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Marching to a Jazz Tempo

Jack Bowers By

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March came in like a lion in Albuquerque with no less than four blue-chip jazz concerts in the first five days, three of which I attended, passing on the first (the Charlie Christian Project featuring guitarist Michael Anthony and trumpeter Bobby Shew at The Outpost Performance Space) because Betty and I had seen basically the same concert when it debuted last May. On March 2, I was at the Jazzbah nightclub in downtown Albuquerque to see and hear the superb alto saxophonist Bobby Watson and singer Lisa Henry, both from Kansas City, backed by a quintet of precocious teens from the New World School of the Arts in Miami, FL. Saturday evening was reserved for a performance at the acoustically friendly African-American Performing Arts Center by the University of New Mexico's Jazz Band 1 with guest trumpeter Tony Lujan, the following Monday, March 5, for a concert at Manzano High School by the spit-shined U.S. Army Jazz Ambassadors. Betty and I used the Sunday "day off" to drive to the Guild Theatre for an afternoon showing of the marvelous animated film from Cuba, Chico and Rita, whose impressive score (by Cuba's legendary pianist Bebo Valdes) incorporates music by jazz greats from Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie and Thelonious Monk to Woody Herman, Tito Puente and Ben Webster.

Bobby Watson's performance marked the end of a week-long visit to Albuquerque and Santa Fe sponsored by the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz in Los Angeles during which Watson, Henry and their young companions presented a series of clinics and concerts at middle schools and high schools, accompanied by Dr. J.B. Dyas, vice president for education and curriculum development at the Monk Institute. The Institute sponsors a Jazz Combo program at the New World School of the Arts designed to help further the education of Miami's most gifted high school music students. At the Jazzbah, the NWSA quintet opened the program, appropriately enough, with Monk's "I Mean You" and continued with Lee Konitz's "Subconscious-Lee" before introducing Henry who delighted the capacity audience with "Desafinado," Body and Soul" and "Summertime" (the last two accompanied only by bassist Jose Albizu-Campos). Watson, who doubles as director of Jazz Studies at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, closed the first set (I couldn't stay for the second) with three of his own compositions ("Country Cornflakes," "Lemoncello," "ETA") and Duke Ellington's "In a Sentimental Mood," showing clearly why he is one of the country's (and the world's) most celebrated alto saxophonists. Firmly concealing any sign of nerves, the students from NWSA more than held their own, backing Watson and Henry with poise and soloing capably when called upon. Besides Albizu-Campos (age 16), the group consisted of David Leon (18), alto and tenor sax; Harley Basadre (18), guitar; Antonio Madruga (17), piano; and Chris Edwards (18), drums. It was a memorable experience for them, and a splendid treat for those who came to see and hear them perform.

The UNM Jazz Band 1's concert Saturday evening marked the end of a day-long event in which high school and middle school bands presented mini-concerts at UNM and were evaluated by professionals who rated ensembles and individuals and offered suggestions designed to further improve their performances. This year's judges were saxophonists John Davis (University of Colorado), Pete Mills (Denison University) and and an old friend, trumpeter Rob Parton (Capital University). UNM's guest artist, trumpeter Lujan, was born in Albuquerque, where he learned to play trumpet at an early age before embarking on a long and successful career that has included time in big bands led by Clark Terry, Gerald Wilson, Bill Holman and Ray Charles; performances with such popular entertainers as Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett, Robert Goulet, Wayne Newton, Debbie Reynolds, Aretha Franklin and Bob Hope; lead trumpet in national tours of a number of Broadway musicals, and performances on many motion picture soundtracks. He has taught at several universities in California and elsewhere, served as director of the Cape Cod Youth Jazz Orchestra, and teaches jazz theory, composition, arranging and trumpet privately. On this evening, Lujan was preceded onstage by director Glenn Kostur's well-prepared UNM ensemble, which opened the concert with Bob Brookmeyer's lively "Boom Boom," the standard "Skylark" (arranged by Brookmeyer) and Steely Dan's "Bodhisattva," arranged by Fred Sturm. The soloists, each of whom was exemplary, included tenor Scott Jacobsen and trumpeter Elliot Kuzio ("Boom Boom"), pianist Sean Umstead and alto Sam Reid ("Skylark"), guitarist Brandon Chapman, trombonist Joe Schripsema and baritone Orlando Madrid ("Bodhisattva").

Lujan, who tends to make his home in the higher register, opened his half of the program with Wolf Kerschek's "The Main Theme" and his own "Bella Blue," sharing solo space on the former with Jacobsen, on the latter with Jacobsen, Reid, Umstead and the trumpet section. Following the late Peter Herbolzheimer's lovely "Ballad for a Friend," Lujan closed with a pair of his compositions, "Raw Silk" and "El Zapato" ("The Shoe"), named for and dedicated to trumpet hero and fellow Albuquerquean Bobby Shew, who was in the audience. He received solid support from the UNM band whose soloists (Jacobsen, Reid, Umstead, Schripsema, tenor Chris Ogden among them) were in splendid form, as was the rhythm section, spearheaded by drummer Alex Beamer and including Umstead, Chapman and bassist Diego Flores. As for Lujan, while I can appreciate his exceptional technique and virtuosity, I must confess that his solos didn't really grab me emotionally. In other words, more clinical than visceral. But you've gotta love a musician who brings his mother to the concert, as Lujan did.

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