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Heigh Ho, Heigh Ho, It's Off To Jazz We Go . . .

Jack Bowers By

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Just west of Albuquerque, across the Rio Grande River, lies the picturesque village of Corrales (population around 7,500). Among its residents (and natural resources) is world-renowned jazz trumpeter Bobby Shew. With a musician of his caliber within arm's reach, it would have been imprudent not to call upon him to take part in the village's Music in Corrales series, now in its twenty-fifth year, especially as Shew's home is within walking distance of the historic Old San Ysidro Church, where the annual event is held. The invitation was duly extended and accepted, and on September 10, Shew led a quartet through a delightful two-set program whose theme was music from Walt Disney films.

While that may seem an unlikely basis for a jazz concert, Shew and his sidekicks made it work, thanks in part to the presence of a frequent visitor to the area, Los Angeles-based pianist / singer John Proulx, who blended seamlessly with Shew, bassist Michael Glynn and drummer Cal Haines in an engaging session that began with a Snow White medley ("Whistle While You Work," "Someday My Prince Will Come," "Heigh Ho, Heigh Ho, It's Off to Work We Go") and ended more than two hours later with the Academy Award-winning song from Disney's ill-fated Song of the South, "Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah" (it's a shame that this marvelous film from 1946, the first to combine animated sequences and live actors, is no longer being shown, as moviegoers have thus been deprived of seeing and appreciating one of the most impressive screen performances ever given, by the incomparable James Baskett as Joel Chandler Harris's wise and wondrous story-teller, Uncle Remus).

But back to the concert. Proulx not only played piano but sang a number of Disney favorites including "Supercalafragilisticexpialadocious" (how's my spelling?),"Bibbity Bobbity Boo," "Alice in Wonderland" and "Beauty and the Beast," and Shew even sang a couple himself ("No, this is not a new career for me," he assured the audience). It's remarkable how many of these songs have become a familiar part of the cultural landscape, from "When You Wish Upon a Star" and "I've Got No Strings" (Pinocchio) to "Never Never Land" (Peter Pan), "The Bare Necessities" (Jungle Book), "Chim Chim Cheree" (Mary Poppins), "Who's Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf" (the animated short The Three Little Pigs) and those others already mentioned. Together, they made for an offbeat but positively delightful evening of jazz.

Somewhat farther from home, Betty and I were in Prescott, AZ, the last weekend in August for the eleventh annual Prescott Jazz Summit (and our fourth or fifth; the memory is hazy). Trumpeter Mike Vax, who also directs the Stan Kenton Alumni Band, is the Summit's chief organizer (Vax and his wife Peggy now live in Prescott), and he invites musicians from the West Coast and beyond plus a few locals to take part in the weekend's concerts and other activities. Those activities included a "meet the musicians" dinner on Friday, a Saturday afternoon dance, a Sunday jazz brunch and Sunday evening jam session at a local restaurant. This in addition to three concerts, one a Friday noon freebie at Prescott's courthouse square. Betty and I stayed, as we always do, at a b&b, the Pleasant Street Inn, with our friends Norm and Mary Tompach, trombonist / singer / arranger Scott Whitfield and his wife, singer Ginger Berglund. This year we were joined by Scott's eight-year-old daughter, Grace, who says she wants to be a veterinarian.

As for the musicians, besides Vax, Whitfield and Berglund, they included Vax's friend since middle school, trumpeter Fred Radke, who now leads the Harry James Orchestra; Rusty Higgins, one of the Los Angeles area's leading saxophonists; ex-Count Basie vocalist Dennis Rowland, who now lives in Phoenix; another Phoenix resident, the splendid tenor saxophonist Tony Vacca; former Kenton drummer Gary Hobbs; the well-known guitarist Jack Petersen, who lives in Prescott; Peggy Vax (who doubles as wife / trombonist) and a number of others who together comprised a big band for the Saturday evening concert. The Summit will return next year, again on the last weekend in August. If you'd like details, you can find them at www.prescottjazz.com

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