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High school students? No way! Then again, these aren't just any high school studentsthey're the cream of the jazz crop in Tucson, Arizona. They've survived auditions to become members of the four-year-old Arizona Jazz Academy and worked their way up through the Academy's ranks to become members of its eighth and best large ensemble, the impressive Ellington Band.
Listening to the band's latest album (recorded at the AJA), one can readily appreciate why every one of its graduates has been offered a college scholarship. They're clearly eager and ready to proceed to the next level in their search for musical excellence. Director Doug Tidaback believes his students should be well-grounded in the legacy of the great jazz masters, and the playbook leans heavily on classic compositions and arrangements by Ellington, Strayhorn, Benny Carter, Fletcher Henderson, Sy Oliver, Mary Lou Williams and others.
Jazz Around the World, which salutes the band's highly successful visit to Europe in summer '05, is no exception, including as it does Ellington's "Jack the Bear and "Happy Go Lucky Local, Carter's "Vine Street Rumble, Juan Tizol's "Perdido and the Henderson favorite, "Avalon. "Pyramid and "Katy Do are period pieces as well, but I'm not sure of their authorship and don't wish to hazard a guess. "Come Fly with Me and "Uno Mas are clearly of more recent lineage.
Although the personnel on this admirable recording aren't listed, they perform quite well, individually and collectively, and there are pleasing solos along the way by unnamed alto and tenor saxophones, piano, drums and at least one trumpet and trombone (perhaps more). Considering the circumstances, the recording itself is respectable, even though whoever had his (or her) hand on the controls cut the sound too quickly at the end of almost every number, clipping the last overtones. But that's a minor quibble in an otherwise commendable endeavor. The AJA has come a long way in only four years, and looking ahead, it seems that the sky's the limit.
Track Listing: Perdido; Avalon; Vine Street Rumble; Come Fly with Me; Jack the Bear; Happy Go Lucky Local; Pyramid; Katy Do; Uno Mas (48:08).
Years ago now--in Rhodesia--listening to Voice of America with Willis Conover I heard Bunk Johnson play When The Saints Go Marching In, and Billie Holiday sing Don't Explain. I knew then there was no other life for me than jazz.