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

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

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.

Presentation 1: Treasures from the Archive -Rare recordings and memorabilia from the Los Angeles Jazz Institute Archive

In place of a panel discussion, Ken Poston programmed and delivered a fascinating photographic story of Woody Herman's life. Some fascinating memorabilia was included in the program, including young Woody's own pencil sketches of WW1 aircraft. Early shots were shown of a very young Woody in the Tom Guerin and Isham Jones bands, and of the re- forming of the band under his own leadership, as 'The Band That Plays The Blues,' in 1936, the year in which he and wife Charlotte were married. Key players such as drummer Frankie Carlson, pianist Tommy Linehan were identified. Although this band began as a cooperative, and pictures of the band members' stock certificates from the archive were viewed, Woody subsequently bought the band outright from its members in 1942. Ken showed a variety of vintage photos, flyers, posters and magazine articles of the band. Lady trumpeter Billie Rogers, who joined the band in the early 1940s, was shown featured as a poster-girl for the band. By 1944, the First Herd was an established unit, and candid photos of many of the personalities were shown, including bassist Chubby Jackson, trombonist Bill Harris, pulling his myriad funny faces, and Pete Candoli in his superman outfit, in which he would famously appear on stage, with trumpet blazing; and lady vibraphonist Margie Hyams. Some excerpts from home-movies of the First Herd and their shenanigans were shown, usually with Chubby Jackson in the centre of the action.

The photographic journey continued with discussion and pictures in relation to Woody's disbandment in 1946 and comeback in 1947, the headlines and articles in Downbeat magazine, and shots from the film Hit Parade 1947. Pictures were shown of the new Second Herd players, including the evolving lineup of the Four Brothers saxophonists, and later arrivals in trumpeter Red Rodney, bassist Oscar Pettiford and drummer Shelly Manne. Excerpts of the wonderful, color home movies of the band filmed by Manne's wife, Florence 'Flip' Manne—"On The Road With Woody" in 1949, including the band baseball team in action. Footage was seen of the One Night Stand with the Battle of the Bands (the Herd vs. Charlie Barnet band)—more about this later!

Woody disbanded in 1949, gathered a smaller ensemble, the 'Woodchoppers,' for an overseas tour, and then around 1950 re-formed his Third Herd, enjoying a long engagement at the Palladium in 1951. Woody founded 'Mars Records' in 1952. Some key players of the Third Herd were shown, including trombone virtuoso Carl Fontana, and the next generation of 'Brothers' including Dick Hafer, Bill Perkins, Jerry Coker and baritonist Jack Nimitz. It was commented that this lineup continued the Lestorian 'Brothers' section sound. Various shots of later Herds from the 1960s and 1970s were shown, including the 1974 collaboration with Frank Sinatra. All in all it was an informative visual history of the band, and Ken must be commended for collating the material and putting together a splendid presentation.

Concert 6: The Great Fontana—Scott Whitfield Plays Carl Fontana

Scott Whitfield has established a solid reputation as an outstanding virtuoso trombonist, as an inspired soloist, and also as an accomplished vocalist. The combination of his warm sound, rhythmic suppleness and sure sense of swing, highly developed melodic sensibility and fine craftsmanship, has built his capacity to improvise consistently at a very high level, with a very congenial, lyrical style. One of Whitfield's inspirations is the late, great Carl Fontana, one of the finest Herman alumni, who emerged as a brilliant trombone soloist in the mid-1950s Third Herd. This intimate quartet performance was a loving tribute to the music of Fontana, and featured Whitfield with a fabulous trio of Jeff Colella on piano, Jennifer Leitham on bass and Kendall Kay on drums, playing mainly standards and some Whitfield originals.

Some years prior, Whitfield and fellow trombone titan, Andy Martin, recorded a live album pair A Tribute To Carl Fontana Vol 1. & 2., and two of the tunes from that recording were featured here. Opening with a happy "A Beautiful Friendship" at a medium tempo with Kaye's crisp brushwork, Whitfield played three magnificent trombone choruses, and Colella responded with a contrasting, slower paced piano solo, beginning lightly and sparingly, and gradually rising in intensity. Leitham followed with a bouncing, energetic bass solo, before each enjoyed friendly trades with drummer Kaye. "Carl," written by Bill Holman for Fontana, was a fun, up-tempo swinger with clever melodic twists and left turns, and an inspired, energetic solo from Whitfield, probing Colella piano, swinging Leitham bass with inspired cross rhythms, and a finely crafted Kaye drum solo chorus. Whitfield has frequently acknowledged Fontana's capacity to make wonderful jazz out of any tune, and his propensity to surprise audiences with obscure or unlikely choices. Arlen's "If Only I Had A Brain," from The Wizard Of Oz, falls into this category. This charming, cheery melody, was taken in a samba groove, and kicked off with Colella's piano solo, again playing with great economy and building intensity. Whitfield again enthralled with a brilliantly fluid and melodic, upper-register virtuoso solo and Leitham with her rhythmic vitality and Kaye with his neat drum trades.

Alex Budman played the theme à la Woody, followed by solos followed from Jerry Pinter 's lean, muscular tenor Jack Redmond's lively trombone, Peter Olstad's hot trumpet, before the key changes and crescendos and eventual screaming trumpets brought this iconic piece of Herman to its final bar. An exciting arrangement of "Stompin' At The Savoy" began in a mellow mood and quickly settled into a faster pace and bass register with baritone sax and trombones. Crisp solos were heard from Budman's clarinet, Roger Neumann's tenor and Rich Eames' piano, before a subdued return to the melody, before a strong finish. "Music To Dance To" by Al Cohn was an upbeat swinger with a happy reed section melody, with short, punchy solos from Rob Lockart and Neumann on tenor saxophones, Ron King on trumpet and a warm-toned Jacques Voyemant on trombone. The ballad "Love Letters" featured an impassioned alto sax lead from Jerry Pinter, appealing trumpet section harmonies and melodic Voyemant trombone, and ended quietly as it had begun. "I've Got The World On A String" pared the group down to a band-within-a-band of Budman on clarinet, Ron Stout on trumpet, and the rhythm section of Eames, Dave Stone and leader Berkowitz. Each took a whole chorus of solo, beginning with Budman who played a stunning clarinet solo—with his warm sound and playful, dancing, swinging phrases, the audience in the palm of his hand -one of the outstanding solos of the festival. Eames followed with a sparkling piano solo, and Stout played a contrastingly mellow solo, with bluesy inflections, his trumpet sounding more like a flugelhorn. Stone's bass solo achieved a relaxed bounce before Budman's playful, uninhibited clarinet returned to the melody.

"Celestial Blues" was an opportunity for many to take a solo: Rob Lockart's swaggering tenor; Ron Stout's marvelous, harmonically-outside trumpet; Adam Schroeder's big-sounded baritone; Jack Redmond's incisive, staccato trombone, Bobby Shew's contrasting, laid-back trumpet and Rich Eames' bluesy piano. After two nice ensemble shout choruses over the Charlie Parker blues changes, it was back to the main riff and then home. The trombone feature, "Four Others," a mid-tempo blues, featured the (!!!) three bones with some nice harmonies, and punchy trumpet section work, a bold, assertive solo from Voyemant and a lively one from Jack Redmond. The title-track "Men From Mars" featured a boppy, unison riff from the reeds, with a bone section unison reply. Solos followed from Lockart's rock-solid tenor, Voyemant's jolly trombone, Shew's boppy, bluesy trumpet and Budman's playful clarinet.

The homonymously named "Would He?" featured a 'brothers' sax section sound and featured some powerhouse ensemble playing, vigorous drumming from Dave Tull, and some vital, albeit brief, solos from Voyemant, Lockart and Eames. "Mulligantawny," Bill Holman's nod to a musician colleague (and perhaps to an Anglo-Indian soup), is a minor blues began with a chorus of Dave Stone's walking bass and Dave Tull's tasteful brushes, before a melody chorus of Schroeder's baritone and a second with the full reed section, and some neat sax soli choruses. The arrangement is an early example of the polyphonic, dense, swinging writing that has long been a hallmark of the indefatigable Holman's brilliant charts. Fine solos were heard from Neumann's muscular tenor, Budman's soaring clarinet and Shew's bluesy trumpet, before Schroeder took charge of the final melody. The final offering, the piece de resistance, was a very fast "Apple Honey," taken at nearly 300 beats per minute (yes, I counted bars for 10 seconds, and 'did the math'). It featured some ferocious tenor work from Lockart, fiery harmon-muted trumpet from Mark Lewis, more sedate trombone from Voyemant; bold, sinewy post-bop tenor from Pinter, and more brilliant clarinet from Budman. Ron King carried off well the final Pete Candoli screaming trumpet blast and survived, and there was plenty of appreciative applause for a very enjoyable celebration of the Third Herd.

Film Session 3: The Swinging Herman Herd -Rare Films from the Los Angeles Jazz Institute Archive

Ken Poston began the third installment in the Woody Herman story on film, with the Herd's 1953 television appearance on the TIMEX Show, with host Steve Allen. This occasion featured Third Herd sidemen (such as Paul Quinichette and Nat Pierce), and distinguished alumni as guests or re-joiners of the band (including Al Cohn, Chubby Jackson, Don Lamond , Zoot Sims, and Bill Harris) in spirited performances of "Apple Honey," Horace Silver's "The Preacher" and "Woodchopper's Ball." A further late 1950s television appearance on the The Big Record, with host Patti Page, featured the band playing "Blues on Parade,""Blues In The Night,""Amen,""Stars Fell On Alabama" with Woody joining a crooning quartet, and a mighty "Caldonia."

Ken described this period in the late 1950s, when Woody was contracted to Verve records at a time in which few big bands were still surviving, and then later in the early 1960s, when he signed with Philips, there seemed a kind of rebirth of interest in big bands, and he remarked on how the Herd's repertoire changed and adapted. Important new faces who gave shape to the 1960s Herds were mentioned, including trumpeter Bill Chase, tenor men Sal Nistico and Joe Romano, trombonist Phil Wilson, and baritonist Nick Brignola. Jazz writer Ralph Gleason, who was working with Woody on a biography at the time, featured the band on three Jazz Casual television shows in 1963, in which each of these soloists were seen and heard to advantage, including an excellent and candid filming of Woody rehearsing the band reading through a complex Bill Holman chart. A 1964 'Edie Adams Show' featured the band with Nistico tearing into a very fast "Apple Honey," and then her languid, flat voice with the band singing "Happiness Is A Thing Called Joe." The Swinging Sixties footage featured "Four Brothers" where the divergence was beginning to be noticeable between the continuing Lestorian sax section sound and the more forward looking solo styles of each player. Finally, Ken showed footage from the Steve Race Introduces Jazz series, in the swinging but demanding Bill Holman arrangement of "After You've Gone," featuring Nistico on tenor and the mighty Jake Hanna on drums.
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