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Los Angeles Jazz Institute Festival "Big Band Spectacular" 2017, Part 1-4

Simon Pilbrow By

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Los Angeles Jazz Institute Festival Big Band Spectacular
LAX Westin Hotel
Los Angeles, CA
May 24-28, 2017

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4

Organised by Ken Poston, head of the Los Angeles Jazz Institute (LAJI), and advertised as the "Largest Big Band Festival of all time!," this was a fine exposition of many of the best big bands from the greater Los Angeles area and a celebration of the rich traditions of the big band in jazz, past and present. Poston has organised twice yearly five-day festivals for over twenty years, generally with themes that re-create an earlier era and draw from the vast and rich archive of music held at the LAJI, and representing many decades of West Coast jazz activity. Recent themes have included a 100th birthday Sinatra retrospective, "Something Cool," re-creating the 1949-1959 cool jazz story; festivals celebrating the music of Buddy Rich, Stan Kenton, and others. Later this year will be a celebration of Gerry Mulligan's music.

On this occasion, Ken assembled some of the finest of contemporary West Coast big bands, most of which rehearse regularly, perform whenever they have opportunity, and some of which are fortunate to tour interstate and internationally, and document their music in recordings when it can be afforded. Most are run by gifted and accomplished composer/arrangers, which is often the only way to keep big band scale jazz viable in the current climate. These bands are populated by the large talent pool of fine Los Angeles musicians whose lives have been lived in various combinations of studio work, teaching and playing jazz at any opportunity, and who dedicate time to rehearse and play in one or more of these fine bands, because the music is intrinsically good, adventurous and challenging and because it keeps the art alive and evolving.

Some of these bands are committed to particular areas of earlier repertoire (e.g. Ellingtonia, as in the Mike Price Big Band), or maintaining the rich legacy of a particular West Coast musician (e.g. the Clare Fischer Big Band led by son Brent Fischer + The Clare Fischer Ensembles), or preserving and extending the broader modern jazz repertoire (e.g. the Luckman Jazz Orchestra); or re-creating or extending the music of the past in fresh or novel ways (e.g. Phil Norman Tentet, Gary Urwin Jazz Orchestra, Peter Myers Orchestra). Some have an interest in incorporating classical music into jazz big band repertoire (Bill Cunliffe Bachanalia). Other bands are quite forward looking, either extending the language while rooted in the deep traditions of the music (Gordon Goodwin's Big Phat Band) or breaking new territory in a freer jazz zone (Joey Sellers Aggregation), or incorporating an open-ended, diverse range of influences beyond jazz (John Daversa). Some are led by strong hornplayers who also have strong compositional or arranging skills (Bill Watrous, Carl Saunders, Scott Whitfield). Some have broken ground in other ways, such as the Ann Patterson's Maiden Voyage, which champions women's place in jazz, both in terms of showcasing its all-female line-up, and in playing often forgotten repertoire of some great ladies of jazz. Others are simply concerned with playing swinging jazz big band music with less conscious emphasis on innovation (Roger Neumann). Some have strong, individual identities of their arranger/leaders' arranging styles (Mike Barone, Bill Holman). As a consequence, there was a greatly varied line-up of fine big bands in the festival, all of which are committed to swinging big band jazz in all these many forms, to disciplined section playing of a very high standard, to giving solo opportunities to the many brilliant improvisers, and to provide rich playing opportunities to younger generation players who share the stage with the more seasoned players.

A large number of great musicians were involved, many in more than one band, and several were involved in multiple bands, Jamie Hovorka evidently topping the list with his appearances in about fourteen concerts and incredible stamina. It was great to see such a mix of ages on the stands, ranging from early '20s, through to late '80s, with the indefatigable baritone saxophonist Bob Efford probably.the eldest at 89. There were, as always, outstanding players on all instruments, but one particular observation at this festival was the depth of trombone talent featured—there seemed to be so many brilliant trombone solos throughout the festival from a great number of fine players, young and old.

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