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Meet Ladd McIntosh

Craig Jolley By

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It's sort of a play on words because I had good times in Mesa, Arizona. Grant Wolf was a jazz educator at Mesa Community College, a two-year school. He'd commissioned the two previous "Suite Mesa's." He was so good students would sign up for a couple of years and end up staying a couple more. He had a series of summer jazz camps (one- or two-weeks long) from about 1972-85, and he hired me for every single one. Clare Fischer, Dick Grove, the great Joe Pass, Gary Foster, and many other pros did some also. He brought his college band up to the festivals in Salt Lake City in the early 1970's. "Taco Tee Shirt," the first movement of "The Last Suite Mesa," has to do with Grant's encounter with a woman with an outrageous message on her T Shirt. There's symbolism, too at the end where it stops and there's this slow trumpet thing played by Fred Forney with lush chords underneath. Fred was a close buddy of Grant, and he took over the program from Grant. It signifies the passing of the torch. "Suite Mesa I" is actually on an album Energy that's still available on Americatone. "Suite Mesa II" is one of the better pieces of music I've done: the melody in the first movement; the melody, the alto solo, and some of those voicings in the second movement; the third movement which is really humorous; the way I bring everything in at the end—I echo what was at the beginning, but I play with it more with the clarinets and orchestration.

Orchestral color

I use a lot of different instrument combinations to create different colors in my writing. Geoff Stradling, my pianist and a former student, was saying he remembers an arranging class where I gave a handout (he still has it) of 800 different ways to come up with color combinations within a big band-combining various mutes, unison trumpet with this, combining flugelhorn with that. The trombones are a choir all by themselves, wonderfully versatile. Kenton had five of them, and there was a reason for that. I love to put the trombones in unison with the baritone and the tenors. The bass trombone and the baritone saxophone—I give them different tasks. The band doesn't sound the same all the time because of the colors. It's going to be even more noticeable on the next CD.


Johnny Richards wrote really great for trombones. So did Bill Holman and others who wrote for Kenton. The guys in my trombone section are all wonderful players. Phil Teele's got to be the best bass trombonist in the world. Eric Jorgensen is the most unusual trombone soloist I've ever encountered. He's fearless, and he's in your face. He used to play in circus bands, and sometimes he plays circus music in his solos. Bruce Fowler's solo concept is unlike anybody else I know—he's much more fluid and subdued.

Ladd McIntosh Big Band

I started it in the summer of 1980 as a rehearsal band. We met once a week at Northridge [California State University at Northridge] where I was part-time faculty. I wanted to hear my stuff played by pros. In those days it was easier to find places to play for a big band, and I was driven to get it out there. I was trying to catch somebody's attention and make something happen. Seabreeze did put out two albums. All through the 80's we played a lot, got great write-ups. For about three years we played once a month at a great club in Santa Monica called At My Place. One day when I showed up there was already a line down the street to get in to hear my band. I'd like to do some major jazz festivals. I always wanted to play the Monterey Jazz Festival with my band, but I think they may have looked at me as an educator, not as a professional. It's difficult to find a place to house eighteen musicians. There's a club we could play where you have to put up $500. If they get at least $800 at the door you get your money back plus more, but I'm not willing to do that.


I had a group in the late 70's called Zanzibar with six woodwinds, two French horns, no brass, strings, a keyboard player who also played synthesizer, Tom Fowler on electric bass, and two percussion. I tried to get as many string players as possible. We gave a couple of concerts with at least 20 strings. My inspiration was Weather Report. It was some of the most exotic stuff I've ever written. I pushed that group for two or three years. I did about 15 charts, and about two or three had the words "space pig" in the title.

Early musical background


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