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"Modern Sounds," or: Running a Marathon in Full Body Armor

Jack Bowers By

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From October 19-25 Betty and I were at the Los Angeles Marriott Airport Hotel to attend Modern Sounds, the L.A. Jazz Institute's four-day salute to West Coast jazz, followed by a day-long tribute to Stan Kenton on the hundredth anniversary of the legendary bandleader's birth. We arrived a day early to be primed and ready for the event, which began at 8:30 Thursday morning with the first of four hour-long film mosaics and continued almost non-stop until somewhere around ten o'clock Sunday evening when the Gerald Wilson Orchestra completed the last of twenty-five concerts. The Kenton festival got under way at 10 o'clock Monday morning with an hour and a half of archival film and audio clips, followed by a panel discussion featuring Kenton alumni, concerts by the Collegiate Neophonic Orchestra of Southern California and an all-star orchestra partially comprised of Kenton alumni, and a late afternoon "meet the alumni" reception with drinks (no soft drinks that I could find, so I used a water fountain) and finger food.

Before delving into the particulars of Modern Sounds, it should be noted that on Wednesday evening I felt a slight soreness in the throat, which usually heralds the onset of a head cold, and realized I hadn't brought with me any extra vitamin C capsules, my first line of defense against that particular illness. Sure enough, by Thursday morning the cold had taken hold, and it was an unwelcome but resolute companion during the rest of our stay in Los Angeles. The weather certainly didn't help (temperatures at the four poolside concerts were chilly enough to make a Minnesotan shiver, with a brisk ocean breeze making it seem even colder), nor did my own absent-mindedness. Betty had insisted that I bring a jacket ("It may be cold," she cautioned) and, after resisting (and grousing), I relented and let her bring one for me. Unfortunately, on Wednesday, while en route to the hotel, she asked me told hold the jacket as she tended to some other business, and it hasn't been seen since. Like it or not, shirtsleeves would thereafter be the uniform of choice. Suck it up and move on, Bowers.

Two more brief items to note: Pete Rugolo, the chief architect of the "Kenton sound" whose compositions and arrangements were rekindled Thursday by a big band led by John Altman, died October 16, only four days before the performance, at age ninety-five, recasting what was to have been a celebration of his music (at which it was hoped he might be present) into a memorial concert. Second, composer / arranger Russell Garcia, also ninety-five, who was to have led a big band and smaller Wigville ensemble, fell several days before the event was to open and damaged a vertebra, making travel impossible. Even after the fall, Garcia was determined to make the trip but his doctor insisted otherwise, and Russ reluctantly stayed in New Zealand.

Thursday, October 20

Thursday's opening film, "The Birth of West Coast Jazz," embodied clips of Kenton, Rugolo, Woody Herman, Dave Brubeck, June Christy, Art Pepper, Laurindo Almeida, Maynard Ferguson and Teddy Edwards, among others. It was followed in short order by LAJI skipper Ken Poston's audio-visual presentation, "Dr. Wesley La Violette and the West Coast Sound," appraising the remarkable career of a classical composer / arranger whose influence as an educator helped shaped the musical perspectives of Shorty Rogers, Jimmy Giuffre and other young musicians, and contributed to the emergence of the "West Coast sound."

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