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

Simon Pilbrow By

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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.
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