Bob Florence: The Man Behind the Music / The Stage Door (Often) Swings

Jack Bowers By

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The news arrived like an errant and unwelcome thunderbolt. Bob Florence had died on May 15, only five days before his seventy-sixth birthday. After the initial shock had worn off the question became, how does one process and evaluate such a distressing occurrence? How can one summarize in mere words so extraordinary a life? The answer is, one can't, even though the broad outline is well-known. Composer, arranger, pianist, bandleader, educator, Grammy and two-time Emmy Award winner, leader on almost twenty highly acclaimed big-band albums spanning nearly half a century. Florence earned a Grammy eight years ago for his album Serendipity 18, Emmys in music direction for the 1990 PBS-TV show "Julie Andrews in Concert" and the 1981 program "Linda Lavin in Wonderland." That, in brief, is some of what the musician Bob Florence accomplished. A remarkable body of work, one must agree, but the man behind the music was even more impressive, which is why he'll always have a special place in my heart and memory.

I had my first meaningful conversations with Bob two years ago, when he, his wife Evie and friends Norm and Faye Tompach stayed at a bed and breakfast with Betty and me in Prescott, AZ, where we had come to take part in the Prescott Jazz Summit, Bob as a performer, the rest of us as fans. I found that Bob was not only funny, good-natured and down-to-earth, but that we shared a mutual interest in classic films from the Golden Age of Hollywood. We looked forward to continuing that discussion last year, but Bob was taken ill and couldn't attend the Summit; his place was taken by Reggie Thomas, a fine pianist from St. Louis. We spoke to Bob by phone, but it wasn't quite the same as having him there with us.

Some months ago we learned that Bob's illness had worsened, and that he'd been hospitalized. It was a great relief to learn later that he'd been released from the hospital and was home, even though he was using a walker to help ease the pain in his ailing back. And then, much to our dismay, Bob was hospitalized again, and for the last time. Pneumonia entered the picture, a relentless adversary even he couldn't vanquish. I'd sent him a get-well card commanding his healthy presence at the Prescott event in August. I'm sure he'd have honored it if he were able. I'll certainly miss him, as will many others. Yes, I have Bob's music to help assuage the loss, but am saddened by the knowledge that he had so much more to give. He was busy writing almost to the end, and was planning another big-band album to be recorded this summer. As he is no longer with us on Earth, we can only hope that Bob Florence is now Soaring and perfecting, as only he can, those Eternal Licks and Grooves.

"The Stage Door Swings" . . . More Often Than Not

Prologue. One memorable melody after another. That was the norm as the Los Angeles Jazz Institute saluted some of the legendary songwriters of Broadway—and Hollywood—during its semi-annual extravaganza, "The Stage Door Swings," May 22-25 at the Sheraton LAX Four Points Hotel. Unlike most other LAJI events, this one wasn't dominated by big bands, although a fair number of them were heard from during the four-day marathon. This was more a mixed bag—as the Brits might say, a curate's egg—as several smaller groups shared the spotlight with guest vocalists. Of course, there were the usual entertaining panel discussions and vintage film clips, as well as the premiere of Graham Carter's splendid two-hour-long documentary, Against the Tide. Bud Shank: Portrait of a Jazz Legend. As with any sweeping enterprise, there were the inevitable high and low points, shaped to some extent by one's point of view. That is to say, my impressions may not necessarily square with those of others who were there, and should be looked upon as no more or less than one man's imprecise opinion. Last but not least, for the first time at one of these events, two musicians actually approached me on their own to say goodbye and wish me a safe trip home, a gesture that was very much appreciated. Who were they? Read on. As there's a lot of ground to cover, let's start at the very beginning (a very good place to start).

Overture: Wednesday, May 21. As usual, I arrived in L.A. a day early so as to catch the evening's "special event," a pre-"Stage Door" dinner / concert featuring the Dave Pell Octet with vocalist Bonnie Bowden. The theme was "A Taste of New York," and the dinner consisted mainly of such Big Apple staples as hot dogs, pizza and cheesecake. As Betty couldn't come with me this time, I had written to my Aunt Phyllis (Diller) who lives in nearby Brentwood and is a lifelong jazz fan, asking if she could be my "date" for the evening. Alas, she phoned about a week before the event to say she couldn't make it, which was disappointing but not surprising, as Aunt Phyllis will be ninety-one on July 17 and isn't as spry as she once was.

Tenor saxophonist Pell, who's still swinging merrily along at age eighty-three, led his polished group through its paces on well-traveled songs by Rodgers and Hart, Jerome Kern, Irving Berlin, the Gershwins and others, opening with Bob Florence's bright arrangement of "There'll Be Some Changes Made." Other instrumental highlights included "My Heart Belongs to Daddy," "The Lady Is a Tramp," "Have You Met Miss Jones," "The Way You Look Tonight," "Them There Eyes," "Cheek to Cheek," "42nd Street," "Suddenly It's Spring" and "Mountain Greenery."

I wish there had been some vocal highlights as well, but Ms. Bowden quickly showed that she is not quite ready for prime time. The voice is clear, and she's nice to look at, but she butchered the lyric to "Nice Work If You Can Get It" (should have scrawled it on the palm of her hand) and became hopelessly lost on "The Man I Love," awkwardly repeating the same verse three times to move from Point A (where she was) to Point B (where she should have been). I'll give her the benefit of the doubt and chalk it up to a severe case of nerves. High marks, however, for Pell and his colleagues in the octet.

Act I: Thursday, May 21. The "official" event got under way, as usual, with the first of four early-morning films, this one on the Gershwins, featuring clips by Ella Fitzgerald, Clifford Brown (the only footage known to exist), Mark Murphy, Benny Goodman, Peggy Lee, Count Basie, Woody Herman, Gene Krupa, Bud Powell, Earl Hines, Bill Evans, Frank Sinatra and the marvelous singer / saxophonist Vi Redd.

Poolside concerts are another LAJI tradition, with the first one by the Cal State Long Beach vocal group Pacific Standard Time, directed by Christine Guter. I stayed indoors (where it was warm) but heard from a number of concert-goers that the twelve-member ensemble (plus rhythm) was outstanding. After lunch, the California Ballroom was host to the first of the weekend's larger groups, the Johnny Richards Big Band directed by former Kenton saxophonist Joel Kaye, performing Richards' "My Fair Lady My Way." The charts were excellent, as was the band, with ripping solos by saxophonists Billy Kerr and Kim Richmond, trumpeters Steve Huffsteter and Jonathan Dane, trombonists Charlie Morillas and Garnett Brown, pianist Rich Eames, Dick Wright on mellophone, and strong rhythmic support from Eames, bassist Joel Hamilton, percussionist Brad Dutz and drummer Gary Hobbs.

Following the first of four panels, "Jazz and the Great American Songbook," with vocalists Ron Kaplan and Cathy Segal-Garcia, it was time for the first of the weekend's guest singers, Pinky Winters, to survey "The Jerome Kern Songbook." Although she didn't yet know it, Winters would reappear later, sitting in that evening for Mark Murphy who was indisposed and unable to perform. More about that anon. As alluded to earlier, Winters was one of four guest vocalists. The others were Murphy, Helen Merrill and Annie Ross. Average age of the quartet: seventy-seven. I can't censure that, as I'm seventy-three myself; on the other hand, I'm not singing for a living. Having grown up listening to Sinatra, Ella, Mel Torme, Sarah Vaughan and others, perhaps I've set the bar too high. Whatever the reason, I was less than charmed by Winters (or Merrill or Ross), even while conceding their status as Jazz icons. Winters, to her credit, dedicated her set to the late Bob Florence, and did the best she could with what she has left (her vocal range is now quite limited). To her credit, she got most of the lyrics right, with only slight deviations on "All the Things You Are" and "I Won't Dance." Other Kern favorites included "They Didn't Believe Me," "The Song Is You," "I'm Old Fashioned," "Dearly Beloved," "Long Ago and Far Away" and "Up with the Lark."

After the supper break, an evening devoted to music by Cole Porter began with the duo of Garry Dial (piano) and Dick Oatts (alto and soprano sax) performing "Cole Porter Verses," the seldom-heard introductions to several of his popular standards. Dial and Oatts were accompanied by bassist Dave Carpenter and drummer Paul Kreibich. While the music was well-played, several in the audience remarked afterward (and I agreed) that its relative unfamiliarity made any emotional bond difficult to achieve. Among the verses were those to "Everything I Love," "I Love You," "All of You," "What Is This Thing Called Love," "At Long Last Love" and a medley of "Ridin' High" and "Let's Do It."

As Mark Murphy, scheduled next, was sidelined by illness, Pinky Winters graciously stepped into the breach to sing "The Cole Porter Songbook." Regrettably, she'd had no chance to rehearse with Murphy's trio (pianist Tom Garvin, bassist Tony Dumas, drummer Chris Wabich), and the performance was ragged—approaching chaotic—in spots, but like the trouper she is, Winters forged tenaciously ahead, and the audience responded warmly to her admirable effort.

If the evening to that point had been less than stellar, a change for the better was straight ahead, as the newly-created Los Angeles Jazz Orchestra led by trumpeter Bobby Shew convened onstage for a concert entitled "Cole Porter Swings"—and did he ever! After opening with Pete Rugolo's arrangement of "Love for Sale," the all-star (and I'm not kidding) ensemble roared through charts by Sammy Nestico, Frank Mantooth, Bob Enevoldsen, Gordon Goodwin, Mike Barone, Bill Holman and others, ending as they began, this time with Pete Meyers' classic arrangement of "Love for Sale," a guaranteed crowd-pleaser if there ever was one. In between, the orchestra nailed Porter's "Easy to Love," "Anything Goes," "I Concentrate on You," "So in Love" (featuring trumpeter Carl Saunders), "Everything I Love" (ditto tenor Pete Christlieb), "It's All Right with Me" (alto Bruce Babad) and "Night and Day" (on which Saunders and Shew traded sharp and well-aimed volleys). Saunders even launched a second "career" as band vocalist on "I Get a Kick Out of You," an amiable digression marred only by the faint sound of Porter and Sinatra spinning in their graves. The ensemble performed a pair of originals, Barone's "Renee" (based on "I Love You") and "Cette Chose" (based on "What Is This Thing"). Holman's arrangement of "Begin the Beguine" was another vehicle for Christlieb's wailing tenor. Also soloing along the way were trumpeter Jeff Bunnell, tenor Don Menza, baritone Bob Efford, trombonists Barone and Alex Iles, drummer Kreibich, pianist Milcho Leviev and bassist Richard Simon. A lovely way to end an evening.

Act II: Friday, May 23. Film 2, devoted to the music of Jerome Kern and including clips of pianist Frank Strazzeri's Woodwinds West, the Basie orchestra, Joe Pass, Sarah Vaughan, Frank Rosolino, Stan Kenton, Art Pepper, Nat King Cole, Mel Torme and Bill Evans, was followed at 10:30 by the weekend's second panel discussion, moderated by Kirk Silsbee. Producer Jack Lewis was scheduled to appear but couldn't, and his place was taken by Howard Rumsey, the Kenton orchestra's first bassist and leader of the Lighthouse All-Stars in Hermosa Beach, who reminisced with feeling about his long career and many of the musicians he had known and worked with.

As the weather was cold and rainy, the poolside concert was moved indoors to the ballroom—a bonus for me, as I was there to see and hear an exhilarating concert performance by the topnotch UCLA Jazz Ensemble 1 directed by Charley Harrison. After opening with Rob McConnell's exemplary arrangement of "Just Friends," the band sashayed coolly through "Girl Talk," calmly unraveled Tom Frederickson's superb composition, "Deja Vu" ("You may have heard this one before," Harrison quipped) and Kim Richmond's sunny arrangement of "Hello Young Lovers," introduced vocalists on "Travelin' Light" and "Sunny Side of the Street," and wrapped things up with Gerald Wilson's spirited version of Juan Tizol's "Perdido." The ensemble was sharply focused, as were the various soloists, and the use of color and dynamics was especially impressive.

A tough act to follow, but Joel Kaye and a 24-piece blue-chip big band (including four mellophones and a tuba) did so easily, scampering through Stan Kenton's "West Side Story" with nary an imprecise note or misstep, despite the challenges presented by the rigorous Bernstein / Sondheim score (Prologue / Something's Coming / Maria / America / Tonight / Cool / I Feel Pretty / Gee, Officer Krupke / A Taunting Scene / Somewhere). As one would expect, Kenton's emphasis was on raw power, and the band didn't disappoint, rattling the rafters on more than one occasion. Soloists included trumpeters Steve Huffsteter, Bijon Watson and Bob Summers, altos Richmond and Kerr, trombonist Scott Whitfield, pianist Rich Eames and Dick Wright on mellophone, with rhythmic support provided by Eames, bassist Hamilton, percussionist Dutz and drummer Ray Brinker.

I skipped the 3 o'clock panel, a discussion of Duke Ellington's film "Jump for Joy" presented by LAJI leader Ken Poston, but was back in the ballroom at 4:30 for another definite high point, the peerless arranger Bill Potts' version of "Bye Bye Birdie," deftly performed by a nonet whose personnel was as follows: Bobby Shew, Carl Saunders, trumpet; Fred Selden, Vince Trombetta III, Keith Bishop, reeds; Dave Ryan, trombone; Milcho Leviev, piano; Putter Smith, bass; Kevin Kanner, drums. From the opening notes, it was clear that this set would be a winner. Potts' clever charts are as radiant as the day they were written, and the ensemble played them with warmth and comprehension. Everyone was given solo space, and made the most of it, during a program that opened with the title selection and included "Rosie," "How Lovely to Be a Woman," "Put on a Happy Face," "A Lot of Living to Do," "Talk to Me," "Kids," "One Boy" and a closing medley. A consistently rewarding concert by any measure.

After supper, the spotlight turned to the music of Richard Rodgers and Irving Berlin, starting with songs from Rodgers and Hart's "Pal Joey" by the Bill Mays Trio (Mays, piano; Bob Magnusson, bass; Gary Hobbs, drums). Mays is a marvelous pianist, and he and the trio were precisely in the pocket on "I Didn't Know What Time It Was," "Do It the Hard Way," "Bewitched," "The Lady Is a Tramp" and "There's a Small Hotel." It was especially gratifying to see and hear Hobbs in a trio setting, as he was able to display the full range of his chops on brushes as well as sticks. An A-plus set, followed in short order by yet another, "Shorty Rogers Plays Richard Rodgers," performed by the Shorty Rogers Big Band directed by Bud Shank and featuring trumpeter Ron Stout. The lofty grade is for proficiency, as Stout, commendable as he is, sounded nothing like Shorty, nor did the band—especially the trumpet section—manage to capture Shorty's special way with brass. Even so, the ensemble was impressive on "Mountain Greenery," "I've Got Five Dollars," "I Could Write a Book" and "On a Desert Island with You," as was a smaller group (Stout; Shank, alto; Mays, piano; Magnusson, bass; Hobbs, drums) on "My Funny Valentine," "Thou Swell," "Where or When" and "Falling in Love with Love." Shank, as we shall see, was only warming up; he'd be back later in the weekend, using his fiery alto as a weapon of mass satisfaction.

Septuagenarian Helen Merrill was last on the bill, interpreting songs by Berlin while backed by a string-laden orchestra. After croaking her way uneasily through the opening numbers, "How Deep Is the Ocean" and "Blue Skies," Merrill announced that she had laryngitis. I decided I had a headache and went upstairs to bed.

Act III: Saturday, May 24. Saturday's film, centered around the music of Cole Porter, included segments by Lee Konitz / Warne Marsh, the Max Roach Quintet (sans Brownie), Artie Shaw's orchestra, Ella with the Oscar Peterson Trio, Sinatra, the Dave Pell Octet, Miles Davis (a dreadfully long, boring and painful rendition of "All of You") and Louis Armstrong / Bing Crosby ("Now You Has Jazz"). Four vocalists comprised the third panel, which followed, as Winters, Merrill, Ross and Tierney Sutton joined moderator Bill Reed to reminisce about their careers and discuss jazz singing and jazz education in general.

The noontime concert, also indoors, was a pleasant surprise, as the Pasadena City College Studio Jazz Ensemble directed by Andrea Baker with guest trombonist Jacques Voyemont wowed a small but appreciative audience with sharp and spirited takes on Willie Maiden's "A Little Minor Booze," Sammy Nestico's arrangement of "Stardust," Gordon Goodwin's "Count Bubba's Revenge," Quincy Jones' "Quintessence," Ken Downing's "Jumpin' Genie," Alan Baylock's arrangement of "Caravan," Downing's take on "Thanks for the Memory," Thad Jones' "Don't Git Sassy" and Baker's lively vocal on "Come Back to Me." Standing ovation? You got that right.

As Lennie Niehaus was unable to be present owing to film commitments, Kim Richmond stepped in to direct the Lennie Niehaus Big Band, which opened the afternoon session, "Kenton's Broadway," with music from the albums The Stage Door Swings and Adventures in Standards. Even though the arrangements by Niehaus are essentially for dancing (written at Kenton's request in Chicago while the band was on the road), they are nonetheless delightful and have withstood the test of time without much visible decay. To put it another way, no matter how many times one hears these charts, they are never less than pleasing to the ear. And why shouldn't they be? The songs were written by some of the most talented tunesmiths of their era (Devil and the Deep Blue Sea / Lullaby of Broadway / I've Never Been in Love Before / Just in Time / Sophisticated Lady / Baubles, Bangles and Beads / Some Enchanted Evening / Spring Is Here / So in Love / You Took Advantage of Me / Begin the Beguine / It's All Right with Me / The Party's Over). There were features for trombonist Roy Wiegand ("Sophisticated Lady") and trumpeter Dan Bryan ("Spring Is Here") with candid statements by Richmond, trumpeter Ron King, and tenors Roger Neumann and Tom Peterson, among others.

Bud Shank (remember him?) was up next, leading the Bud Shank Septet in the music of Harold Arlen. After a shaky start on "Get Happy" (the monitors weren't working properly, and the musicians couldn't hear one another), the group settled down for an invigorating set that included the standards "Over the Rainbow," "Blues in the Night," "A Sleepin' Bee" and three charts by Bill Holman—"When the Sun Comes Out," "Come Rain or Come Shine" and "My Shining Hour." "Bee," arranged by Mike Barone, was taken at a fast and likable tempo. The group was first-rate, and there were persuasive solos by all hands (Shank; Saunders, trumpet; Christlieb, tenor; Jack Nimitz, baritone; Mays, piano; Magnusson, bass; Hobbs, drums).

As if that weren't enough to make everyone happy, Ken Peplowski and his Music Men came onstage next to play Jimmy Giuffre's arrangements of songs from Meredith Willson's Broadway smash, "The Music Man." Besides Peplowski (on clarinet and tenor sax), the pianoless group was comprised of trumpeters Ron King, Ron Stout and Jonathan Dane; saxophonists Kaye, Jerry Pinter and Keith Bishop; bassist Putter Smith and drummer Kendall Kay. As Giuffre's original charts were no longer available, the music was carefully transcribed from the album by Poston's strong right arm, Eric Frankhauser. He must have got it right, as the band came ready to play and everything (76 Trombones / Marian the Librarian / The Wells Fargo Wagon / It's You / Goodnight My Someone / Gary, Indiana / Iowa Stubborn / My White Knight / Lida Rose / Till There Was You / Shapoopie) sounded awesome.

The evening session, "A Jazz Celebration of George and Ira Gershwin," opened after supper with Annie Ross, accompanied by the superb pianist Tardo Hammer, perusing "The George Gershwin Songbook." The best one can say about the set, which encompassed more than a dozen Gershwin standards, is that Ross sang about as well as one would envision from a seventy-seven-year-old singer. She's by no means the Annie Ross of fifty years ago, or even twenty-five, but like Winters, does the best she can with what she has left in the tank. The audience evidently cut her some slack and made allowances for her age and rusty pipes, as I overheard several expressions of approval afterward.

Saturday ended on yet another high note, as an all-star band directed by Shank (who played lead alto and soloed brilliantly) performed Bill Potts' "Jazz Soul of Porgy and Bess." As with "Bye Bye Birdie," Potts' meteoric charts nearly stole the show, electrifying the audience time and again with their resourcefulness and virtuosity. The band was up to the task and clearly enjoying the moment as it bobbed and weaved through the classic score (Summertime / Oh, I Can't Sit Down / I Loves You, Porgy / I Got Plenty o' Nothin' / It Ain't Necessarily So / My Man's Gone Now / There's a Boat Dat's Leavin' Soon for New York / Bess, You Is My Woman Now / Oh Lord, I'm on My Way). Lest one doubt that this was an A-list unit, here are the names: Shew, Saunders, Stout, Roger Ingram, Pete DeSiena, trumpet; Shank, Oatts, Christlieb, Peplowski, Nimitz, reeds; Barone, Les Benedict, Linda Small, Garnett Brown, Mike Wimberly, trombone; Mays, piano; Magnusson, bass; Hobbs, drums. They simply don't come much better than that, which is why they were able to perform so capably after one or two brief rehearsals.

Act IV: Sunday, May 25. Film 4, Jazz performances of the music of Rodgers and Hart, opened with the songsmiths themselves in a 1929 film short that supposedly depicted the inspiration for one of their earliest hit songs, "Manhattan." Also on the menu were brief clips by Vic Dickenson, the Shorty Rogers band, Mel Torme, the Pete Jolly Trio, the Kenton orchestra, a shockingly emaciated Billie Holiday, Sammy Davis Jr., Chet Baker and Bobby Darin (two clips, the last with the Supremes).

The Collegiate Neophonic Jazz Orchestra, scheduled to perform after the film, was unable to do so owing to conflicts with final exams, so the Dini Clarke Trio filled the void with an hour of cabaret-style song reminiscent of the great Bobby Short. Besides reprising a number of well-worn standards including several from "My Fair Lady" (On the Street Where You Live / Wouldn't It Be Loverly / Get Me to the Church on Time), Clarke sang three songs I hadn't heard before (That Face / It's Good to Be Alive / The Music That Makes Me Dance), and I wasn't even there for the entire set. Other songs I did enjoy were "Lulu's Back in Town" and the Bricusse / Newley favorite, "Just Once in a Lifetime." Clarke gave each of them a smooth ride, and no one, to my knowledge, left the auditorium unhappy.

After lunch, the ballroom was converted to a theatre for the West Coast debut of Bud Shank: Portrait of a Jazz Legend. I won't go into detail here, as my review, already posted on this web site, sums up my impression of the film. It's an absorbing overview of Shank's notable career as a jazz musician, the production values are first-rate, and it should be of interest not only to Shank's many fans but to jazz enthusiasts and historians in general. Shortly after the film ended, Shank was onstage again, this time co-leading a quintet with fellow altoist Oatts in music from Frank Loesser's "Guys and Dolls." Pianist Mays wrote the charts, all of which were impressive, from "The Oldest Established" to "Fugue for Tinhorns." Mays altered tempos, lending fresh angles to "Sit Down, You're Rocking the Boat" (played as a waltz), "Luck Be a Lady," "I'll Know," "Guys and Dolls," "Sue Me" and features for Shank ("I've Never Been in Love Before") and Oatts ("If I Were a Bell"). Again, the quintet was solid, the performance exceptional. Before supper, Poston moderated the weekend's last panel discussion, in which David Paich talked about his father, the celebrated arranger Marty Paich, backed by audio clips illustrating a number of the senior Paich's trendsetting charts.

Speaking of Paich, the weekend's final session opened with "The Broadway Bit," performed by the Marty Paich Dek-tette (actually a twelve-piece "little big band") directed by trumpeter Carl Saunders. Several of the songs (If I Were a Bell, / I've Grown Accustomed to Her Face / Love for Sale / I've Never Been in Love Before / It's All Right with Me) had been played before during the weekend, but not in the special Marty Paich style, so no one was complaining. After opening with "Too Close for Comfort," the group performed "I Love Paris," "Violets for Your Fur" and Bobby Timmons' "Moanin,'" besides the songs already named, interspersed with Saunders' humorous comments. Another unequivocal highlight.

Would that the same could be said for "Shelly Manne's My Fair Lady," whose presentation was sabotaged from the start by bandleader Jack Sheldon's sloppy, tedious and lackluster vocals. So I don't like Jack Sheldon? Au contraire. In fact, I've been a fan for years, and praised him highly after a more respectable performance at a Poston event last year, which is what made the set so disappointing. I can forgive him almost anything short of unprofessionalism, which is tantamount to insulting one's audience. And to add to the mess, Sheldon, who relies on humor to weather onerous situations, wasn't even funny this time. Tierney Sutton tried her best to balance the scales, but the set was beyond redemption. Sheldon was confused and erratic on his features—"Why Can't the English" (on which he was so lost he had to stop in midstream and start over), "An Ordinary Man," "You Did It"—and only slightly more tolerable dueting with Sutton on "The Rain in Spain." Sheldon played no trumpet on "Fair Lady" (Ron Stout handled the solos) and picked up the horn only on an impromptu blues that served as an encore while giving most of those in the band a chance to blow. A less than auspicious way to end four days of generally pleasing thematic jazz.

Finale. As noted, there were many more highs than lows, and most of those with whom I spoke were quite pleased, saying they'd experienced an entertaining weekend-plus of first-class music coupled with interesting films and panels. Many of them were especially delighted by the improved sound, more understated and well-balanced than in other years, and definitely easier on one's ears. Even the oversized Kenton orchestra, with its thunderous brass outbursts, was more mellow than clamorous. Attendance, from this fan's perspective, was less than it has been in the past, when one sometimes had to scramble to find a seat in the ballroom (or for the films and panels). No such problems this time, as there were a number of seats available at every event. Ken Poston and the L.A. Jazz Institute certainly deserve three cheers and a medal for defying the odds to keep these semi-annual events going. Speaking of which . . .

Next October's extravaganza, "Cuban Fire," will be held not at the Sheraton but at the Hyatt Newporter Resort in Newport Beach on October 9-12. The "Big Band Latin Fiesta" will showcase no less than twenty big bands and large ensembles including the combined orchestras of Tito Puente, Machito and Tito Rodriguez. Other highlights include "Manteca: The Afro-Cuban Music of the Dizzy Gillespie Big Band," an all-star tribute to Chano Pozo, Stan Kenton's "Cuban Fire," the Gerald Wilson Orchestra's "Golden Sword," the Lighthouse All-Stars' "Viva Zapata," Shorty Rogers' "Afro-Cuban Influence," the Aztec Suite, Johnny Richards' "Rites of Diablo," Charles Mingus' "Tijuana Moods," Mucho Calor featuring the arrangements of Bill Holman, Gil Evans' "Sketches of Spain," Charlie Parker "South of the Border," and much more. The "bonus event" for early registrants (at the historic Balboa Pavilion) is "Viva Kenton," to be performed by an all-star band featuring Kenton alumni. For more information, go to www.lajazzinstitute.org

Oh . . . and the two musicians who took the time to say goodbye? Kim Richmond and Joel Kaye. Thanks, guys.

Bits and Pieces

Closer to home, Betty and I attended a first-ever concert May 1 at Albuquerque's Outpost Performance Space by the Doug Lawrence / Bobby Shew Quintet, so new the ink was still wet on the band's book. Tenor saxophonist Lawrence, a featured soloist with the Count Basie Orchestra, recently moved back to Albuquerque after some years on the road. His adorable one-year-old daughter helped provide the incentive. The front-liners were backed by a first-class local rhythm section comprised of pianist Bob Fox, bassist Michael Olivola and drummer John Trentacosta. The blowing and interplay were brilliant, of course, even though Shew was sight-reading what was essentially Lawrence's music. They should do this more often.

Two evenings later we were at the Hispanic Cultural Center for a lively and colorful Cinco de Mayo celebration featuring the wonderful tenor, Armando Mora, accompanied by the eight-member Mariachi Tenampa, the STEPS Dance Academy and guest singers Salome Martinez-Lutz and Claraliz Mora (Armando's talented daughter). It was quite literally a song-and-dance show centered around the lively and romantic songs of Mexico, and was thoroughly delightful. We're looking forward to Mora's return this fall in a new production of the Spanish operetta, El Barbare de Sevilla.

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

New and Noteworthy

1. Alan Baylock Jazz Orchestra, Eastern Standard Time (H&N)
2. DiMartino / Osland Jazz Orchestra, Quotient (Sea Breeze Jazz)
3. Bud Shank, Against the Tide: Portrait of a Jazz Legend (CD /DVD) (Jazzed Media)
4. Brussels Jazz Orchestra, The Music of Michel Herr (DeWerf)
5. The Whit Williams "Now's the Time" Big Band, Featuring Slide Hampton and Jimmy Heath (MAMA)
6. Brad Leali Jazz Orchestra, Maria Juanez (TCB)
7. Rich Wetzel's Groovin Higher Orchestra, The Mayn Thing (Groovin Higher)
8. Don Scaletta and the Jazz Project, Salutes Stan Kenton, Vol. 2 (Self Published)
9. Tolvan Big Band, Code Red (Prophone)
10. BuJazzO, Vol 6: Calling South Africa (Mons)
11. Jentsch Group Large, Brooklyn Suite (Fleur de Son Classics)
12. Bill O'Connell / Chicago Skyliners Big Band, Live in River Grove (Blue Birdland)
13. Northeastern (OK) State University Jazz Ensemble, The Point (Windstream)
14. Jerry van Rooyen, The Charm of You (Elk Music)
15. Thilo Wolf Big Band, Big Band Shout (MDL Jazz)


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