You probably know this already, but April is Jazz Appreciation Month. Given the state of Jazz today, especially here in the land of its birth, it is quite appropriate that JAM should have begun on April Fool’s Day. Be that as it may, a number of events are (were) planned in various places including telecasts on BET and BET Jazz of the Jazz Masters Concert, held during the 31st conference of the International Association of Jazz Educators (IAJE) last January in New York City (for information about other events, log on to www.smithsonianjazz.org). The IAJE event honored Jazz Masters Jim Hall, Chico Hamilton, Herbie Hancock, Luther Henderson, Nancy Wilson and writer Nat Hentoff, and featured performances by the Heath Brothers (Jimmy Heath, saxophones; Albert “Tootie” Heath, drums; Percy Heath, bass) with special guest, trumpeter Clark Terry; the New York Voices with guests Paquito D’Rivera and Hubert Laws; the Dave Brubeck Trio (Joe Sanders, bass; Justin Brown, drums); the Billy Taylor Trio (Chip Jackson, bass; Winard Harper, drums), and “The Four Brothers” — vocalists Jon Hendricks, Kurt Elling, Mark Murphy and Kevin Mahogany.
Speaking of Kevin Mahogany . . .
The velvet-voiced baritone from Kansas City was the guest artist February 21 at a concert in Albuquerque sponsored by the New Mexico Jazz Workshop and featuring the surprisingly accomplished Albuquerque Jazz Orchestra. The AJO opened the program with a pair of compositions by Gordon Goodwin (“Count Bubba,” “There’s the Rub”), another by Tom Kubis (“Samba Dees Godda Do It”), trombonist Ed Ulman’s arrangement of “Dig the Sweet Clifford Brown” (based on “Georgia Brown”) and pianist Paul Coleman’s entrancing “Variations on ‘Things’” (a,k.a. “All the Things You Are”). Mahogany sang a number of songs arranged by fallen comrade Frank Mantooth, the superb pianist / composer / arranger who was slated to appear at the concert but died of a heart attack less than a month before the event. Mantooth arranged the standards “Moonlight in Vermont,” “I’ll Never Stop Loving You” and “One for My Baby” as well as the Basie favorite “Centerpiece.” Mahogany also sang his own composition, “Three Little Words” (not to be confused with the Bert Kalmar / Harry Ruby standard of the same name), and a Matt Harris arrangement of Ellington’s “It Don’t Mean a Thing.” In between songs, Mahogany charmed the audience with his keen sense of humor, and the concert was a thoroughly enjoyable experience.
The Albuquerque Jazz Orchestra, formed in 1982 by Pancho Romero and now directed by John Sanks, has backed many Jazz and pop artists during its more than two decades including Vince DiMartino, Bob Montgomery, Mike Vax, Rich Little, Steve Houghton, Rich Matteson, The Temptations, Rita Moreno, The Four Tops, Vaughn Nark, The Supremes, Kim Richmond, Clay Jenkins, Steve and Eydie Gormé, Butch Miles, Jim Pugh, Shelly Berg and Jeff Jarvis. The AJO, from what I heard, is quite good, and houses a number of first-rate soloists including (but not limited to) Ulman, Coleman, tenor saxophonist Lee Taylor and trumpeter Kent Erickson. Many of its members are teachers and / or administrators including saxophonist Glenn Kostur, who directs the University of New Mexico’s Jazz Ensemble, and Ulman, who serves as executive director of the New Mexico Jazz Workshop.
And Speaking of the Jazz Workshop . . .
This is one of several bright spots on the Jazz scene here in Albuquerque. Formed more than twenty-five years ago, the not-for-profit Workshop is dedicated to promoting Jazz through concert presentations and educational programs for adults and children. Over the past several years the NMJW has grown to be one of the city’s leading arts organizations, drawing an audience of more than 25,000 to its forty concerts each year while its educational programs reach more than ten thousand students in local schools. Classes are designed for all ages and reach aspiring musicians and music-lovers from ages six to sixty. Two programs were added this year — the Workshop Honor Jazz Ensemble, which brings together the city’s most talented high school players in challenging, performance-oriented big band ensembles that perform in June alongside the Adult Big Band and Albuquerque Jazz Orchestra in the Workshop’s “Big Band Extravaganza” at the Albuquerque Museum, and the JCC Jazz Intensive, designed to provide year-round Jazz studies for middle and high school students through weekly sessions and a final performance at Albuquerque’s new Jewish Community Center. Other programs include Roots of Jazz, in which Frank Leto and four other musicians present an hour-long program packed with music and information to about 6,500 elementary school children each year; Jazz Camp, in which more than a hundred children ages 6-12 work directly with local musicians during June to explore music first-hand through observing live performances, creating music and reacting to it through dance and art; and Summer Jazz Intensive, now in its third year at the Albuquerque Academy, a Jazz camp that offers young musicians a comprehensive and challenging introduction to Jazz in a supportive environment. The course includes sessions on Jazz theory, improvisation and ensemble work. In addition, the Workshop’s Jazz Outreach program tours outlying areas of New Mexico with a Jazz quintet, presenting programs in elementary schools and clinics for music students in secondary schools and even colleges. The residency concludes with a free evening performance for the entire community. Last but not least, there are the NMJW’s adult education programs including Adult Jazz Chorus, Adult Big Band, Beginning Improvisation, Intermediate Improvisation and the Adult Lecture Series. The Workshop moved into new quarters in the fall of ‘03 and extended its activities to include the Albuquerque Jazz Orchestra and Albuquerque Latin Jazz Orchestra.
Also in Albuquerque . . .
There is The Outpost, a “performance space” that presents Jazz, experimental music, world music, folk and roots, spoken word, children’s shows, lecture-demonstrations, performance and visual art and what-have-you. Outpost Productions, formed in 1988, is another not-for-profit entity consisting of a board of directors and professional staff along with a corps of dedicated volunteers. OP has more than five hundred paid members and a mailing list of more than ten thousand. It is supported by memberships, private donations and a wide range of corporate sponsorships. The Outpost itself, located about two blocks south of the UNM campus, is relatively small, seating only 175, but the sound system is excellent while the stage is large enough to accommodate a big band (we saw the UNM Jazz Ensemble perform there with guest conductor Gerald Wilson). Most recently, Betty and I saw and heard the marvelous Jazz pianist Jessica Williams who treated her audience to some wonderful music in spite of having broken several ribs only eight days before the concert. What a trouper . . .
Meanwhile, in Oakland, CA . . .
Friends of Big Band Jazz, yet another non-profit, is helping keep the flame of Jazz burning in its neighborhood through performance and educational programs that include two summer Jazz camps, scholarships for aspiring musicians, funding for school music departments and sponsorship of the Mike Vax Big Band which is touring the East Coast this spring, its second such tour in three years. FBBJ has a web site at which big-band albums can be purchased, with two-thirds of the proceeds earmarked for the performing artists, the rest for FBBJ’s scholarship fund. It’s a good deal for everyone and a great way for Jazz fans to become involved in supporting the art form while acquiring topnotch big-band albums at a reasonable cost. You can reach Friends of Big Band Jazz by logging on to the site, www.bigbandjazz.net
Also in April . . .
The wold-class Buselli Wallarab Jazz Orchestra from Indianapolis ends its third concert season at the Indiana Historical Society on April 25 with “Tribute to a Jazz Master: The Music of David Baker.” Dr. Baker, who has more than sixty-five recordings, seventy books and four hundred articles to his credit, is Distinguished Professor of Music and chairman of the Jazz Studies department at the Indiana University School of Music in Bloomington. The orchestra will present two performances of his music, a matinee at two o’clock and an evening concert at seven with the BWJO High School All-Star Jazz Ensemble opening both performances. For more information about the concerts, contact Steve Trusedell, 317-856-1078 (e-mail email@example.com). To order tickets, phone the BWJO’s Ticket Line, 317-464-5388. The BWJO, now in its tenth year, performs each Tuesday evening at the Jazz Kitchen, 5377 N. College Avenue in Indianapolis. The ensemble’s two CDs, “Happenstance” and “Heart and Soul,” are widely available including online at www.cdbaby.com
One Last Word . . .
Here’s a big-band album I’m unlikely to buy — Goodbye Swingtime by the Matthew Herbert Big Band. According to Jon Andrews’ review in Down Beat magazine, the album represents Herbert’s “attempt to reconcile house rhythms and sampling technology with his love of big band Jazz. In the first stage, a seventeen-piece British ensemble performed Herbert’s compositions. Through sampling of the band [whatever that means], looping and manipulation [?], Herbert created an uneasy alliance between Jazz musicians and machines [I'll bet he did]. . . .Electronics permeate the music, sometimes in the form of atmospheric samples, or Herbert’s signature ‘glitches.’” Thanks but no thanks. I’ll stick with Stan, Woody, Buddy, the Count and others whose music is devoid of “glitches” and other extraneous baggage. Alas, I may be in the minority . . .
That’s it for now. Until next time, keep swingin’!
New and Noteworthy
1. Stan Kenton Orchestra, Horns of Plenty (Tantara)
2. Peter Brem Big Band, Natural Connections (MusicMecca)
3. Phil Norman Tentet, Wide Range (Concord)
4. Doncaster Jazz Orchestra, Discover the Spirit (DJO)
5. University of Miami Concert Jazz Band, Romances (Summit)
6. DVC Night Jazz Band, Featuring Toshiko Akiyoshi (DVC)
7. Dave Stevens Big Band, Sound Storm (Digital Visionary)
8. Mats Holmquist Big Band, A Tribute to Chick Corea (Caprice)
9. Jill Townsend Big Band, Tales from the Sea (Pagetown)
10. Jim Widner Big Band, Flying High . . . (Chase Music Group)
11. Anita Brown Jazz Orchestra, 27 East (Lasheda Records)
12. Vaughn Wiester’s Famous Jazz Orchestra, Playin’ the Book! (Columbus Music Hall)