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Los Angeles Jazz Institute Festival - Woodchopper's Ball: Part 1-4

Simon Pilbrow By

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Los Angeles Jazz Institute Festival "Woodchoppers' Ball"
Four Points by Sheraton at LAX
Los Angeles, CA
May 23-27, 2018

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4

The Los Angeles Jazz Institute (LAJI), under Ken Poston, has continued for some thirty years to keep alive and celebrate jazz and its rich legacy, largely, but not exclusively, focused on West Coast Jazz, curating a large archive of recorded music, scores, film, and general memorabilia and presenting live music performances. It also releases special rare recordings on CD. Twice each year the LAJI presents a first-class, four-and-a-half day festival, in late May and in late October, generally built around a theme or the work of a particular significant musician. Drawing upon their large archive of musical scores, and a large group of mainly Los Angeles-based jazz musicians, young and not-so-young, and special guests, the festival re-creates a feast of marvelous, historically important music, and draws visitors from across the USA, and from further afield -UK, Europe, Australia and beyond. In addition to the outstanding musical performances, Ken Poston incorporates fascinating and well-sourced, daily film sessions pertinent to the music being presented, and stimulating, daily panel discussions with the musicians. Many of those in the audience have attended these festivals for many years and have had repeated rich experiences of a wide range of music, and have connected regularly in person with a large array of the great jazz musicians past and present who continue to commit their talents and time to these excellent musical events. From a musical standpoint, these festivals create vital crossroads between the old and the new -timeless musical arrangements brought to life by a cross-generational mix of fine musicians who play the charts authentically and with great care, whilst bringing the freshness of their often more contemporary improvised solos. Old bottles, new wine, as they say.

Recently they presented a marvelous celebration of the music of the great bandleader Woody Herman. Over five decades beginning in the mid 1930s, Herman presided over an evolving big band that repeatedly reshaped the sound-scape of jazz, with an ever-expanding repertoire of music written by young up-and-coming composer/arrangers and brilliant lineups of young, innovative musicians who would fill its sections and aspire to its soloist ranks. Woody was an incredible leader and talent scout, and many jazz musician's careers were given healthy exposure and a kick-start from their tenures with Woody. This festival featured many distinguished Herman alumni—among them vibraphonist Terry Gibbs, at 93, probably the only 2nd Herd alumnus still alive, in an enthralling panel/interview; trumpeters Bobby Shew, Mark Lewis and Ron Stout; trombonist John Fedchock, tenor saxophonists Frank Tiberi, Larry McKenna, Roger Neumann, Gary Anderson, Jerry Pinter , baritonist Mike Brignola; pianist Alan Broadbent, drummers Jeff Hamilton and Jim Rupp. Whilst these alumni were prominent in the many ensembles, many other outstanding players were featured in each of the bands and contributed outstanding solos. There was opportunity to hear many fine clarinetists wearing the Woody clarinet 'mantle' in various concerts—Ken Peplowski, Alex Budman, Kim Richmond, Frank Tiberi and others. Other outstanding soloists who were well featured included trombonists Scott Whitfield and Dan Barrett paying tribute to Carl Fontana and Bill Harris, respectively, tenor saxophonists Don Menza and Harry Allen, in tributes to Stan Getz and Flip Phillips. Featured in most performances was the drum set belonging to the late Herman alumnus, drummer Ed Shaughnessy.

Organized chronologically, the concerts, film presentations and panels each began with Woody's earliest music and worked their way through the five decades sequentially, as the Woody Herman musical story unfolded over the four-and-a-half days. Within the scope of the festival and rehearsal time, and in view of Herman's massive recorded output, the music presented was carefully chosen, representative and comprehensive, all the key Herman music being included. There was a good mix of big band and smaller group concerts. There were no major omissions -larger scale works such as Broadbent's "Blues In The Night" and the Children of Lima orchestral scores were clearly beyond the scope of this festival.

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