It Was a Very Good Year... for Big Bands

Jack Bowers By

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Whatever else one chooses to say about it (many of my comments would be unprintable), 2006 was a banner year for big bands, at least on record. Like a prizefighter who has been battered, bloodied and knocked to the canvas by a series of heavy blows but stubbornly refuses to throw in the towel, big bands keep taking a (financial) beating and coming back for more. And those who appreciate good music are the better for it.

There wasn't much indication of this early on, but the number of big-band albums actually increased—in quantity and quality—as the months wore on, and by year's end even a partial list of new releases appraised by this reviewer is quite impressive. Here's a summary of some of the best, in roughly chronological order...

The Blue Notes Orchestra (Japan), 30th Anniversary. U.S. Navy Commodores, Three Shades Of Blue. Kansas City Jazz Orchestra, Take One. Seattle Repertory Jazz Orchestra, Sacred Music Of Duke Ellington. Vic Vogel Big Band, Hangin' Loose. Phil Woods, Unheard Herd. National Youth Jazz Orchestra (UK), Two Suites By Paul Hart. Millennium Jazz Orchestra (The Netherlands), Oatts Notes. Scott Whitfield Jazz Orchestra East, Diamonds For Nat. Ryan Haines, New Horizons. Gary Urwin Jazz Orchestra, Kindred Spirits. Nancie Banks Orchestra, Out Of It.

Marcus Shelby Jazz Orchestra, Port Chicago. Rick Holland/Evan Dobbins Little Big Band, In Time's Shadow. Vanguard Jazz Orchestra, Up From The Skies. Temple Jazz Orchestra, This Is TJO. David Berger and the Sultans of Swing, Hindustan. Bud Shank Big Band, Taking The Long Way Home. Pete Cater Big Band, The Right Time. Various Artists, Kenton Portraits: A Loving Salute. Brian Pastor Big Band, Common Men. Bob Brookmeyer/New Art Orchestra, Spirit Music. Kit McClure Big Band, Just The Thing. Chris Walden Big Band, No Bounds.

Doug Lawrence Orchestra, Big Band Swing. Buddy Collette Big Band, Live At El Camino College. Ian Pearce Big Band (UK), Dedication. Montclair Women's Big Band, MWBB. Gordon Goodwin, The Phat Pack. Rick Wald NY/16, Castaneda's Dream. Steve Wiest Big Band, Excalibur. Jazz Project Big Band, Thanks For The Memories. National Youth Jazz Orchestra (UK), London Pride. Steve Cannon and the Blow Hard Big Band, Full Blown. Colin Byrnes Jazz Orchestra, Leaving For Home. Phil Kelly and the SW Santa Ana Winds, My Museum.

Jim Cutler Jazz Orchestra, In Progress. Taylor/Fidyk Big Band, Live At Blues Alley. Count Basie Orchestra, Basie Is Back. University of Northern Iowa, Destination Unknown. Dizzy Gillespie All-Star Big Band, Dizzy's Business. Shenandoah University Jazz Ensemble, Lullaby Of The Leaves. hr Big Band (Germany), Once In A Lifetime. Mike Barone, Metropole. Pierce College Jazz Ensemble, Suiteness. Brussels Jazz Orchestra, Countermove. University of Colorado Jazz Orchestra, CU Over The Rainbow.

Forrest Buchtel NYConfidential Big Band, Shhh!! Jimmy Heath Big Band, Turn Up The Heath. Brussels Jazz Orchestra/Royal Flemish Philharmonic, Dangerous Liaison. Big Band Dorsten (Germany), Critic's Choice. Mt. Hood CC Jazz Band, My Foolish Heart. University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Minimal Effort. Nova Jazz Orchestra, In A Lucid Moment. Full Spectrum Jazz, Pursuits. Jack Cortner NY Big Band, Fast Track. Abe Silverman Big Band, Dream Theme. Swiss Jazz Orchestra, Live. Southwest Jazz Orchestra, Live At The Albuquerque Museum.

Still on the stack for review but released in 2006 are several albums that we look forward to hearing as soon as possible including Eric Miyashiro (Japan), Times Square. The Big Time Jazz Orchestra, Fanfare For Some Flounder? Maynard Ferguson, MF Horn VI. Eveneven Big Band (Norway). Majestic Jazz Orchestra, Axiom Asunder. Texas Instruments Big Band, AlgoRhythms. Jim Manley, Splendor In The Brass II. Dick Johnson, Star Dust And Beyond. Fred Stride Jazz Orchestra, Forward Motion.

There are a number of albums that weren't reviewed but proved nonetheless rewarding, in particular the Concert Jazz Orchestra, Gettin' Together, the Carol McLaughlin Big Band, Two Hearts And A Diamond, and Ryan Haines, People And Places. I'm sure there are others, but that trio springs immediately to mind. As Frank Sinatra used to croon, "It was a very good year . . . A very good year for big-band Jazz, that is. And with new releases by Wayne Bergeron, Bob Florence and others already on the drawing board, there's always hope that 2007 may equal or even surpass the year that just ended.

Gazing Into The Crystal Ball. . .

In early December, after expressing some mild disappointment in Sonny Rollins' latest recording, Sonny, Please, I ended my review by surmising that the album "will most likely earn Rollins another Grammy Award, thus proving how far removed I am from the ability to render sound judgment. Two days after the review was published, the following press release appeared in my e-mail in-box: "Tenor saxophonist Sonny Rollins has received a Grammy nomination for his new Doxy Records CD Sonny, Please in the 'Best Instrumental Jazz Album' category. Well, you could have knocked me over with a feather. It's such a heavy burden to be so right all the time...

And that's it for this brief preface to 2007. Until next time, keep swingin'!

New and Noteworthy

1. Jimmy Heath Big Band, Turn Up The Heath (Planet Arts)
2. Big Band Dorsten, Critic's Choice (TIB)
3. Taylor/Fidyk Big Band, Live At Blues Alley (OA2)
4. Brussels Jazz Orchestra, Countermove (W.E.R.F.)
5. Dizzy Gillespie All-Star Big Band, Dizzy's Business (MCG)
6. Phil Kelly & the NW Santa Ana Winds, My Museum (Origin)
7. Count Basie Orchestra, Basie Is Back (Village Music)
8. Forrest Buchtel's NYConfidential, Shhh! (Monk Music)
9. Ayn Inserto Jazz Orchestra, Clairvoyance (no label)
10. Shenandoah University Jazz Ensemble, Lullaby Of The Leaves (SU Jazz)
11. Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra, Una Noche Inolvidable (Palmetto)
12. Pierce College Jazz Ensemble, Suiteness (no label)
13. Temple Jazz Orchestra, This Is TJO (no label)
14. Northeastern State University, Appointment in Milano (NSU)
15. Rick Wald 16/NYC, Castaneda's Dreams (Glowbow)

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