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BuJazzO: That's German for Swinging Big Band Jazz

Jack Bowers By

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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.

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