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Albuquerque Jazz Orchestra Rekindles Cuban Fire Suite


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On June 5, 2010, with the temperature in Albuquerque hovering around 100 degrees, the Albuquerque Jazz Orchestra couldn't have wished for a better time to perform Johnny Richards' incendiary Cuban Fire suite, first recorded in 1956 by the Stan Kenton Orchestra. The sold-out concert was the opening event in the city's annual Jazz and Blues Under the Stars series at the Albuquerque Museum of Art, and the AJO treated its audience to an explosive and occasionally ear-shattering rendition of the seven-movement cycle (including one movement not included on the original album).

The AJO, under the able direction of trumpeter Bobby Shew, expanded its membership to 25 for the concert, adding guitar, tuba, two French horns and four Latin percussionists. The result was a performance that far exceeded expectations as everyone rose to the occasion, blowing with remarkable awareness and enthusiasm, both individually and collectively. Having attended two rehearsals, this writer could scarcely believe it was the same band. And this wasn't the first time that had happened. There seems to be something about playing for an audience that causes the AJO to surpass even its own estimable ambitions. This was certainly one of those cases.

After opening the first of two sets with an engaging rendition of "On Green Dolphin Street" (solos by Shew, alto Glenn Kostur, trombonist John Sanks, trumpeter Brad Dubbs, pianist Chris Ishee), the ensemble took a deep breath and sprang headlong into the first movement of Cuban Fire, the aptly named "Fuego Cubano." Next, in order, came "El Congo Valiente," "Recuerdos," "Quien Sabe," "La Quera Baila," "Tres Corazones" and finally, "La Suerte de los Tontos." The orchestra was inspired, the rhythm section (led by young drummer Chase Ellison) volcanic, and there were incisive solos along the way by Kostur, Dubbs, Ishee, trumpeter Kent Erickson, tenor Lee Taylor and bassist Colin Deuble. A standing ovation followed, with the AJO members casting weariness aside for a moment to stand for their well-deserved bows. A memorable occasion? In a word, yes.

The second set, after a brief intermission, was pleasing but rather anticlimactic, consisting of the standards "Alone Together" (featuring Shew and guitarist Michael Anthony), "Here's That Rainy Day" (ditto tenor Taylor) and Duke Ellington's fast-moving "Cottontail." The AJO was set to perform next on July 25 in Santa Fe, accompanying legendary composer / pianist Toshiko Akiyoshi as part of the fifth annual New Mexico Jazz Festival. We'll have a report on that concert in next month's column.

Coming Events

The Monterey Jazz Festival has named the 21 members of its 2010 Next Generation Jazz Orchestra, whose 10-day Tri-C to NYC North American Tour from June 30-July 7 includes performances in Cleveland, Montreal, Toronto and the Big Apple. The NGJO is also set to perform with vocalist Dianne Reeves at the 53rd annual Monterey Jazz Festival on September 19.

This year's NGJO members represent high schools from six states including 11 from California, five from Oregon, two from New York state and one each from Maryland, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. There are nine returning members from last year's ensemble. Trombonists John Egizi from Los Angeles and Emmanuel Rojas from Downey, CA, are three-time members of the band whose former members include pianists Benny Green and Patrice Rushen, bassist FLY, drummer Chad Wackerman, saxophonists Joshua Redman, Eric Marienthal and Dave Koz, trombonist Andy Martin and bandleader Gordon Goodwin. The band has been led in past years by Ladd McIntosh, Don Schamber, Benny Golson, Bill Berry and others. For information about the Monterey Jazz Festival, e-mail [email protected] or go online to www.montereyjazzfestival.org

The 64th annual Midwest Clinic for bands and orchestras will be held December 15-18 in Chicago, featuring 38 jazz ensembles, orchestras, bands and chamber ensembles from seventeen states, the District of Columbia and Japan. Among those scheduled to perform are the DePaul University Jazz Ensemble, the Michigan State University Jazz Orchestra, the Rob Parton Big Band and the U.S. Navy Commodores. The conference features more than 65 clinicians, offering jazz educators a wealth of information on various topics. For more information, e-mail [email protected]

Oscar Peterson in Bronze

On June 30, a slightly larger-than-life bronze statue of legendary jazz pianist Oscar Peterson was unveiled outside the National Arts Centre near Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. The sculpture, by Canadian artist Ruth Abernethy, is of Peterson seated at the end of a piano bench, resting his left elbow on the instrument that made him an international star. Beside him on the bench is an empty space for passersby to rest. The project took shape about two years ago, when Abernethy discussed it with organizers of a Toronto memorial for the Montreal-born Peterson who was aged 82 when he died in 2007. During the sculpting process, Abernethy studied photos and biographies of Peterson and listened to his recordings for inspiration. "He's an icon," Abernethy said of Peterson. "He's a very broad thread in the Canadian weave."

More Honors for McPartland, Ashton

On June 8, British pianist Marian McPartland was inducted as an Officer of the Order of the British Empire for her Services to Jazz and to aspiring young musicians in the United States. McPartland was given her insignia by Sir Alan Collins, Her Majesty's Consul General for the U.S., at a ceremony in New York City. "I am exceedingly proud to have received this great honor bestowed on me by Queen Elizabeth," said McPartland. "I am truly grateful, and I wish the Queen a happy birthday." Among her guests at the ceremony were Todd Barkan, Bill Charlap, Renee Rosnes, Helen Merrill, Michael Feinstein and Elle Shearing who conveyed congratulations from her husband, pianist George Shearing. McPartland, who has had a long and distinguished career as a pianist, composer, writer and educator, is perhaps best known for "Piano Jazz," National Public Radio's longest-running cultural show, on the air since 1978 and heard by listeners around the world.

Also named an OBE in the Queen's birthday honors list for his services to music was Bill Ashton, founder and life president of Great Britain's National Youth Jazz Orchestra, which marks its 45th anniversary later this year. Ashton, a saxophonist in his own right, co-founded the Oxford University Big Band in 1960, and five years later founded the London Schools Jazz Orchestra, which quickly evolved into the National Youth Jazz Orchestra, several of whose alumni are among the country's foremost jazz musicians. To date, NYJO has recorded about 50 albums and has performed in countries around the world including the U.S. (twice), the USSR, Australia, New Zealand, Turkey, Bulgaria, Poland, Malta, Portugal, France, Germany, Sicily, Madeira and Spain. NYJO has appeared many times on television and played for the Royal Family, notably at the Royal Variety Performance and the Royal Celebration of Youth. In 1978, Ashton was awarded an MBE, marking the first time the word "Jazz" had ever appeared in the annual Honors List. Ashton has written more than 70 songs in whole or part, and has served on the committees for the International Year of the Child and the Association of British Jazz Musicians. He became Life President of NYJO in 2009 and continues as its Founding Musical Director.

More Fond Farewells

Stanley Kaufman, better known as Stanley Kay, one-time back-up drummer and manager for Buddy Rich and one of the driving forces behind the superb all-female big band DIVA, died at home on June 21. He was 86 years old. After drumming for such headliners as Josephine Baker, Patti Paige and Frankie Laine, Kay stepped into management as creator and conductor of "Hines, Hines and Dad," continuing to manage dancer Maurice Hines and such stars as Michelle Lee and Paul Burke. Later, he became entertainment director for the New York Yankees, and in 1992 founded DIVA, a world-renowned ensemble led by drummer Sherrie Maricle.

Danny Bank, a jazz saxophonist, clarinetist and flutist, died June 5 at age 79. The versatile Bank, who was much in demand by leaders of many groups, is best known for his association with Miles Davis and Gil Evans on the groundbreaking albums Miles Ahead, Sketches of Spain and Porgy and Bess. Earlier in his career, Bank played and recorded with Charlie Barnet, Benny Goodman, the Dorsey brothers, Artie Shaw, Paul Whiteman and others. Later, he recorded with Charlie Parker, Rex Stewart, the Sauter-Finegan Orchestra Orchestra, Johnny Hodges, Urbie Green, Clifford Brown, Helen Merrill, Art Farmer, Wes Montgomery, Quincy Jones, Jimmy Smith, Chico O'Farrill, Betty Carter and Ray Charles as well as with big bands led by Charles Mingus, Sonny Rollins and Stanley Turrentine.

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

New and Noteworthy

1. Stan Kenton Alumni Band, Have Band, Will Travel (Summit)
2. Sheryl Bailey / 3 Rivers Jazz Orchestra A New Promise (MCG Jazz)
3. Phil Woods / DePaul University Jazz Ensemble, Solitude (Jazzed Media)
4. Nova Jazz Orchestra, A Time of Reckoning (NJO)
5. Mulligan Mosaics Big Band, Live at the Jazz Showcase (No Label)
6. Big Crazy Energy NY Big Band, Inspirations, Vol. 1 (Rosa Records)
7. Vince Norman / Joe McCarthy Big Band, Bright Future (OA2 Records)
8. Dave Lisik Orchestra, Coming Through Slaughter (Galloping Crow)
9. Roberto Magris / Europlane Orchestra, Current Views (Soul Note)
10. Toronto Jazz Orchestra, The Path (TJO)
11. Yolanda Drake / Tito Puente Orchestra, Many Moods (Amigos)
12. University of Northern Iowa, Strange Wonderful (UNI Jazz)
13. Stone Bratt Big Band, Untitled (No Label)
14. North Texas State College, The Road to Stan (90th Floor Records)
15. Repass Brass, Bonehenge (Self Published)

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