As a number of readers (well, at least two or three) have noticed the absence of a big-band column in this space for the past two months and asked if I’m still upright and breathing, the answer is yes. But it has been a rather difficult and frustrating time. Briefly stated, the reason there has been no big-band column is that I’ve been unable to write one owing to the loss of my computer, or, more accurately, the hard drive, which crashed without warning (do they ever give warning?) in early October, taking everything with it – reviews, the big-band catalog (listing almost 1,600 CDs), my beloved PageMaker 6.0, e-mail and Rolodex addresses . . . pardon me while I wipe away a tear or two. As a result of the mini-disaster, I’ve written almost nothing since Betty and I left North Carolina at the end of September to relocate to New Mexico. The hard drive was shipped to a data recovery firm in California that held it hostage from October 20 until yesterday (December 8), when they threw in the towel, and it was promptly sent to a second data recovery firm (I don’t give up easily). I’m hoping for the best but working on Plan B in case the data should prove to be unrecoverable. In either case I expect to be reviewing and writing again by the end of the year or at least by early January (have to watch the bowl games, you know!). Meanwhile, I’ve been keeping busy settling into the new home and have even been able to get out to see and hear some live Jazz. There’s a well-established “performance center” here in Albuquerque called The Outpost, which books both local and national artists (recent visitors have included saxophonist Michael Brecker, pianist Omar Sosa, bassist Dave Holland, vibraphonist Matthias Lupri with trumpeter Cuong Vu, pianist Fred Hersch and vocalist Luciana Souza). It’s an intimate club, one whose patrons come to hear the music, not to drink or otherwise make fools of themselves. No alcohol is served, only coffee. I made my first visit on December 1 to see local multi-instrumentalist Arlen Asher who performed with a number of first-class rhythm sections. Asher, a well-known and highly respected Jazz educator who plays every reed instrument from alto sax to bass clarinet as well as everything in the flute family, was celebrating the release of his debut album, Another Spring, on which overdubbing transforms him at times into an entire saxophone section. He wasn’t able to do that in person but did play at various times soprano, alto, tenor and baritone saxophones, bass clarinet and flute. I returned to The Outpost on December 3 to catch the University of New Mexico Jazz Bands with special guest conductor Gerald Wilson. Jazz Band 1 has been directed this semester by Steve Loza who came to UNM from UCLA, where the 86-year-young Wilson teaches a course in Jazz history. The concert was opened by Jazz Band 2, ably directed by Jason Oliver (who doubles on bass trombone in Band 1). After opening with Victor Lopez’s “Puffy Taco,” the ensemble followed Cy Coleman’s “Witchcraft” with Tom Kubis’ clever restatement of the theme (“Which Craft?”), thundered through Chuck Mangione’s fiery “Children of Sanchez” and closed with Bill Holcomb’s Bach-influenced “Fuga Jazza.” Wilson, whose energy level would be considered phenomenal in someone half his age, interspersed the musical program with anecdotes and recollections of his more than sixty years as a big-band sideman, leader, composer and arranger (he cut his big-band teeth as a teen-age trumpeter with the fabled Jimmie Lunceford Orchestra). The program included Wilson’s “Blues for Yna Yna,” “Jeri,” “You Better Believe It,” “Jeri” and “Viva Tirado,” Miles Davis’ “Milestones,” John DeFoor’s “Concertato Groovum” and pianist Alex CdeBaca’s clever “Tecate and Fugue.” The band plays well as a unit and boasts a number of pretty good soloists including CdeBaca, bassist Dan Spanogle, saxophonists Aaron Lovato and Robert Melloy, trombonist Joel Chavarria and guitarist Joel Laviolette, and an impressive young drummer in eighteen-year-old freshman Ehren Natay. Wilson rejoined the ensembles the following evening but I was unable to return for that one, as Betty and I had tickets to see a touring production of the Broadway musical 42nd Street. That’s all the news for now. I hope to have some reviews for you next month, as a number of praiseworthy big-band albums have been released and deserve a helpful word or two. Until then, keep swingin!!
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.