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Los Angeles Jazz Institute Festival - Woodchopper's Ball: Part 2-4

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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

Concert 4: Keen and Peachy: Music of the Woody Herman Second Herd -Directed by Michael Berkowitz

Woody Herman's Second Herd was one of the most exciting bands of early modern jazz, and achieved a high level of performance as it translated much of the modern language of jazz—rhythmically, harmonically—and the virtuosity required of ensemble and soloist, into an exciting big band sound and style. During the introduction, mention was made of the importance of the arrangers such as Shorty Rogers, Ralph Burns, without whom the textures and harmonies of this nascent modern big band could not have been realised. Michael Berkowitz led a sterling big band lineup to deliver a well-chosen sampling of the music of this historic group.

The band opened with Johnny Mandel's fast-tempo, "Not Really The Blues," and Harry Allen launched into a blistering tenor solo, followed by a feisty trombone solo from Paul Young. The trumpet section tore into a brilliant upper register unison passage, before a Woody-ish clarinet solo from Ken Peplowski, some crescendo brass section work before trumpeter Jeff Bunnell was skyrocketed into an all-too-brief, upper register solo. "The Great Lie" showcased pianist Josh Nelson in some fleet, upper treble tremolos and block chords, followed by engaging solos from trombonist Scott Whitfield, and Herman alumni tenor saxophonist Roger Neumann and trumpeter Mark Lewis.

Ralph Burns' "Lady McGowan's Dream" was a feature for the lead alto sax of Jerry Pinter who took the melody and then played a vigorous alto solo that began seductively and became increasingly bold and swaggering. Lovely ensemble passages with Ron Stout, a haunting, full-bodied tenor solo from Neumann, returning to Pinter's bold alto for the final melody. "Keen and Peachy," Burns' and Rogers' reworking of "Fine and Dandy," took off with the reed section carrying the catchy melody and unison lines with feisty brass punctuations. Solos followed in quick succession from Ken Peplowski's fleet tenor, Whitfield's lively trombone, Adam Schroeder's fast, gruff baritone, Allen's ebullient tenor, and Jerry Pinter's big-toned tenor. "Sidewalks of Cuba," another Burns arrangement, began with its unison reed lines and brass blasts, kicking off an exuberant trumpet solo from Mark Lewis, a cheerful boppy piano solo from Nelson, and soaring clarinet from Peplowski, and more hearty ensemble work from the band. The up-tempo, swinging "Keeper Of The Flame," another Rogers original, gave way to imaginative solos from Schroeder, Nelson, Pinter and Young, before a powerful, upper register trumpet solo from Mark Lewis. "Down Under," composed by Dizzy Gillespie for the Herman band and recorded in 1942, is a remarkable early bebop offering from the trumpet giant, taken at a medium- fast tempo, with low register unison melody with the sax section and Dave Stone doubling the melody on bass. It featured Peplowski's clarinet soaring in the upper register, and incisive solos from Neumann's bluesy tenor and Lewis' fiery trumpet.

Woody Herman had recorded Gerry Mulligan's arrangement of Charlie Parker's "Yardbird Suite," and this easy-going swinger was brought to life with muted brass section on the melody, handing over to the reeds in the bridge. Solos were heard from Young's muscular trombone, Schroeder's authoritative baritone, Peplowski's velvet-toned tenor, Neumann's bluesy tenor, Jeff Bunnell's cheerful trumpet and Harry Allen's confident tenor. An unexpected inclusion in this Second Herd concert, the perennial Herman clarinet showcase, "Golden Wedding," featured Peplowski on clarinet and Michael Berkowitz on drums, and a fine trumpet solo from Bunnell, with Peplowski's clarinet flying high over Berkowitz's insistent drums. Shorty Rogers composed and arranged "Man, Don't Be Ridiculous," with its boppy, unison reed section head, was a tour-de force for Schroeder, who played the lively bridge and a masterful bebop baritone solo. This was a fitting end to a lively celebration of the music of the Second Herd. One hour could never do justice to the complete repertoire of this seminal Herman outfit: notably, Jimmy Giuffre's "Four Brothers," flagship of the Second Herd, was omitted from this performance. It did feature several times during the festival, including the Al Cohn arrangement in the preceding concert; the classic Giuffre arrangement would feature prominently in the final concert of the festival, led by Frank Tiberi.

Film Session 2: Rhapsody in Wood -Rare Films from the Los Angeles Jazz Institute Archive

Ken Poston continued his delightful and thorough exploration of Woody Herman on film, showing the marvelous 1947 George Pal 'Puppetoon' animation (Paramount) which featured Woody Herman: Rhapsody In Wood. Bookended cleverly by Woody in his checked, lumberjack shirt in a log cabin, this classic features the animated figure of Woody's grandfather as a wood-chopping clarinetist (https://archive.org/details/RhapsodyInWood) and the Herman Herd playing the soundtrack.

Next featured on film was Flip Phillips accompanying Nat "King" Cole on Paper Moon. Poston went on to explain the circumstances of Woody disbanding the First Herd in 1946, due to his wife's health, settling in Los Angeles with his family, keeping a lower musical profile, making only local appearances and recording sessions. He explained how Woody, looking to reform his band the following year, heard bebop trumpeter Ernie Royal playing, conceived of starting up a more bebop-influenced band; how had transplanted the Four Brothers' sax section sound by hiring the nucleus of the reed section he had heard playing Gene Roland charts at Pontrelli's—Stan Getz, Zoot Sims, Herbie Steward (soon replaced by Al Cohn)—adding baritonist Serge Chaloff. Footage was shown of the Will Cowan short Wood Choppers, with the Second Herd playing "Blue Flame," "Sabre Dance," "Caldonia" and "Northwest Passage" with such featured soloists as Getz, Shorty Rogers and drummer Don Lamond.

Poston then showed rare footage of Getz playing "Spring Can Really Hang You Up The Most" (France,1956), and Sims playing his own "The Red Door" (France, 1956; with Pierre Michelot, bass; Kenny Clarke, drums). He explained how news of the impending Musicians Union recording ban of 1948 led Woody to quickly make his way into the Studio to record the Second Herd before the ban took effect. He discussed the challenge that Woody faced with many of the band members and their drug habits; the return of key players in bassist Chubby Jackson, trombonist Bill Harris, vibraphonist Terry Gibbs and pianist Lou Levy. Poston discussed the uniquely uniform sound of the Four Brothers sax section in its original incarnation in 1948 because of the similar, Lester Young-influenced sounds in the individual players; what a fresh sound this brought to this Second Herd and to its audience; how this continued into subsequent Herds, mentioning some of the subsequent 'Brothers,' including Buddy Savitt, Jimmy Giuffre himself and Gene Ammons. He discussed how Woody's herds were able to have more Afro-American players join the band, including Ammons and bassist Oscar Pettiford—whereas, earlier this had been difficult -as mixed race bands could not be shown on film, trumpeter Ernie Royal had to be positioned so as to be off-camera.

Footage was shown of the 1949 Will Cowan short, Herman's Herd, featuring "Jamaica Rhumba" with a virtuoso vibraphone solo from Terry Gibbs, the slow blues, I've Got News For You, a scat feature (name unknown; was not Lemon Drop) with Shorty Rogers, Woody, Gibbs and admirable solos from Gibbs on vibes, Serge Chaloff on baritone and Bill Harris on trombone. Finally the Will Cowan short Woody Herman Varieties from 1951 showed the Third Herd, with such new players as tenor saxophonist Bill Perkins taking solos.

Concert 5: Don Menza Tribute to Stan Getz

Tenor Titan Don Menza has had an outstanding career in jazz. Now in his eighties, he continues to play commanding, inspired tenor saxophone with impeccable time and great fluency of ideas. He played a single concert, in celebration of the music of Stan Getz. He chose to feature music from the late 1950s Stan Getz/Bob Brookmeyer collaboration, teaming up with valve-trombone master Bill Reichenbach and a sympathetic rhythm team of pianist Theo Saunders, bassist Chris Conner and drummer Dick Weller.

Opening with a medium-up-tempo swinger "Varsity Drag," Menza led off with five highly inventive solo choruses of muscular, sinewy post-bop tenor. Reichenbach followed with five fluent choruses of majestic, angular valve trombone. Saunders built his solo from fluid bebop right hand lines into heavier, block-chordal passages, becoming increasingly animated as his five choruses unfolded. Virtuoso bassist Conner played four athletic, clarion-toned solo bass choruses, before spirited Weller drum trades with tenor and bone. A change of pace and sound followed as Bill Reichenbach picked up his bass trumpet, and featured on "Polkadots and Moonbeams," giving it a nice, relaxed ballad treatment, over a spare accompaniment with tasteful brushes from Weller. Reichenbach played a melodic solo chorus that jumped into double time and back again, Saunders and Conner taking thoughtful solo half-choruses, and Reichenbach returning to the bridge, and taking the melody out with tasteful double-time embellishments.

"Spring Is Here" was taken at a medium tempo, Reichenbach's bone taking the melody and Menza's tenor playing nice countermelodies and harmony. Menza's solo had uncharacteristic hesitant moments in the midst of his usual fluid melodic lines and apparent clashes between rhythm section and solo chords. The slightly elongated form of "Spring Is Here" is often truncated for solos to fit a repeating 32 bar structure, and it was soon apparent that the there was a clash of form. After several uncomfortable choruses and unedited frowns from Menza, the form ironed itself out and settled down. A short discussion of form beforehand would have avoided this. Reichenbach saved the day with a happy, playful and adventurous trombone solo, followed by an equally cheerful, boppy Saunders piano solo and a redemptive final head with trombone and tenor.

"We'll Be Together Again" was a ballad feature for maestro Don Menza's tenor saxophone. A beautiful rubato introduction led to Menza's pensive statement of the melody, and an evocative tenor solo began. There are several different variations of chord changes that can be employed on this song, and it became apparent again that there was a clash of chord changes between tenor man and rhythm section. Menza assertively led them forward, but Saunders showed his unfamiliarity with these particular chord changes, once his own solo was underway. This was a shame, but Menza rescued the tune on the final head, circling in and out around the melody, and finishing with a masterly Menza cadenza.

The group redeemed themselves on "Crazy Rhythm," a nod to the Woody Herman Third Herd, taken at a fast tempo. After a spirited drum intro from Weller, the frontline of tenor and bass trumpet was off and running with the melody. Reichenbach took two mighty, fleet and confident choruses, Theo Saunders played two choruses of intelligent but cheeky bebop piano lines and a chordal bridge, Menza followed with four masterful, fluent tenor solo choruses, and after some brilliant frontline trades with drummer Weller, it was back to the melody and a surprise ending.
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