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"A Swingin' Affair" Outshines Its Name

Jack Bowers By

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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.

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