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Stan Kenton Legacy Orchestra: Flyin' Through Florida

Jack Bowers By

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The number of jazz-centered big bands "on the road" these days can be counted on the fingers of one hand with a digit or two to spare. The Glenn Miller and Count Basie orchestras remain randomly active, the Duke Ellington and Woody Herman progeny somewhat less so. As for the rest . . . R.I.P. Stan Kenton, another pillar of the Big Band Era, made it clear he wanted no "ghost band" touring and playing his music long after he was gone. That did not, however, preclude the formation of the Stan Kenton Legacy Orchestra, in which the Kenton library plays but a minor role.

Thanks to the dedication and diligence of leader Mike Vax, the SKLO has been on the road at least once each year for more than the past twenty. The tours, which can last from a couple of weeks to a month, generally include concerts and clinics at high schools and colleges wherein the band members are able to interact with young men and women who may never have seen a professional big band in person let alone received guidance from the musicians themselves. Keeping the orchestra intact and afloat is a monumental task, one to which trumpeter Vax, an alumnus of the Kenton orchestra, has dedicated an untold number of hours and days over many years.

Whenever possible, the tours have been recorded, at least in part, thus enabling the artistry of the SKLO to reach an even wider audience. Flyin' Through Florida is a souvenir of the SKLO's first visit to the Sunshine State, in 2017, an excursion that included clinics and concerts in nine cities and an appearance at the University of Florida / Jacksonville's Jazz Festival —always, as Vax notes, producing "new music in the Kenton style." That means fresh arrangements by band members Charlie Ferguson ("Someday"), Joel Kaye and Scott Whitfield, and friend of the band Lee Harris ("After You've Gone . . . Finally," one of the album's highlights).

Kaye, another Kenton alum, arranged the Johnny Richards standard "Young at Heart" and Al Cohn's fast-moving workout for the sax section, "Shazam," and contributed an original composition, "Psyche." Trombonist Whitfield arranged bassist Jennifer Leitham's good-natured and bass-heavy groover, "The Trashman Cometh," transposed Giacomo Puccini's aria "O Mio Babbino" into a vehicle for Vax's trumpet, and reshaped the bop classic "How High the Moon / Ornithology" into a vocal tour de force for him and spouse / vocalist Ginger Berglund , enhanced by Whitfield's trombone, Greg McLean's flugelhorn and Rick Condit's tenor sax. The album's other arrangements are by Dave Barduhn ("In the Wee Small Hours," "Through the Eyes of Love," on which Vax and another ex-Kentonite, trumpeter Dennis Noday, scrape the stratosphere) and Kenton himself (the opening "Artistry Jumps" and closing "El Manisero [a.k.a. The Peanut Vendor], la Ultima Vez"). The rhythm section (Ferguson, piano; Leitham, bass; Claude Askew, drums) excels here, as it does on every number.

While neither orchestra nor soloists offers credible reason for censure, it should be noted that these are concert appearances subject to all the hazards and variations that entails. To put it another way, even though sound engineer Steve Johnson did the best he could, the sonics aren't always equal to the performance. For listeners who don't find such unavoidable blemishes troublesome, Flyin' Through Florida promises to be a dazzling and memorable trip.

Track Listing: Artistry Jumps; Someday; After You’ve Gone . . . Finally; In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning; Psyche; O Mio Babbino; How High the Moon / Ornithology; Young at Heart; The Trashman Cometh; Through the Eyes of Love; Shazam; El Manisero, la Ultima Vez.

Personnel: Mike Vax: director, trumpet; Dennis Noday: trumpet; John Harner: trumpet; Jim Oatts: trumpet; Greg McLean: trumpet; Kim Richmond, Phil Hilger, Rick Condit, Joel Kaye, Tami Danielsson, Bill Prince: saxophones; Scott Whitfield: trombone, vocals; Dale Devoe: trombone; Dave Keim: trombone; Kenny Shroyer: trombone; Rich Bullock: bass trombone; Charlie Ferguson: piano; Jennifer Leitham: bass; C.E. Askew: drums; Ginger Berglund: vocals.

Title: Flyin' Through Florida | Year Released: 2018 | Record Label: Summit Records

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