Bass trombonist Rich Bullock and the sax section (awesome soli) sparkled on "Don't Get Around Much Anymore" before trumpeter Bergeron all but blew the audience away with some skyscraping salvos on another Kubis original, "High Clouds and a Good Chance of Wayne." Martin's rapid-fire trombone shared blowing honors with hard-working drummer Bernie Dressel on "Caravan," while Bird's "Anthropology" summoned alto Rusty Higgins, trombonist Kaplan, baritone Schroeder and pianist Jack Riedling to the center ring. After Higgins' guitar feature, the lyrical "Village Dance," almost everyone—especially the trombone section (Martin, Kaplan, Bullock, Bruce Otto)—stormed the castle on the finale, Kubis' torrid arrangement of "Bill Bailey Won't You Please Come Home."

Following that sonic onslaught a reprieve was certainly in order, and it came in the form of the last of the weekend's trio of films, "Big Bands on Television," with vintage clips of the Charlie Barnet Band with guest soloist Juan Tizol, a Miles Davis / Gil Evans version of "The Duke," Maynard Ferguson playing "'Round Midnight" with a Canadian studio band, two charming numbers by Germany's Kurt Edelhagen Orchestra, "Groove Merchant" by the Thad Jones-Mel Lewis Orchestra, and the Stan Kenton Orchestra performing "Artistry in Rhythm" on a TV special hosted by vocalist Mel Torme.

Two concerts were yet to come, the first—before the dinner break—by composer / arranger Ron Jones' Jazz Influence Orchestra. The ensemble opened with the tried-and-true "Yardbird Suite" (solos by trumpeter Luening and alto Selden), skated neatly through a Jones original, "Pockets of Time" (tenor Doug Webb, trumpeter Gary Grant) and featured Luening on a splendid arrangement of Kurt Weill's "My Ship." Vocalist Calabria Foti made a brief appearance, singing pleasantly on "Old Devil Moon." As an avid lyric-lover, however, I shudder whenever a singer isn't quite up to speed in that department, as in "I look at you and suddenly, something in my eyes I see..." Sorry; it's "something in your eyes I see..." Doesn't make much sense the other way. But back to the instrumentals. "Everything," dedicated to Thelonious Monk, showcased a fine pianist, Mike Lang, as did Holman's singular arrangement of "Donna Lee" (the latter also spotlighting trombonist McChesney and tenor Christlieb, a workhorse in several bands). Alto Gene Cipriano was impressive on his ballad feature, "My One and Only Love," before the band tied a shiny ribbon around the package with Jones' breezy "Happier Than Shit Blues," which imparted blowing space to more than half of the group's twenty-one members (besides the usual brass/ reeds / rhythm crew, Jones used two French horns, guitar, percussion and vibes).

There are times when the last concert in a lengthy panorama encompassing the span of several days can be anticlimactic. This was not one of those times. "A Swingin' Affair" sustained its climactic moments on an incredibly rhapsodic note with the Bob Florence Limited Edition coming together for the last time to render two-set tribute to its founder and guiding light, the incomparable composer / arranger / pianist who passed away on May 15, 2008, five days short of his seventy-sixth birthday. Florence wrote eight of the thirteen selections, several of which have become Jazz standards, and all of the charts. Set 1 opened with Florence's offbeat arrangement of "Take the 'A' Train," featuring baritone saxophonist Bob Efford and guitarist Steve Gregory, then moved on to three of his red-letter originals, "Bebop Charlie," "I'll Remember" and "Willowcrest" (solos on the first by tenor Jeff Driskill and trombonist Alex Iles, on the second by Driskill, the last by trombonist Whitfield and alto Richmond). Pianist Andy Langham introduced "Chelsea Bridge" whose melody was played by clarinetist Shelton with trombonist McChesney soloing. Florence penned the playful "Evelyn, Queen of the Racquet Club" for his wife, Evie, who was present with other members of the family. Resplendent solos courtesy of altos Shelton and Richmond. Set 1 closed with another of Florence's classic charts, "Carmelo's by the Freeway," which embodied scorching statements by tenor saxophonist Peterson and trumpeter Kye Palmer and, as was the case throughout, exemplary timekeeping by drummer Peter Erskine.

Between sets I turned to Betty, who was clearly fatigued, and asked, "Are you going to leave?" "I can't," she replied, speaking for almost everyone else in the audience. The Limited Edition soon returned to the stage, opening with another engaging Florence original that showcased Richmond's persuasive alto. It was the only song whose name I was unable to hear. Next up was the standard "Laura," on which Peterson and trumpeter Saunders (who played lead most of the evening) wrapped their crowd-pleasing solos in layers of warmth and sensitivity. Saunders soloed again with flugel Huffsteter on Johnny Mandel's "Emily," while a host of sidemen (including Erskine and trumpeter Stout) took their swings on Florence's clever homage to Stan Kenton, "Appearing in Cleveland." Then came the surprise: Florence's gossamer arrangement of the New Year's Eve perennial "Auld Lang Syne." The Scottish folk song had been recorded by the band more than two decades ago on the album State of the Art, and now, as then, the lone soloist was Florence's longtime friend and reed section anchor, Bob Efford, whose gem-like improvisation was, to these ears, the most earnest and self-effacing he'd ever produced. If there were any dry eyes in the house, rest assured there were none where this reviewer was seated. What a princely way to end the colorful four-day parade! For Ken Poston and the L.A. Jazz Institute, another five-star appraisal from from a hotel whose own star rating (personal opinion, and sorry to have to say it) hasn't always measured up to the entertainment.

Epilogue

Before "A Swingin' Affair" had even begun, the LAJI announced plans for its next extravaganza, "Artistry in Rhythm: A Stan Kenton Alumni Reunion," to be held October 8-11, again at the Sheraton LAX Four Points Hotel. The "bonus event" on October 7, limited to the first one hundred registrants and already sold out, is a concert at Capitol Records' Studio A in Hollywood where the Kenton Orchestra recorded a number of its classic albums. Kenton alumni slated to appear include Bill Holman, Marvin Stamm, Al Porcino, Don Menza, Mike Vax, Carl Saunders, Kim Parker, Bill Trujillo, Kim Richmond, Joel Kaye, Greg Smith, Steve Huffsteter, Dale DeVoe, Al Yankee and Roy Wiegand, with many more to come. See you in October!

And that's it for now. Until next time, keep swingin...'!




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