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The Knoxville Jazz Orchestra: A Year in the Life of the Band...

Jack Bowers BY

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As the great Sinatra once sang, “It was a very good year...” While 2001 was hardly trouble-free for the Knoxville (TN) Jazz Orchestra, the band was able to raise enough money during that time to underwrite a two-week European tour. The KJO appeared at France’s Jazz à Vienne and Switzerland’s Montreux Jazz Festival and was able to document those splendid performances by including excerpts from each of them on its latest album. Three selections — “Angst,” “Skylark,” “Martha Stewart . . .” were recorded at Jazz à Vienne, “Man, What a Beautiful Day“ at Montreux. Three others — “Uncle Will,” “Mean to Me,” “Bowl of Cherries” — were taped at various concerts in Knoxville, Donald Brown’s picturesque “Scenes of Knoxville” (arranged by trumpeter Vance Thompson) at West Valley Middle School with Brown adding the piano section later. Thompson wrote “Angst” for tenor saxophonist Jimmy Mann and the KJO’s hard-working rhythm section (Bill Swann, piano; Rusty Holloway, bass; Keith Brown, drums), “Beautiful Day” for his father, “an incurable optimist,” and “Martha Stewart Ain’t Got Nothin’ on My Baby” for his wife, “the best carpenter, interior designer, brick layer and floor tile expert I know.” Chicago organist Dan Trudell is showcased on the standard “Mean to Me,” taken at an amiable gallop, and Brother Jack McDuff’s groovy “Dig Uncle Will.” Thompson also arranged “Cherries” and Hoagy Carmichael’s soulful “Skylark,” on which Thomas Heflin’s meticulous trumpet sets the compass. Brown, performing with an orchestra that exists only in his headphones and imagination, is brilliant on “Scenes,” which was inspired by James Agee’s poem, Knoxville: Summer of 1915, and its classical depiction by Samuel Barber (I like this one much better). The orchestra is suitably impish on “Martha Stewart . . .” (strapping solos by Thompson, Holloway, tenor Bill Scarlett, baritone Tom Johnson, trombonist Tom Lundberg) and closes on a carefree Dixieland-ish note (complete with tuba and banjo, courtesy of Eric Seay and Larry Vincent) with “Cherries,” part of a suite commissioned by Ron Horn for his wife, Cathy, the whole of which is titled “Broadway Is Great but I Can’t Do Without My Cathy.”

The KJO’s earlier album, The Music of Donald Brown, was quite impressive, and so is this one. “As with anything of value,” Thompson writes, ”the music on this disc represents considerable sacrifice. Nothing worth having is ever free, and nothing worth achieving is ever easy.” A Year in the Life of the Band... is well worth whatever sacrifices in time and money it took to produce, and it’s worth everyone else’s time and effort to acquire a copy and listen.

Contact: The Knoxville Jazz Orchestra, 2217 Clinch Avenue, Knoxville, TN 37916. Phone 865–329–3063; e–mail [email protected] ; web site, www.knoxjazz.org

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