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It's Time for the News! But First, a Brief Report from Sick Bay...


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August 2010 has been an interesting month. A few weeks ago I noticed a slight twinge in the right shoulder. The twinge soon became an ache, followed by loss of mobility and muscle tone in the right arm. The pain varies but is always there. As this is being written, I can raise the right arm less than halfway to shoulder height, and can't come near straightening it in front of me. I can flex the right hand but can't lift anything much heavier than a bottle of juice or cola. The muscles in the left shoulder / upper arm are also sore, but so far (knock wood) without any noticeable loss of mobility or strength in the arm or hand (I'm left-handed). To date, I've tried chiropractic and massage, and have been to a physical therapist. I'll have a CT scan this week, followed by more physical therapy, massage and whatever else is needed. Meanwhile, everyday acts, such as shaving, showering, putting on one's shirt and so on have become mini-adventures. Obviously, I am still able to type, else you wouldn't be reading this. The hope is I've only pulled or strained a muscle (or more), or pinched a nerve (or more). If that's the case, time and proper care will resolve the problem. If it's something else, I'll have to deal with that in the best way possible. And so ends the report from sick bay. In other news...

Leon Breeden: He Set the Bar High

In 1959, when Leon Breeden arrived at the University of North Texas (then North Texas State College) to succeed Gene Hall as director of the school's Jazz Studies program, no one said much—out loud—about the program, which Hall had founded in 1946 and led under the guise of "dance band" music, as jazz had earned an unsavory reputation within the precincts of academia. Breeden set to work changing that perception, and by the time of his departure in 1981, the UNT Jazz Studies program was not only accepted but widely applauded as its flagship ensemble, the acclaimed One O'Clock Lab Band (named for its daily rehearsal time), became one of the nation's outstanding college-level bands, recording extensively and garnering half a dozen Grammy Award nominations between 1975 and 2009. In 1967, the One O'Clock Band shared the stage with Duke Ellington and Stan Getz in a command performance at the White House, and three years later performed at the prestigious Montreux (Switzerland) Jazz Festival.

Breeden, who died from an abdominal infection August 11 at age 88, became renowned as one of the country's leading jazz educators and held the position of Professor emeritus of the UNT Jazz Studies program. When he came there in 1959, the program had 75 students and four lab bands; when he retired 22 years later, there were 500 students, nine lab bands and a library of more than 4,000 arrangements. Among Breeden's students were pianist / composer Lyle Mays, trumpeter Marvin Stamm and saxophonist Lou Marini. The program won admiration and praise from a number of jazz greats including Ellington, singer Ella Fitzgerald and bandleader Stan Kenton who willed his entire big-band library to UNT. Breeden, who grew up in Wichita Falls, TX, was a clarinetist, saxophonist, composer and arranger who before taking the reins at UNT was music director at Grand Prairie High School and band director at Texas Christian University. He played in bands at NBC Radio and wrote arrangements for Arthur Fiedler and the Boston Pops as well as for the Cincinnati and Cleveland orchestras.

In 1985, Breeden was inducted into the International Association of Jazz Educators' Hall of Fame, and in 2003, the North Texas Jazz Festival introduced the Leon Breeden Award to honor the best high school or middle school band at the festival. The award will go on, as will Breeden's indelible influence on jazz education in schools throughout the country and around the world.

Bang the Drum Slowly

First we lost young lion Chris Dagley, then old pro Martin Drew, and now the one and only Jack Parnell, making the summer of 2010 the most horrendous for British drummers in recent memory, if not for all time. Drew was a still-active 66, Dagley only 38, Parnell 87 when he succumbed to cancer on August 8. Newspapers headlined Parnell's five-year tenure as music director of television's Muppet Show, but I'll remember him best as the driving force behind Ted Heath's turbo-charged jazz / dance band in the late 1940s and early 1950s. Parnell, a Londoner and the son of vaudevillians, left Heath's band to form his own ensembles before assuming a position as music director of Associated Television (ATV), in which capacity he supervised music for the long-running variety show Sunday Night at the London Palladium, produced specials featuring Tom Jones, Barbra Streisand, Lena Horne, Sammy Davis Jr. and others, and served as music director for comedian Benny Hill's show.

In 1976, ATV began producing The Muppet Show, which had inexplicably been snubbed by American television. Parnell conducted the orchestra for the series' 120 episodes, although its "on-screen" bandleader was the pop-eyed Muppet conductor, Nigel. It was Parnell who persuaded the peerless drummer Buddy Rich to appear on the show and engage in a memorable "drum duel" with the Muppets' resident time-keeper, Animal (whose actual drumming was done by Parnell's good friend, Ronnie Verrell). Parnell retired in 1982 after 22 years at ATV and returned to his first love, jazz performance, fronting his own groups and playing in clubs and other venues with such friends as cornetist Ruby Braff, trumpeter Kenny Baker and clarinetist Bob Wilber and appearing with the Ted Heath Tribute Band. He continued performing until 20007, when ill health forced him to pack away the drum kit for good.

News We've All Been Waiting to Hear

At long last, Ken Poston has announced the lineup for the Los Angeles Jazz Institute's Come Swing with Me: A Jazz / Big Band Tribute to Frank Sinatra, to be held October 21-24 at the Los Angeles Airport Marriott Hotel. Included are 13 concerts, half a dozen Sinatra films, three panel discussions and three special presentations, one ("The Voice: Sinatra in the Forties") by Poston and two ("Sessions with Sinatra: Frank Sinatra and the Art of Recording" and "Sinatra at the Movies") by Charles Granata. On Sunday, there'll be an optional bus tour of "Sinatra's Hollywood" from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.

As for the concerts, no less than the Pied Pipers (with big band) kick things off Saturday afternoon in the Marquis Ballroom. Successive concerts will showcase singers Kurt Reichenbach, Steve Lippia, Frankie Randall, Michael Andrew, Dennis Rowland and Dena Martin; the Mike Melvoin Trio; the Montreal JazzKidz; the Shades of Tony Morelli Big Band; the Patrick Williams Orchestra; the Frank Capp Juggernaut with guest Michael Wayne Deese; the Nelson Riddle Orchestra with guests Gary Williams and Sue Raney; the Plas Johnson Quartet; the Ron Jones - Saxophone Jazz Influence Orchestra; the Ray Anthony Orchestra, and the Johnny Mandel Orchestra with guest Michael Andrew.

As always, that's quite a lineup. And as always, more information can be found at www.lajazzinstitute.org or by phoning 562-200-5477.

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

New and Noteworthy

1. Les Hooper Band, Live at Typhoon (Hooperman Records)

2. Stan Kenton, This Is an Orchestra! (Tantara)

3. Phil Woods / DePaul University Jazz Ensemble, Solitude (Jazzed Media)

4. Des Moines Big Band, Landmark (No Label)

5. The Timucua Jazz Orchestra, Live at Timucua (Timucua Arts Foundation)

6. Big Crazy Energy NY Big Band, Inspirations, Vol. 1 (Rosa Records)

7. Vince Norman / Joe McCarthy Big Band, Bright Future (OA2 Records)

8. Riverside Community College, A Minor Case of the Blues (Sea Breeze)

9. Makoto Ozone / No Name Horses, Jungle (Verve Japan)

10. Toronto Jazz Orchestra, The Path (TJO)

11. David Berger Jazz Orchestra, Sing Me a Love Song (Such Sweet Thunder)

12. Stockholm Jazz Orchestra, The Ikaros Suite (Sittel)

13. Fredonia Jazz Ensemble, Still Kickin' (FJE)

14. Waco Jazz Orchestra, Untitled (WJO)

15. Northeastern State University, Portrait (NSU Jazz Lab)

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