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Blue Skies, Smilin' at Me...

Jack Bowers By

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The early morning sky over Albuquerque is awash in brilliant colors this week as hundreds of gas-powered balloons of all shapes and sizes become airborne as a part of the thirty-fourth annual International Balloon Fiesta. With midday temperatures now in the seventies, autumn is in the air and gaining ground fast. Nothing to do with Jazz; simply a reminder that Albuquerque is a pretty nice place to live. Now let's get down to business.

Our first stop this month is Great Britain, site of BBC Radio 2's thirtieth annual Big Band Competition, in which senior section honors were earned this year—for the sixth time—by John Ruddick Sr's remarkable Midland Youth Jazz Orchestra. MYJO has won the competition so often, in fact, that it is responsible for the rule that winning bands can't compete again for three years. So we should see MYJO atop the podium again in 2008. The senior section runner-up was the Leeds College of Music Big Band, directed by Al Wood. The Chethams School Big Band under director Goff Richards placed first in the junior section, with Ian Darrington's always in-the-hunt Wigan Youth Jazz Orchestra placing second for the fifth time (WYJO has won the competition four times). This year's jury (which listens to all the entries without knowing who they are) was comprised of Don Lusher, Henry Lowther, Mark Nightingale, Barry Forgie and John Patrick.

MYJO also won three individual prizes, with flugel Percy Pursglove earning Radio 2's Best Soloist honors, Andy Derrick capturing the Don Lusher trombone prize, and Natasha Buxton taking home the Kenny Clare drum prize for the second time (she also claimed it three years ago when MYJO last competed — and won). Wigan's guitarist, Nick Kellie, was given the John Dankworth Award as most promising young musician. Another guitarist, Simon King of the Shrewsbury Big Band, earned the Musicians' Union Outstanding Musician Award for the second time, having won it two years ago as well. The Radio 2 Top Arranger prize went to Ray Chester of Sunderland for his arrangement of Hoagy Carmichael's "Skylark. Chester, a trombonist who received the Outstanding Musician Award three years ago, usually takes the featured solo on "Skylark but deferred this year to prize-winner Derrick.

At the All-Winners Concert, held at the CBSO Centre in Birmingham, the winning bands peformed, separately and together, with MYJO typically sharp on Rob McConnell's arrangements of "My Man Bill and "You Took Advantage of Me, while Chethams performed Mike Tomaro's "Retro Funk and Sammy Nestico's "Wind Machine. Derrick and Buxton were showcased in a show-stopping version of "Caravan, arranged by Tom Kubis. The Radio 2 competition was established in 1975 by Ray Harvey who has been organizing it ever since, as he did this year. It's a great idea, and my question is, why can't we have something like that here in the States?

Does IASJ Ring a Bell?
Perhaps not, as it's a European association that is the brainchild of an American musician, saxophonist Dave Liebman. IASJ, which stands for International Association of Schools of Jazz, was formed in 1989 by Liebman as a way of unifying an international community of music teachers and students. At its first meeting in Rottenburg, Germany, in 1989, representatives from ten countries including France, Spain, Switzerland, Ireland and Sweden showed up to help launch the organization.

The IASJ now has members on every continent, and representatives from more than fifty countries attend its annual meetings, the most recent of which was held in Krakow, Poland, in July. In an article by Andrew Greiner in the October issue of DownBeat magazine, Liebman says he sees the cross-cultural influence as the ultimate benefit of a widespread international network of Jazz education, which he says is the best way to preserve Jazz. With the International Association for Jazz Education (IAJE) also expanding its reach to welcome other countries (it has members from forty-five others besides the U.S.), Greiner observes that "the opportunities for students to learn while traveling is stronger than ever. Liebman says that thousands of American students are going to Europe to study Jazz standards because the foundation is solid and the expense is manageable. The trend, says Richard Dunscomb, the IAJE's international coordinator, "used to be for European students to come and study Jazz in the States. But now that they have their own schools and the programs are good, Europeans are staying home to learn. The IASJ is another good thing for Jazz, and Liebman deserves a hearty round of applause for giving birth to the idea.

Steve Marcus
Not all the news is good, and it was saddening to learn of the sudden death at age sixty-six of Steve Marcus, an outstanding saxophonist who played in big bands led by Stan Kenton, Woody Herman and Buddy Rich, among others. Marcus, who was born in the Bronx in 1939 and attended the Berklee School of Music in Boston, was currently touring with "Steve Smith and Buddy's Buddies, a quintet that paid tribute to the music of Buddy Rich. After leaving Kenton's orchestra when it was temporarily disbanded in 1963, Marcus performed with Gary Burton, the Jazz Composers' Orchestra, Herbie Mann and Larry Coryell's Eleventh House (1971-73) and led an early fusion group, The Count's Rock Band. He joined drummer Rich's supercharged big band in 1975 and remained a member and star soloist until Buddy's death in 1987. Marcus recorded only rarely under his own name, but if you can find a copy of his album Smile (Red Baron JK53751), with pianist John Hicks, bassist Christian McBride and drummer Marvin "Smitty Smith, it will give you an idea of what a marvelous player he was, on tenor or alto sax.

Columbia College Honors Bill Russo
As a part of the Chicago Jazz Ensemble's performance on Saturday, October 8, the Music Department at Columbia College, where the late composer / arranger / conductor William Russo taught for many years, will announce a new scholarship named in his honor. The concert, "An Evening with Cedar Walton and Corky Siegel, will include a tribute to Russo, who gained fame with the Stan Kenton Orchestra before founding the Columbia College Music Department and serving as its chairman for almost forty years. Blues harmonica master Siegel will perform the solo "Corky from the Chicago Suite No. 2, a piece written especially for him by Russo, while the CJE will perform works by Russo under the direction of its new artistic director, trumpeter Jon Faddis. Russo is fondly remembered by fans of the Stan Kenton Orchestra for such superb compositions as "Solitaire, "Halls of Brass, "Portrait of a Count, "Frank Speaking, "My Lady, "Invention for Guitar and Trumpet, "A Theme of Four Values," "Blues Before and After," "Egdon Heath and "23 Degrees North, 82 Degrees West, as well as for memorable arrangements of such standards as "Lover Man, "Sophisticated Lady, "Over the Rainbow, "Fascinatin' Rhythm, "If I Should Lose You, "I've Got You Under My Skin, "You and the Night and the Music, "April in Paris, "Crazy Rhythm, "How High the Moon, "Autumn in New York and many others.

On the Horizon...
Pittsfield, Massachusetts, will hold its first Jazz festival Oct 14-15 at the Berkshire Music Hall in the city's downtown area. Friday evening's headliner is the Black Eagles Jazz Band, a trad group that has performed at Tanglewood, Jacob's Pillow and other regional venues but is making its first appearance in Pittsfield. The Black Eagles have performed throughout the U.S. and in Europe, have been featured in broadcasts for PBS and NPR, and have appeared on the PBS-TV programs "Roaring Through the '20s and "This Old House. On Saturday evening, the New England Jazz Ensemble returns to Pittsfield to perform and record its fourth CD. Sharing the stage with the NEJE are vocalist Joyce Breach and the Keith Ingham Duo.

On November 5, East Stroudsburg University in Pennsylvania will host Jazz Jubilee 2005, a day-long tribute to those twin titans of the tenor sax, Al Cohn and Zoot Sims (the university is home to the Al Cohn Memorial Jazz Collection). The program includes a noon panel discussion and afternoon and evening concerts. The panelists for "Remembering Al and Zoot are Ira Gitler, Dan Morgenstern, Bill Crow, Stanley Kay and Steve Gilmore. Headlining the afternoon concert are vocalist Bob Dorough; the Jazz Jubilee All-Stars featuring bassist Crow, trombonists Urbie Green and Eddie Bert and others; pianist Jack Reilly with bassist Gilmore, saxophonist Dave Liebman and drummer Bill Goodwin; and drummer Sherrie Maricle and Five Play. Al Cohn's son, guitarist Joe Cohn, will perform in the evening, as will vocalist Dave Frishberg, saxophonist Phil Woods and the Festival Orchestra, and a "tenor conclave finale with special guests. The panel discussion is free, the concerts $25 each (or both for $45). For information, phone 570-422-3828, e-mail

Al Jarreau, George Duke, Earl Klugh and Ravi Coltrane will be among the headliners December 1-3 at the second annual Cayman Jazz Fest in the Cayman Islands. Others scheduled to perform include smooth Jazz saxophonist Najee, gospel vocalist Yolanda Adams, the groups Intransit and Hi Tide, the Pandemonium Steel Band, and soul diva KayKay. The three Cayman Islands are 480 miles south of Miami in the western Caribbean. The Jazz Fest is produced in cooperation with BET Jazz.

Next January 11-14, the International Association for Jazz Education (IAJE, as mentioned earlier) will host its thirty-third annual Conference at the Hilton and Sheraton hotels in New York City. As always, the event will include concerts, workshops, research papers, teacher training sessions, a Jazz industry track, and a mammoth music industry exposition. No information yet on who'll be appearing this year, but there are sure to be a number of stellar performers from big band to small group and beyond. We do know that Jazz Masters Awards will be presented by the National Endowment for the Arts, with other awards saluting the Hall of Fame, Jazz Humanitarian and Jazz Ambassador. The ASCAP / IAJE and Gil Evans awards will be presented to outstanding composers, while younger talent will be showcased via the Clifford Brown / Stan Getz All-Stars, IAJE Community College All-Stars, and the AAJC / HBCU Student All-Star Big Band.

Looking further down the road... Next March 9-11, the University of South Florida is sponsoring the first International Jazz Composers' Symposium showcasing the talents of three celebrated composers—Bob Brookmeyer, John Clayton and Dave Douglas—with the university's resident Jazz orchestra, Chuck Owen and the Jazz Surge. The symposium will encompass two days and three nights of concerts, master classes, panel discussions, lectures / chats and research presentations. As a bonus, composers may apply to have their works performed in a concert setting with the guest composers present. For information, phone 813-974-4285.

And on March 31-April 2, the University of North Texas hosts the annual UNT Jazz Festival at the Hotel Inter-Continental in Addison (just north of Dallas). As always, there'll be plenty of big bands performing, although the names aren't yet available. But they will include the North Texas One O'Clock and Two O'Clock Bands, as well as the UNT Jazz Faculty Combo and UNT Jazz Singers. That's more than enough to whet the appetite. There'll be competitions in a number of areas with judges to include Ron McCurdy and Sunny Wilkinson (vocal groups), Lou Fischer and Howie Smith (combos), Steve Houghton and Marvin Stamm (big bands). Those interested in performing should notify education director Bob Morgan of their intention to apply no later than November 1. E-mail

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

New and Noteworthy

  1. Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra, Live at MCG (MCG Jazz)
  2. Drake University Jazz Ensemble, <>Late Night at the Mainstay (DUJE)
  3. Stockholm Jazz Orchestra, Homage (Dragon)
  4. Danny D'Imperio Big Band Bloviation, Vol 2 (Rompin' Records)
  5. U North Texas Two O'Clock Lab Band, Best of the Big O (North Texas Jazz)
  6. Don Menza Big Band, Menza Lines (Jazzed Media)
  7. NYJO Featuring Atila the Killer Diller, Something Old, Something New (NYJ)
  8. Lars Halle Jazz Orchestra, Speaking of Apropos (no label)
  9. Manhattan School of Music Jazz Orchestra, Sketches of Spain (MSM)
  10. Brussels Jazz Orchestra, Meeting Colours (Dreyfus Jazz)
  11. Neophonic Orchestras, New Horizons, Vols 1 and 2 (Tantara)
  12. Mt. Hood Community College, Super Blue (Sea Breeze Vista)
  13. Dallas Christian Jazz Band, Sermonette (DCJB)
  14. New Talent Jazz Orchestra, The Sound of NY Jazz Underground (Fresh Sound NT)
  15. Howard University Jazz Ensemble, HUJE 2004 (HUJE)


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