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"A Swingin' Affair" Outshines Its Name

Jack Bowers By

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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.

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