If a big–band album has no title or liner notes, one must presume that the ensemble and its music speak for themselves — and although the Big Time Jazz Orchestra from wintry Fargo, ND / Moorhead, MN, hasn’t yet acquired a consistently persuasive voice, it does have some agreeable statements to make on its debut recording. Among the strongest are those by the orchestra’s founder, tenor saxophonist Randy Lee, and trombonists Tim Stratioti and Chris Oberholtzer on Lee’s easygoing ballad, “Sometimes Down,” Lee, Oberholtzer and drummer Dave Schmalenberger on Tom Matta’s “Eleventh Hour,” and the group as a whole (complementing crisp solos by Oberholtzer and bassist Gordy Johnson) on pianist Mike Pagan’s multi–hued composition, “Tacitus Plus.” Pagan arranged the session’s only standard, Jerome Kern’s “The Song Is You,” on which the BTJO ably supports vocalist Steve Vecchi (who sounds like a performer one should see as well as hear, as personality seems to be his greatest asset). Perhaps it’s due in part to the recording itself, but the orchestra seems at times to lack enough firepower to accomplish its mission. This is especially apparent on the first three selections, Scott Anderson’s “Slightly Watered Down,” Greg Kehl Moore’s “Tubs of Slaw” and Brad Bombardier’s tongue–in–cheek “Carnival of Venison.” The BTJO then takes an upward turn and displays more muscle on “Sometimes Down,” Moore’s “M Fred Romp,” “Eleventh Hour,” “Tacitus Plus” and “The Song Is You.” As for togetherness, I’d rate the ensemble at college level, which nowadays is almost the same as an unreserved endorsement. Soloists are on a similar plane with Lee and Oberholtzer the most charismatic. The orchestra’s music is serious, its mission even more so. The BTJO was incorporated in 1996 as a non–profit group whose purposes include educating young people about the uniquely American contribution to music known as Jazz. As a part of that mission, the orchesta takes part in an annual joint concert with a local school or university. Any orchestra that helps keep the banner of big–band Jazz flying high warrants unreserved applause. The BTJO may be a step or two removed from Basie or Herman, but its ongoing success is no less important to the future of Jazz. Let’s get behind it, Jazz fans, and push!
Track listing: Slightly Watered Down; Tubs of Slaw; Carnival of Venison (No. 42 in the “Old Book”); Sometimes Down; M Fred Romp; Eleventh Hour; Tacitus Plus; The Song Is You (55:06).
Rich Mowers, Sandra Bergeland, Randy Lee, Greg Kehl Moore, Brad Bombardier, woodwinds; Mike Stellmaker, Tim Stratioti, John Cox, Kurt Hegle, Chris Oberholtzer, trombones; Scott Young, Chet Johnson, David Haaversen, Charlie Liebfried, Bernie Bernstein, Ramon Vasquez, trumpets; Brian Knox, Mike Pagan, piano; Steve Jabas, guitar; Gordy Johnson, bass; Dave Schmalenberger, drums; Dave Hagedorn, Kurt Savela, Zach Miller, percussion; Steve Vecchi, vocal (
I was first exposed to jazz circa 1973, when I met a fellow who ran Kappy's Record Store over near 10th Ave., on 42nd St. in NYC. We really clicked and when I told him I played piano and went to Music & Art HS, and had just started at City College of NY as a music major, he asked if I liked jazz...I said yes but I didn't know much about it, but that I did have sheet music for many popular 1920's through 1940's tunes by noted composers (Porter; Gershwins; Irving Berlin; Rodgers & Hammerstein/Hart; Jerome Kern; Lerner & Loewe; etc.) that my mother had sung beautifully starting in the 1940's including tons of famous show tunes, and I played many of those songs already
I was first exposed to jazz circa 1973, when I met a fellow who ran Kappy's Record Store over near 10th Ave., on 42nd St. in NYC. We really clicked and when I told him I played piano and went to Music & Art HS, and had just started at City College of NY as a music major, he asked if I liked jazz...I said yes but I didn't know much about it, but that I did have sheet music for many popular 1920's through 1940's tunes by noted composers (Porter; Gershwins; Irving Berlin; Rodgers & Hammerstein/Hart; Jerome Kern; Lerner & Loewe; etc.) that my mother had sung beautifully starting in the 1940's including tons of famous show tunes, and I played many of those songs already. SOOOO... he started me off LP's by Oscar Peterson, Art Tatum, Bud Powell, Errol Garner, Bill Evans, Monty Alexander, Charlie Byrd, and Dave Brubeck... does it get any better than that? ...No, it doesn't. I was hooked!!
I met and had a master class with the late music giant John Lewis, leader of the Modern Jazz Quartet! This was at CCNY in 1977. I was blessed! It was an incredible class... how could it have been anything else?!?!
The first jazz record I bought was...I bought numerous records from my friend at the record store, as mentioned above. He introduced me to nothing but music giants/legends! I think The Dave Brubeck Quartet, Greatest Hits, was actually the first one.
My advice to new listeners... study first--understand the rudiments--solfeggio, keys, scales, and basic chords. Read a book or take a class that includes the study of chord progressions, especially in jazz. It should ideally be a piano class so you can play multiple notes together. Have a good EAR or else it's not really worth it in my view...to become a musician, a good EAR for music is about as fundamental as breathing! Learn to read chord charts--i.e., lead sheets - wherein you play various voicings of the chords--major, minor, dominant 7th (alterations of these, you can learn over time - the basic chords are most important for starters), plus the melody, on the piano or keyboard. If you have to read the exact notes, then it's not the same as actually internalizing it & getting it all into your head. If you can do this, I think you're ready not only for listening to jazz, but understanding many concepts of it! Of course...anyone can listen to jazz... but I think it's so good to also have a grasp of it.