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"A Swingin' Affair" Outshines Its Name

Jack Bowers By

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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

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