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Let's Give Thanks for the DVD


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As there isn't much to report—well, nothing, actually—about big bands this month, I'll use the space to say a few words in praise of the DVD. Yes, I know there aren't a whole lot of jazz DVDs on the market, especially big band videos, but there are a few, and I'm grateful for every one of them, as they enable me to see as well as hear some of my favorite bands, past and present. Not that I have the time to do that, but they are there waiting in case I should ever set aside enough spare moments to relax and enjoy them.

Of all the marvelous bands that have come and gone through the years—Basie, Ellington, Kenton, Herman, Lunceford, Gillespie, Goodman, the Dorseys, Miller, James, Barnet, Krupa, Hampton, Thornhill, Florence, Ferguson, Jones / Lewis, Clarke / Boland, the Boss Brass, to name a few—and the many that remain active today (Holman, Clayton / Hamilton, Wilson, Akiyoshi / Tabackin, Kubis and others), the band that has always been closest to my heart is the one led by the greatest big-band drummer I've ever heard or ever hope to hear, the incomparable Buddy Rich. Luckily for those of us who cherish fond memories of Rich's formidable ensembles, the band was recorded on a number of occasions, and there are in my library half a dozen DVDs to serve as a reminder of how awesome those bands really were. There may be other recordings by Rich and his ensembles; the ones I have are Live at The Top (1973), The Lost Tapes, Channel One Suite, Live in '78, Live at the 1982 Montreal Jazz Festival and Up Close (1982). I also have two memorial albums, The Making of "Burning for Buddy" and The Buddy Rich Memorial Scholarship Concerts, each one featuring various drummers paying tribute to Rich. I wish there were videos of Rich's great band from the late 1960s on which two of my friends, trumpeter Bobby Shew and tenor saxophonist Jay Corre, played leading roles, but if any are available I've yet to find them.

Other celebrated bands on DVD include Toshiko Akiyoshi / Lew Tabackin (Strive for Jive), Count Basie (Live in '62), Louie Bellson (And His Big Band), Maynard Ferguson (Live at The Top, 1975), Dizzy Gillespie (Live in '58 and '70), Lionel Hampton (Live in '58), Woody Herman (Live in '64) and Quincy Jones (Live in 1960). Again, there may be others but those are the ones I have in hand, along with lesser-known groups such as the Robert Bachner Big Band (Live in Vienna), Tommy Igoe and the Birdland Big Band (Live from New York), the City Rhythm Orchestra with organist Joey DeFrancesco (Vibrant Tones), the NDR Big Band with vocalist Roberta Gambarini, the Steve Huffsteter Big Band (Gathered Around), the Las Vegas Jazz Connection (Remembering Russ Freeman), the Madison (WI) Mellophonium Jazz Orchestra (In Concert), the Frank Mantooth Jazz Orchestra from 1997, the Eric Miyashiro Big Band with Bobby Shew, the Resonance Big Band (A Tribute to Oscar Peterson), the Mike Treni Big Band (Turnaround) and the University of North Texas One O'Clock Lab Band (Lab 2007).

As is true of CDs (not so much now as in years past), sound quality varies from one DVD to the next, as do picture quality and production standards. There may be one camera or many, fixed or in motion, stable or spastic. There are times, however, when the music transcends every limitation, as on a DVD recorded by the Toledo Jazz Orchestra with guest artist, tenor saxophonist Zoot Sims. Sound and picture are dreadful, but the concert was taped in February 1985, less than a month before Sims passed away at age 59. It was perhaps the last performance he ever gave, and as such warrants a place of honor in any library, warts and all. And yes, Sims was playing as well as ever, with nary a hint of any illness. He was born swinging and went out the same way.

There are, of course, more than big bands in the DVD library. Among the small group videos worth mentioning are those by pianist Hank Jones, trumpeter Chuck Mangione, baritone saxophonist Gerry Mulligan, trumpeter Marvin Stamm and another by Zoot Sims, this one with a quartet taped, I believe, in San Francisco. Documentaries are beginning to appear as well, and they include splendid overviews of the lives of Benny Goodman, Artie Shaw, drummer Stan Levey (The "Original" Original), Rob McConnell and the Boss Brass, Bud Shank (Against the Tide) and Phil Woods (A Life in E Flat), with others on Stan Kenton and Woody Herman among those in the works. Last but not least, mention must be made of our own Albuquerque Jazz Orchestra, which has recorded videos with trumpeters Wayne Bergeron and Scott Wendholt and others showcasing the music of Dizzy Gillespie and Johnny Richards' "Cuban Fire" suite, as well as a live broadcast on KUNM Radio. In sum, what has been videotaped to date is less than a treasure chest but enough to give anyone many hours of pleasure. And for that we should be thankful.

Northwoods Camp Returns

Saxophonist Kim Richmond says the annual Northwoods Jazz Camp will be held May 11-14 at the Holiday Acres Resort in Rhinelander, Wisconsin. Owing to the size of the resort, the number of students is limited to 25-30, so those who are interested in attending are encouraged to sign up as soon as possible. As usual, the Northwoods Big Band will be a part of the camp whose faculty members include Richmond, trumpeter Clay Jenkins, trombonist Scott Whitfield, guitarist Tom Hynes, pianist Lee Tomboulian, bassist Jeff Campbell, drummer Tim Davis and vocalist Betty Tomboulian. For information, visit the camp's web site, www.northwoodsjazzcamp.com

A Farewell to Margaret Whiting

Margaret Whiting, whose long and successful singing career on radio, television and in night clubs began when she was a teenager in California, died January 10 in Englewood, New Jersey, She was 86 years old. As the daughter of Hollywood songwriter Richard Whiting (whose hit songs included "Sleepy Time Gal," "Beyond the Blue Horizon," "Too Marvelous for Words" and "Hooray for Hollywood"), Margaret Whiting became friends with a number of other writers including Jerome Kern and Johnny Mercer, whose lyrics helped launch her career when at age 18 she recorded Mercer / Harold Arlen's "That Old Black Magic." Next came "Moonlight in Vermont," followed in 1945 by Rodgers and Hammerstein's "It Might as Well Be Spring." Mercer penned the lyrics to another Whiting hit, "Come Rain or Come Shine," and her duet with Mercer, "Baby It's Cold Outside," spent 19 weeks on Billboard magazine's list of hit songs. Whiting had more successes with "A Tree in the Meadow," "Now Is the Hour" and "Faraway Places," and her nine duets with country music star Jimmy Wakeley, brought more accolades. Whiting recorded her last big hit, "The Wheel of Hurt," in 1966. She was a regular on television in its early years, and later appeared in touring productions of such Broadway plays as "Call Me Madam," "Gypsy," "Pal Joey" and "Over Here!" In the 1950s she had co-starred in the TV comedy "Those Whiting Girls" with her younger sister, Barbara, who died in 2004. In 1997, Whiting appeared on Broadway for the first and only time in "Dream," a tribute to her lifelong friend Johnny Mercer who died in 1976.

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

New and Noteworthy

1. Ray Brown's Great Big Band, Kayak (Brown Cats Productions)

2. Marcus Shelby Orchestra, Soul of the Movement (Porto Franco Records)

3. Dirk Fischer & George Stone, Coming of Age (Sea Breeze)

4. Dani Felber Big Band, More Than Just Friends (No Label)

5. John Burnett Swing Orchestra, Down for Double (Delmark)

6. Bobby Watson / UMKC Jazz Orchestra, Gates BBQ Suite (Lafiya Music)

7. Fatum Brothers Jazz Orchestra, Here to Say! (No Label)

8. Kurt Rosenwinkel and OJM, Our Secret World (Word of Mouth Music)

9. Mike Barone Big Band, Live 2005! Redux (Rhubarb Records)

10. Paquito D'Rivera / WDR Big Band, Improvise—One (Connector Records)

11. University of North Texas One O'Clock Lab Band, Lab 2010 (UNT Jazz)

12. Stephen Guerra Big Band, Namesake (Bada Beep Music)

13. Seattle Repertory Jazz Orchestra, The Endless Search (Origin)

14. Western Australia Youth Jazz Orchestra, Road to Red Hill (WAYJO)

15. University of Wisconsin—Eau Claire, Soul Searching (Sea Breeze Vista)

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