Jazz Students Lend Helping Hands in New Orleans

Jack Bowers By

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We begin with a heartwarming story courtesy of the July 27-August 2, 2008 issue of American Profile magazine headlined "Hometown Heroes: Jazzing Up the Big Easy." It's a moving account of how students at New Trier High School in Winnetka, IL, led by music director Jim Warrick, spent their spring break not on the beaches in Florida but in the heart of storm-ravaged New Orleans spreading music, good cheer and doing anything they could to help the city's still neglected, disorganized and displaced residents. For seven days in March, thirty-six students from the New Trier Jazz Ensemble led a caravan through the city that helped build a home for displaced professional musicians while placing instruments in the hands of students whose music programs were obliterated by Hurricane Katrina.

Warrick conceived the venture in 2006 after taking a bus tour through New Orleans, where he and Mrs. Warrick saw first-hand the aftermath of the 2005 hurricane that left much of the city under water, contributed to more than 1,800 deaths and cost the city about $81 billion in damages. The teary-eyed tour guide said, "Somebody on this bus should do something about this." Warrick turned to his wife and said, "That's us." Once back in Winnetka, he spearheaded a fund-raising drive that included a sixteen-hour telethon on public television, sales of a special CD and a series of lectures to let students know the history and culture of New Orleans.

Once in New Orleans, Warrick and the students handed out more than 500 instruments, worth about $300,000, to schools that desperately needed them. They also operated a traveling fashion boutique that distributed more than 500 donated dresses and 400 tuxedos to New Orleans students for their proms, a tradition that had become a rarity in the wake of Katrina. Lastly, the Jazz Ensemble contributed $75,000 and three days of manual labor to help build a Habitat for Humanity home in Musicians' Village, which provides residences to artists displaced by the hurricane.

This is in the finest spirit of the American tradition. When a need arises, there are always those who will take it upon themselves to mobilize their resources and face the situation head-on, sacrificing their time, energy and money to lend a helping hand. Kudos to Warrick and the NTHS Jazz Ensemble for their sacrificial gallantry in the face of such an horrendous crisis. (FEMA, please take note.)

Third Annual New Mexico Jazz Festival

While it's not exactly a tradition yet, the New Mexico Jazz Festival has logged its third year and is looking optimistically toward the future. 2008's event, held July 17-28 in Santa Fe and Albuquerque, drew a number of well-known artists including saxophonists Pharoah Sanders, Kenny Garrett and Paquito D'Rivera (with his Funk Tango Quintet), vocalist Cassandra Wilson and the venerable Preservation Hall Jazz Band along with a number of local and area musicians. There was a poetry reading by A.B. Spellman at Santa Fe's Lensic Theatre, and some free outdoor events at the Civic Plaza and Old Town in Albuquerque. Alas, Betty and I were unable to take part (again), as I am still recovering from minor surgery and won't be out and about for another week or two at least.

Coming Events

On August 29-31, the Boston Symphony Orchestra is sponsoring the 2008 Tanglewood Jazz Festival in Lenox, MA. Among the featured performers: Marian McPartland, Dianne Reeves, Terence Blanchard, Eliane Elias, Nnenna Freelon, Jane Monheit, Eddie Daniels, Mark O'Connor, Donal Fox, Christian Scott, Edmar Castaneda, Joe Locke, Mulgrew Miller, Spencer Day, Aaron Parks, Kate McGarry, Jason Palmer and Alex Brown. Well, at least I've heard of more than half of them, which is a pretty good score for a contemporary festival. The event is also sponsored by Jazz Times magazine and Jazzcorner.com. On August 30 the festival will celebrate McPartland's ninetieth birthday with a live taping of her syndicated "Piano Jazz" radio program featuring the guest of honor with Nnenna Freelon, Mulgrew Miller and Spencer Day. For information about the festival, contact Dawn Singh, 505-771-0417, or Kathleen Drohan, 617-638-9280.

Also in August, the 2008 Monterey (CA) Jazz Festival, in collaboration with the Concord Music Group, will issue a second set of six never-before-released archival live recordings taped on the festival's Arena Stage. Four of the recordings are year-specific including Art Blakey and the Giants of Jazz (1972), Shirley Horn (1994), Tito Puente and his orchestra (1977) and Jimmy Witherspoon featuring Robben Ford (1972). Two "best of" recordings are entitled "50 Years of Dave Brubeck: Live at the Monterey Jazz Festival" and "The Best of Cal Tjader: Live at the Monterey Jazz Festival, 1958-1980."

The releases are the second on the MJFR label, which was founded in celebration of the 50th annual Monterey Jazz Festival in 2007. Initial recordings included retrospectives by Louis Armstrong and His All-Stars, the Miles Davis Quintet, Thelonious Monk Quartet, Dizzy Gillespie, Sarah Vaughan, and a 50-year compilation with selections from the other albums as well as live material by Diana Krall, Joe Henderson, Dave Brubeck and Pat Metheny.

The recordings also spotlight a variety of well-known sidemen including saxophonists Paul Desmond, Gerry Mulligan and Sonny Stitt; trumpeters Roy Eldridge and Clark Terry; pianist John Lewis and percussionists Poncho Sanchez and Mongo Santamaria. For information about MJFR recordings, please contact Matt Merewitz, 610-667-0501.

Two Sad Farewells

Gerald Wiggins, a versatile pianist whose long career included many recordings with his trio and performances with Louis Armstrong, Benny Carter, Roy Eldridge, Zoot Sims, Lena Horne, Nat King Cole and many others, died July 13 in Tarzana, CA, at age eighty-six.

Wiggins also served as vocal coach for film superstar Marilyn Monroe, who once gave him an autographed photo inscribed, "For Gerry. I can't make a sound without you. Love you, Marilyn."

Born in New York City, Wiggins moved to Los Angeles in the late 1940s where his career flourished thanks to film and television studio work and regular calls to accompany the likes of Eartha Kitt, Dinah Washington, Lou Rawls, Pearl Bailey, Ernie Andrews and other well-known vocalists while leading his trio in venues throughout the area.

Johnny Griffin, the Chicago-born tenor saxophonist whose big sound and rapid-fire style earned him the nickname "The Little Giant," died July 25 at his home in Availles-Limouzine, France, where he had lived for the past twenty-four years. He was eighty years old and had performed his last concert only four days before in Hyeres. Though small in stature (he was five feet, five inches tall), Griffin was second to none when it came to speed, control and harmonic invention on the tenor. He was a star for many years in Europe, where he moved in the 1960s after becoming disillusioned with the state of jazz in the U.S.

Griffin grew up on Chicago's south side where he attended DuSable High School and was taught by its legendary band instructor, Capt. Walter Dyett, who also taught singers Nat King Cole and Dinah Washington and saxophonists Gene Ammons and Von Freeman, among others. Griffin took up the tenor saxophone at age twelve after seeing Ammons play in King Kolax's big band. At eighteen, he left school to join Lionel Hampton's band. Impressed by Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie and the bebop movement, Griffin abandoned his earlier style, based on Johnny Hodges and Ben Webster, and eagerly embraced the dynamic new style of jazz.

After Army service, Griffin gravitated to the music of pianists Elmo Hope, Bud Powell and Thelonious Monk, calling these friendships his "post-graduate education." He played and toured with Monk in the 1950s, and spent some time with Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers before releasing several records under his own name on the Riverside label and others with a kindred soul, Eddie "Lockjaw" Davis.

Griffin left the States in 1963, eventually settling in Paris and recording mostly for European labels. Each April he returned to Chicago to visit family and perform for a week at the Jazz Showcase, and usually spent another week at the Village Vanguard in New York before returning home to his countryside chateau in France.

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

New and Noteworthy

1. Eric Miyashiro Big Band, Pleiades (Village Music)
2. Stockholm Jazz Orchestra, Plays Stockholm Jazz Orchestra (Dragon)
3. Rotterdam Jazz Orchestra, Introducing the RJO (no label)
4. Central NY Jazz Orchestra, Then, Now & Again (CNY)
5. Klas Lindquist Nonet, Lift Off (Phono Suecia)
6. Marcus Shelby Jazz Orchestra, Harriet Tubman (Noir Records)
7. Ninth+Lincoln, Untitled (Dazzle Records)
8. Bobby Vince Paunetto, Paunetto's Point (RSVP Records)
9. Norrbotten Big Band, Worth the Wait (Fuzzy Music)
10. Frank Macchia/Prague Orchestra, Landscapes (NJO)
11. University of Northern Colorado Jazz Ensemble, Here in the Now (UNC Bear Tracks)
12. Mesa Community College, Then and Now (Sea Breeze Vista)
13. Per Tjernberg, Inside Information (Phono Suecia)
14. Brad Linx/Brussels Jazz Orchestra, Changing Faces (O+ Music)
15. Paul Keller Orchestra, A Tribute to Benny Goodman (PKO Records)

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