The Hoover High School Downbeat Combo from Glendale, CA, one of four groups represented on this CD from ’99, performed in January with several other high–school ensembles at the 27th annual Conference of the International Association of Jazz Educators (IAJE) in New Orleans, LA. Director Greg Kupka says in the liner notes that Hoover has won nine Down Beat
magazine awards in the last three years including six in ’99, which certainly speaks well for the music program there. The Downbeat Combo, a quartet consisting of guitar, bass guitar, violin and drums, is heard on three numbers — “Sock’s Groove,” “Grand Central” and “Gotta Match?” The school’s Jump Swing Band plays the first four selections, and returns later for “Mr. Pinstripe Suit.” The Studio Jazz Orchestra follows with a trio of tunes (“The 1st Circle,” “In a Sentimental Mood,” “Final Truth”) and the Horn Combo (a sextet whose horns number two, trombone and tenor sax) performs “I’m Gonna Go Fishin’” and “Black Orpheus.” Taking them from the top, the Jump Swing Band is enthusiastic but decidedly ragged, sounding like the high–school ensemble it is, especially on Louis Prima’s “Sing, Sing, Sing” but elsewhere as well. Swing is fine, and I’m happy it is making a comeback of sorts, but the Jump Band’s recap won’t do much to further the cause. The Jazz Studio Orchestra fares slightly better on Pat Metheny’s “1st Circle,” Ellington’s “Sentimental Mood,” Jean–Luc Ponty’s “Final Truth” and its encore, the theme from Mission: Impossible,
but again, leaves no doubt that this is a high–school ensemble. The Downbeat Combo benefits enormously from the presence of a “ringer” (as does the Studio Orchestra on “Final Truth”), director Kupka himself, whose limber violin provides much of the session’s flash and fire. He’s outstanding on every number, pushing his young charges onward and upward and helping to make the combo’s appearances consistently rewarding. Chick Corea’s “Gotta Match?” would challenge almost any fiddler, but Kupka easily navigates its choppy waters. The Horn Combo (with Johnny Di Gregorio on trombone, Sonja Thoms on tenor sax) gives a good account of itself on Shorty Rogers’ “Gonna Go Fishin’” and Luis Bonfa’s “Black Orpheus.” This is a dandy snapshot of Jazz at Hoover High in ’99, and we hope that Kupka and his enterprising students continue along their award–winning path in the years to come.
Track listing: Jumpin’; Sing, Sing, Sing; Jump, Jive ’n Wail; Get the Funk; The 1st Circle; In a Sentimental Mood; Final Truth; Sock’s Groove; Grand Central; Gotta Match?; I’m Gonna Go Fishin’; Black Orpheus; Mr. Pinstripe Suit; Mission Impossible (70:37).