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Los Angeles Jazz Institute Festival - Woodchopper's Ball: Part 3-4

Simon Pilbrow By

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Championed by the Charlie Barnet band in the 1940s in a Billy May arrangement, this tune had early captured the imagination of the innovative young saxophonist, Charlie Parker. The possibilities he saw in the chord progression on its bridge, became an epiphany moment in Parker's musical development and in the evolution of modern jazz, Cherokee ultimately becoming essential bebop syllabus, and a tune which most jazz musicians since have cut their musical teeth. It was a fitting inclusion in the original Herman-Barnet encounter of 1949 for the players to spruik their bebop chops, and a welcome all-in blast at this re-enactment, complete with a double rhythm section, and two pianists playing musical chairs. Peplowski launched with the melody, followed by lyrical bebop trumpet fire from Bobby Shew, fleet trombone trades between Whitfield and Voyemant, vigorous tenor from Dave Moody, trading 'fours' from the Herman trumpet section, with Winston Byrd's stratospheric trumpet being particularly memorable. There followed more of Peplowski's bubbling clarinet, the Herman band saxophone 'brothers,' quirky piano trades from Cox and O'Rourke, a chorus of Alan Kaplan's trombone, a Ron King trumpet solo that seemed to drop in from the sky, a bass chorus of Dave Stone and Katie Thiroux soloing and walking alternately, and a raucous band finale, with nearly thirty horns playing the melody in a ragged unison, and a two-drum battle between Matt Witek and Berkowitz on the bridge. After all had drawn breath, the Barnet band played "Bop City," by Kai Winding, arranged by Manny Albam, which was a fast tour-de-force for the band.

Blaring brass introduced a boppy trombone melody, a fiery ensemble bridge, with nice bone harmonies. Passionate solos followed from Kaplan's trombone, Moody's tenor and Rusty Higgins alto sax, before vigorous ensemble work with fiery drum breaks brought it to its conclusion. The Herman band responded at a similar pace with Shorty Rogers "Boomsie," featuring Peplowski's clarinet and unison reeds, with strong solos from himself, Brian Williams on tenor, Keith Bishop's mighty baritone, Jim Cox's energetic piano, Shorty Rogers, and based on another bebop anthem, Morgan Lewis' "How High The Moon." The combined brass sections played the bebop melody line together, with woodwind backgrounds. This was another chance for the players to show their improvising chops, Doug Webb kicking off with two powerful tenor choruses, followed by trombonists Whitfield and Kaplan, trading with each other across the two bands; some feisty Rusty Higgins alto sax, and more strong bass from Katie Thiroux. Representatives from both trumpet sections traded vigorously—Barnet's Bobby Shew and Ron King versus Herman's Jeff Bunnell and Winston Byrd, the latter's pyrotechnics a standout and seemingly done with great ease. After piano trades between Cox and O'Rourke, the combined ensembles were 'all-in' again for some soaring Peplowski clarinet and drum breaks from the Herman band's Matt Witek and the Barnet band's Berkowitz, and it was all over. This was a fitting finale to a fun, two-band stage battle-of-sorts, and the victors were...well, it's not about winning or losing...it's how you play the game...but it is tempting to say that the Herman band probably had the edge on the day.
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