Lalo Schifrin's "Gillespiana" Thrills Yet Again

J. Robert Bragonier By

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Schifrin expressed his deep appreciation and love for Dizzy Gillespie, the person responsible for bringing him from Argentina to join the Gillespie band...
Wednesday evening, October 27th, a moderately filled Catalina Bar and Grill in Hollywood (and about eight members of Alfredo Cruz's UCLA Extension Latin Jazz class, including yours truly) attended the opening first show of Lalo Schifrin's dramatic "Gillespiana," featuring the colorful, stratospheric Gillespie disciple John Faddis on trumpet and the impeccable Tom Scott on alto sax and flute. The suite was very well received in no small part because of the quality of the soloists and band assembled for the occasion; the warmth and affection in which the modest and gracious composer is held; and the lucid and cogent presentation he provided before the suite was played.
Schifrin expressed his deep appreciation and love for Dizzy Gillespie, the person responsible for bringing him from Argentina to join the Gillespie band, and without whose request for him to "write something for us," the suite would never have been created. In Schifrin's words:
"Diz had been one of my greatest inspirations (still is), and the composition process was intense and exhilarating. A few days later, I took the sketches of 'Gillespiana' to his home and played them on the piano. When I finished, he asked me 'How are you going to orchestrate this work?' I replied 'I hear a jazz quintet... plus a brass band.'"
And that is exactly what we heard, with the addition of a dynamic Latin percussion section, composed of Joey DeLeon and Rick Garcia. But, more about that in a bit.

Schifrin also explained in some detail each of the five movements of the suite, and how they relate to the different facets of Gillespie's musical personality: The first ( Prelude , lasting approximately seven minutes) is jazz, and pays tribute to the primacy of jazz in Gillespie's life and music; the second ( Blues , lasting 12 minutes) recognizes the importance of blues to jazz in general and Gillespie in particular; the third ( Panamericana , about 5 1/2 minutes), gives credit first to Chano Pozo for his role in infusing Gillespie's music with a Cuban flavor, and secondarily to Jamaica, the Dominican Republic, Mexico, and other Pan American states for their contributions to Latin Jazz; the fourth (the 14-minute Africana ) recognizes the underlying significance of the rhythms and chants of Africa to the music of all these countries and to jazz; while the fifth ( Toccata , the longest, approaching 15 minutes in length) represents a synthesis of all these influences, as they were combined in Gillespie's life and music, by merging the suite's themes and rhythms into an intelligible, dramatic, and exciting whole.

Not that the music wouldn't have stood on its own merit; it has been presented to critical acclaim in multiple venues since its completion, including both Carnegie Hall and Lincoln Center. But it was certainly helpful for this gentle man and exemplary teacher to bring us all along, as he led the responsive ensemble on this journey once more.

Other members of the jazz quintet included Schifrin himself on piano (his improvisations were fresh and exciting, and his joy, obvious); the versatile and ever-dependable David Carpenter on bass; and the legendary Alex Acuña on drums; both the latter provided superb solos in their own right. Besides Faddis, trumpets were Rick Baptist, Wayne Bergeron, Bob Summers, and Scotty Barnhart; trombones: Bob McChesney, Alan Kaplan, Wendell Kelly, and Bryant Byers (bass trombone); and Tommy Johnson on tuba. Both McChesney and Kaplan provided dynamic solos, but the shared microphone failed to amplify their efforts adequately. The only saxophone in the ensemble was Scott's; the remainder of the reed section was replaced by four French horns: Rick Todd, Brad Warnaar, Kurt Snyder, and Jean Marinelli; Todd's breathtaking horn solo was as unexpected as it was virtuosic.

"Gillespiana's" stay at the Catalina runs through Saturday evening, October 30th.

Visit Lalo Schifrin and the Catalina Bar & Grill on the web.

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