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BuJazzO: That's German for Swinging Big Band Jazz


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On August 8, my friend Wes Pfarner and I drove to Santa Fe for a once-in-a lifetime event: a performance by the German Federal Youth Jazz Orchestra, better known to big band enthusiasts by its more condensed and colorful name, BuJazzO. The twenty-piece ensemble, directed by Jiggs Whigham, an American trombonist and educator from Cleveland, Ohio, who has lived in Germany (most of the time) since 1965, was on the last leg of a two-week tour of the States and would board a plane for home the following day.

Before departing, BuJazzO made sure it gave the small but enthusiastic audience at the Lensic Theatre (the event was not especially well-advertised) an evening to remember. The orchestra played two sets with seven extended numbers in the first, five more (plus an encore) comprising the second. Whigham played trombone on one selection, "Steve," an elegy for a departed friend, composer / arranger Steve Gray, who died in September 2008 at age sixty-six. BuJazzO set the concert in motion with one of Gray's compositions, "Open the Box," and closed the second set with his strapping arrangement of the standard "Shine." Of course, the audience wouldn't let them off so easily, and Whigham surrendered to the standing ovation by calling for an encore. "We'd like to play a ballad for you," he said, seconds before the orchestra launched into a warp-speed reading of Francy Boland's sizzling "Box 703"—a lovely way to end an evening.

Preceding the grand finale, BuJazzO topped off the opening set with Stefan Zimmermann's "Dwarf Dance," Belgian trumpeter / composer Bert Joris' "Walkin' Tiptoe," the standards "Heart and Soul" (arranged by John Clayton) and "There Is No Greater Love" and one other original whose name I didn't catch before the saxophone section strode forward to ring down the curtain with a rambunctious version of Boland's freewheeling tour de force, "Sax No End," on which the chops-busting soli itself was worth the price of admission. While BuJazzO was strong in every section, the saxophones were especially impressive throughout, and should be applauded: Markus Harm, Katharina Brien, altos; Toni Amadeus Bechtold, Adrian Hanack, tenors; Florian Leuschner, baritone. Bravo!

The second half of the concert opened with a delightful reading of Rodgers and Hammerstein's "It Might as Well Be Spring" before moving on to one of the loveliest big band arrangements ever written, Ray Noble's "The Touch of Your Lips," wonderfully scored by Rick Wilkins for Rob McConnell's dearly departed and greatly missed Boss Brass. Whigham's earnest solo on "Steve" preceded Torsten Maas' frisky "Can't Stop My Neck," "Shine" and the fast-paced encore. As we've named the saxophonists, let's do the same for the rest of the orchestra, as they don't often pass our way. Trumpets: Steffen Mathes, Christian Mehler, Mathias Petermann, Johannes Roosen-Runge, Matthias Schwengler. Trombones: Timothy Hepburn (an Aussie), Lukas Jochner, Raphael Klemm, Janning Trumann, Juliane Gralle (bass trombone). Pianist Sebastian Scobel was superb, as were his mates in the rhythm section, guitarist Clemens Oerding, bassist Reza Askari-Motlagh (Iranian) and drummer Thomas Sauerborn. Last but not least, we mustn't overlook flutist Charlotte Ortmann, daughter of BuJazzO's managing director, Peter Ortmann.

It should be noted that BuJazzo's U.S. tour was sponsored by Germany's Federal Ministry for Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth (why can't we have one of those?), the West German Broadcasting Corporation, the GVL (I can't say what that is) and the firm Daimler AG. Germany, it seems, wishes to present its young jazz musicians to the world, and so it does. What a concept! Of course, the U.S. sees no need for that, as jazz was born here and everyone knows we're Number 1. Instead, we've been sending another brand of "representatives" to assorted countries, and those staves they're carrying aren't musical instruments, more's the pity. But enough about that. BuJazzO, which was formed in 1987 by the renowned composer / arranger / bandleader / educator Peter Herbolzheimer, who served as its music director from 1988-2006, represents its country well, in concert appearances (more than 400 in twenty-four years) and on a number of excellent recordings. Young instrumentalists and singers must apply to become members of the orchestra; those chosen through auditions may remain with BuJazzO for two years up to a maximum age of twenty-four. The orchestra won the German Music Prize in 1997 and the West German Broadcasting Service Jazz Prize in 2010. Since Herbolzheimer relinquished the reins (he died in March 2010 at age seventy-four), BuJazzo's conductors have included Whigham, Marko Lackner, Bill Dobbins, Edward Partyka, Mike Herting, Neils Klein, Steffen Schorn, Maria Baptist and John Ruocco. Whigham now divides his time between Germany and Great Britain, where he serves as director of the BBC Big Band. No matter who's at the helm, BuJazzO keeps on swinging, and it was a pleasure to see and hear them doing exactly that here in New Mexico.

Farewell to a Friend

On August 13, I attended a memorial service, something I don't often do. But this one was special, as it honored a good friend and jazz-loving neighbor, the Rev. Robert O. Browne (known to many of his friends as Friar Boborino), who died July 2 at age eighty-six. Several months after Betty and I moved from North Carolina to Albuquerque in 2003, a gentleman passed by my garage as I was inside doing some cleaning. "Hello," he said, "my name's Bob Browne. We haven't met because I've been in the hospital for some time." Looking inside, and noting the several thousands of CDs encased on one wall, he said, "I see you have some music. What kind is it?" "Mostly big band jazz," I replied. He responded with one of the widest grins I'd seen in quite a while, and I knew immediately I'd found someone with whom I could share my love of America's classical music. Unfortunately, Bob wasn't well enough to endure long visits so I never got to know him as well as I would have liked, and I'm sure he felt the same, as he said so in e-mail messages. What I did learn about him was fascinating. As a boy in St. Louis he played sandlot baseball with neighbors Yogi Berra and Joe Garagiola. Later, he worked in local radio and theatre groups and as a dancer. In the Army, he was an entertainment director who coordinated shows for troops who were to be deployed overseas, all the while working as a standup comic in San Francisco nightclubs. After his discharge Bob earned a degree in psychology from St. Louis University, then made a sharp u-turn, was graduated from McCormick Theological Seminary in Chicago in 1953 and began a ministry in the Presbyterian Church that lasted for fifty-eight years. Bob wasn't your typical garden-variety pastor; he was widely known for his offbeat sermons, and was once dubbed "the clown prince of the Presbyterian Church," an honor he probably cherished above all others (and there were many others). The Rev. Browne was also an ardent champion of human and civil rights who was jailed in Mississippi for helping African-Americans register to vote, having ridden a "freedom bus" to get there. On another occasion, he stood alone between an angry mob and a black family who'd moved into a white neighborhood in Pennsylvania and convinced the mob to disperse and go home. The Rev. Browne led a long and productive life, one that was filled with love, laughter, music and adventure; no one can ask for more than that. To me, he was a good friend, neighbor and fellow music-lover whose natural warmth and friendly smile will be missed.

The Latest from Los Angeles

The schedule for the Los Angeles Jazz Institute's October event, "Modern Sounds: Celebrating the West Coast Sound," arrived August 15 via e-mail from the LAJI's head man, Ken Poston, and it is a humdinger. No less than twenty-six concerts (four poolside), four films, seven special presentations and a panel discussion with "the masters"—Bill Holman, Russell Garcia, Gerald Wilson, Johnny Mandel—in only four days (October 20-23) at the Los Angeles Airport Marriott Hotel. But wait! (as the TV commercials say), there's more! On Monday, October 24, the LAJI is presenting a day-long celebration of bandleader Stan Kenton's 100th anniversary, featuring an array of Kenton alumni taking part in concerts, panel discussions and a special "meet the alumni" reception. Alumni scheduled to attend include Holman, Bob Curnow, Howard Rumsey, Peter Erskine, Carl Saunders, Steve Huffsteter, Joel Kaye, Bill Trujillo, Al Yankee, Dave Stone, Larry McGuire and John Mitchell, with more to be announced. This is an extra event not included in registration for "Modern Sounds."

"Modern Sounds" will cover many aspects of "West Coast Jazz" from the 1950s onward with concerts devoted to the music of Shelly Manne, Pete Rugolo, Shorty Rogers, Gerry Mulligan, Bud Shank, Bob Cooper, Johnny Richards, Jack Montrose, Russ Freeman, Don Fagerquist, Jimmy Giuffre, John Graas, Marty Paich and Spud Murphy. Besides Holman, Garcia, Wilson and Mandel, bands and other groups will be led by Dave Pell, Peter Erskine, Terry Gibbs (the Woody Herman Alumni Band), Fred Laurence Selden, Joel Kaye, Don Shelton, Bobby Shew, Nathan Tanouye, Carl Saunders, Duane Tatro and Lanny Morgan. For information, phone 562-200-5477 or go online to www.lajazzinstitute.org

In Case You Missed It . . .

Jazz concerts are still being held each Monday evening at the New York City Baha'i Center's Dizzy Gillespie Auditorium, 53 E. 11th St. (between University Place and Broadway). Many of these events involve big bands. If you're in the area, check these out: September 13, the Russ Kassoff Big Band with vocalist Catherine Dupuis; September 20, the Gary Morton Latin Big Band: PanAmericana!; October 11, Daoud David Williams and the Spirit of Life Ensemble; October 18, Dizzy Gillespie 94th Birthday Celebration with Mike Longo's NY State of the Art Big Band and vocalist Hilary Gardner; October 25, The Aggregation directed by trumpeter Cecil Bridgewater; November 1, Charlie Persip's "Supersound" Big Band; December 13, The Ben and Frank Perowsky Big Band. For information, phone 212-674-8998.

Another Farewell

Scott Petersen, a musician we'd become accustomed to seeing and hearing at LAJI events in Los Angeles, died August 15 of complications from a lung infection. He was fifty-one years old. Petersen, a native of Cleveland, Ohio, who was a first-call saxophonist in Detroit for many years before moving to the San Francisco Bay area in 1995, was born with cystic fibrosis, a congenital lung disease that is usually fatal in childhood. Petersen defied the odds by not only living past fifty but becoming a world-class saxophonist in spite of his illness, then learning to play again after undergoing a full lung transplant several years ago. Petersen was a fixture with trumpeter Mike Vax's Stan Kenton Alumni Band and was looking forward to the band's upcoming tour. Goodbye, Scott; thanks for the memories.

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

New and Noteworthy

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2. Captain Black Big Band, Untitled (Posi-Tone)

3. Gordon Goodwin's Big Phat Band, That's How We Roll (Telarc)

4. Dave Stahl Band, From A to Z (Abee Cake)

5. Fred Hess Big Band, Into the Open (Alison)

6. Tempest Little Big Band, 'Round Midnight (Tempest Jazz)

7. Knoxville Jazz Orchestra, Fleet Street (Max Frank Music)

8. Peter Tenner Jazz Orchester, 10117 Berlin (Mons)

9. Clarke / Boland Big Band, Complete Live Recordings at Ronnie Scott's (Rearward)

10. Brooks Tegler Big Band, That's It! (Maxngruber Records)

11. UNT Two O'Clock Lab Band, Under the Radar (UNT Jazz)

12. Magnetic Big Band, Repetition (Black & Blue)

13. Cal State-Long Beach Concert Jazz Orchestra, Great Northern Express (No Label)

14. Jamie Begian Big Band, Big Fat Grin (Innova)

15. University of Missouri Concert Jazz Band, Vertigo (AW Jazz)

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