It's the Economy, Man!

Jack Bowers By

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Even though the present (and future) state of the economy here in the States is no laughing matter, there has been at least one tongue-in-cheek article about jazz musicians seeking bailout money from Congress and the Bush administration (still in power when it was written last December). It's presented as a straight "news" story, but musicians' names such as Luther "Hip Bones" Jones and Willie "Fat Cheeks" Hughes are a dead giveaway, as is the fact that then-President Bush is quoted as saying he enjoys "a little Kenny G in the evening while I try to woo the First Lady." It's hard to imagine that Dubya is intellectually sharp enough to appreciate Kenny G.

Moving right along, there is another news article, this one on the level, that should come as sobering news to fans of jazz, big-band jazz in particular. It was posted January 21 by Kim Buehler, executive director of the Toledo Jazz Society. "After much thought and careful consideration," he writes, "the TJS Board of Directors and staff have made the tough decision to cancel the remainder of the Toledo Jazz Orchestra's 2008-2009 concert season. Due to the current economic environment, ticket sales have been dwindling along with community underwriting. As we approach our thirtieth anniversary in February 2010, we feel that we must take these measures in order to preserve the future of both the orchestra and the Toledo Jazz Society as a whole."

There you have it. That's one down (that we know of) and how many more to go? Only time can tell, but the short-term outlook doesn't look promising. In times of economic stress, the arts (excepting perhaps the cinema) are among the first things to be sacrificed on the altar of belt-tightening. Those who rely on the arts to help maintain some semblance of sanity in otherwise troubled times know the opposite should be true, but their voices are weak and ineffectual in the face of fiscal disarray. And so there will be less music (of substance), less dance, less theatre (some Broadway shows already are closing the doors while others are barely alive and kicking). Unless people have discretionary money to spend on such pursuits, many are doomed to failure, especially as philanthropic grants are also drying up.

Let us hope the situation is temporary, and that the arts will someday soon regain their lost footing and flourish again. It is something to look forward to.

On a Brighter Note...

The gigs have been few and far between recently, even for big bands with wide name recognition, and so it was good to learn that the Woody Herman Orchestra was on the road again and performing January 30 at a "Tribute to the Texas Tenors" Jazz Festival sponsored by the University of Texas at Dallas. Leader Frank Tiberi must have been greatly relieved to be back in the saddle again after a prolonged dry spell in which the phone seldom rang at band manager Mike Brignola's home in Florida. Tiberi was on hand in Dallas directing a stellar lineup that included trumpeters Walter White, Keith Jourdan, Rodney Booth, Dennis Dotson and Jack Evans; saxophonists Tiberi (tenor, soprano, clarinet), John Gunther, Pete Gallio (tenor, flute) and Brignola (baritone); trombonists John Fedchock, Tony Baker and John Wasson; pianist Kelly Durbin, bassist Lynn Seaton and drummer Bobby Breaux. Long live the Thundering Herd!

On the Horizon...

Veteran composer, arranger and valve trombonist Bob Brookmeyer, a native of Kansas City, MO, returns to his home state February 18 as a part of the "We Always Swing" concert series in Columbia, home of the University of Missouri. The Vanguard Jazz Orchestra, whose long association with Brookmeyer dates to its origins as the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Orchestra, will perform a newly commissioned and as-yet untitled work by Brookmeyer, with the trombonist doubling as guest conductor. The concert is funded through a $30,000 matching grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, which named Brookmeyer a Jazz Master in 2006.

A big-band tribute to singers Billy Eckstine and Sarah Vaughan is among the highlights of the annual Cape May, NJ, Jazz Festival, to held April 17-19 with music by the B Swingers Big Band. Other performers include saxophonist Odean Pope, bluesman James Cotton, guitarist Roni Ben-Hur, pianist Sylvia Cuenca, vocalist Sharon Clark and percussionist Marya Casales. For information, log on to capemayjazz.org

Attention, Composers

The International Jazz Festival Enschede, in cooperation with the Netherlands Millennium Jazz Orchestra, has announced the third edition of the ArtEZ Composition Contest, open to composers of all nationalities with no age limit. A maximum of five jazz compositions will be chosen for the final round. The Millennium Jazz Orchestra, directed by Joan Reinders, will perform them on May 31 at Theatre Concordia during the Jazz Festival Enschede. The winner will receive a prize of 2,500 Euros. Scores must be sent no later than March 24 by registered mail; the date of the postmark represents valid proof. Contest rules may be viewed at ijfe.nl; for more information, please contact [email protected]

Honors for the Garcias

Composer and arranger Russell Garcia, well-known in Hollywood for having written a number of film and television scores before relocating years ago to Kerikeri, New Zealand, and his wife, Gina, are recipients of Queens Service Medals for their long-time services to music. Russ Garcia, now ninety-two years old, continues to write, teach and travel internationally, often with Gina at his side. While in Hollywood, he worked for MGM, at Universal Studios, and with NBC Studios, writing for the TV series "Laredo" and "Rawhide" (the last of which introduced a young actor named Clint Eastwood), composing music for the sci-fi classic film "The Time Machine," and conducting the album "Porgy & Bess" with Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald. Garcia recorded several big-band albums under his own name and another with strings featuring former Stan Kenton trumpet star (and fellow Baha'i) Buddy Childers.

Saying Goodbye

Among those on the lists of musicians who passed away in 2008 are a number who were associated either primarily or in part with big bands. All of them will be sadly missed by those who appreciate their artistry and devotion to America's music. A partial listing includes the names Norm Baltazar, Sid Bulkin, Pete Candoli, Arnie Chycoski, Jimmy Cleveland, Bill Finegan, Bob Florence, Jimmy Giuffre, Johnny Griffin, Earle Hagen, Connie Haines, Neal Hefti, Humphrey Lyttelton, Teo Macero, Ronnie Mathews, Gene Puerling, Ray Reed, Joe Romano, Jo Stafford, Phil Urso, Klaus Weiss and Gerald Wiggins.

And that's it for now. Until next time, keep swingin'!...

New and Noteworthy

1. Ed Vezinho/Jim Ward Big Band With Friends Like These... (Dream Box Music)
2. DIVA Jazz Orchestra Live at Lincoln Center's Dizzy's Coca-Cola Club (DIVA Jazz)
3. South Florida Jazz Orchestra Untitled (MAMA)
4. SWR Big Band/Toshiko Akiyoshiem> Let Freedom Swing (Hanssler)
5. Doug Hamilton Jazz Band Untitled (OA2 Records)
6. VCU Jazz Orchestra 1 A Joyful Noise (Mark Records)
7. Phil Norman Tentet Totally Live at Catalina Jazz Club (MAMA)
8. Kluvers Big Ban Hot House (KBB)
9. Anthony Brown Asian-American Orchestra Ten (Water Baby Records)
10. Texas Christian University Jazz Ensemble Just Friends (Sea Breeze Vista)
11. Stan Kenton Road Band '67 (Tantara Productions)
12. DePaul University Jazz Ensemble That Being Said (Jazzed Media)
13. Jim Kerl's Swing Session Big Band With Thanks to My Friends (NW Recording Artists)
14. Howard University Jazz Ensemble HUJE 2007 (HUJE)
15. University of South Florida Jazz Ensembles: Suncoast 2007 (USF Jazz)

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