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."
The weekend's first concert, at poolside, was led, appropriately enough, by tenor saxophonist Dave Pell
, an early exponent of West Coast jazz whose popular octet emerged in the mid-1950s from the Les Brown Orchestra, in whose ranks Pell served from 1947-55, and included such well-known artists as Marty Paich
, Mel Lewis
, Don Fagerquist
, Pepper Adams
, Art Pepper, Benny Carter
, Ronny Lang, Jack Sperling
and Red Mitchell
. This time around, the group included Pell, trumpeter Carl Saunders
, trombonist Andy Martin
, baritone Bob Efford
, pianist John Campbell
, guitarist Barry Zweig
, bassist Richard Simon
and drummer Frank Capp
. The octet opened with "Jazz Junction" (which sounded to me like "Little Orphan Annie") and continued with (mostly) standards: "My Heart Belongs to Daddy," "Have You Met Miss Jones," "Angel Eyes," "The Lady Is a Tramp" and "Mountain Greenery" along with one original, "Crescendo Date." Most of the charts were by Paich. Soloists were first-class, with Martin featured on the ballad "If I Had You." I'd always thought Lorenz Hart was being facetious when he included the line "hates California, it's cold and it's damp" in "The Lady Is a Tramp," but seated at poolside for this concert I started to believe he was simply being honest.
The Rugolo concert was next up, in the Marriott's Marquis Ballroom. Altman had assembled a sharp and well-rehearsed band (with two capable subs: trumpeter Jeff Bunnell
for Bijon Watson
, drummer Chuck Flores
for Ralph Razze) for a program that included a number of Rugolo's eloquent compositions and arrangements, opening with "Painted Rhythm" and closing with "Fawncy Meeting You." Sandwiched between were Sy Oliver
's "Dreaming of You," the Kenton classic "Eager Beaver," "Nancy with the Laughing Face," "Minor Riff," "2/3 Oscar, 1/3 Pete's Blues," "Southern Scandal" and "Artistry in Rhythm." There were classy solos along the way by saxophonists Gene Cipriano
and Roger Neumann
, trumpeters Kye Palmer
and Jeff Kaye
, pianist Rich Eames and even tubaist Bryant Byers (whose father, Billy Byers
, may have written "Fawncy Meeting You," perhaps for the Count Basie
Orchestra; Bryant said he didn't know).
Films, panel discussions and other presentations were held in the Meridian Room, which is where James Harrod surveyed the history of one of the West Coast's most influential record labels, Pacific Jazz, founded in June 1952 by Dick Bock, Roy Harte and photographer William Claxton. After a five-year run in which the label recorded many of the West Coast's premier artists, from Gerry Mulligan
and Chet Baker
to Paul Desmond
, Gerald Wilson
, Joe Pass
, Bob Brookmeyer
, Jack Sheldon
, Chico Hamilton
, Clifford Brown
, Zoot Sims
, Bud Shank
, Jack Montrose
, Jim Hall
and Bill Perkins
, Pacific Jazz was purchased in 1957 by Liberty Records, where it continued for another decade or so. Today, the label's jazz catalog is owned by Blue Note Records.
To its credit, the LAJI found a drummer who could sit in comfortably for Shelly Manne
, which made the next concert, "The Peter Erskine
Ensemble Plays Shelly Manne's The West Coast Sound" more than worthwhile. Erskine's septet was agile, the music delightful, starting with two charts by the inimitable Bill Holman, "Grasshoppers" and "Spring Is Here." Shorty Rogers' "Mallets" was, of course, a feature for Erskine, while alto saxophonist Billy Kerr was out front on "Afrodesia." The group also played "La Mucura," Bob Enevoldsen's arrangement of "You're Getting to Be a Habit with Me," John Williams' composition "The King Swings" (from the TV series Checkmate) and a Bill Russo original, "Gazelles." Besides Erskine and Kerr, the admirable soloists were baritone Efford, pianist Campbell, tenor Bob Sheppard and Andy Martin on valve trombone!.
After a dinner break, the audience reassembled in the Marquis Ballroom for "An Evening of the Music of Shorty Rogers," which began in spectacular fashion with the Woody Herman Alumni Band led by vibraphonist Terry Gibbs playing arrangements written by Shorty for Woody Herman's renowned Second Herd. Needless to say, many of these tunes have become jazz landmarks, as brisk and exciting today as they were back in 1947-49. The band swung wide the gate with a trio of classics, "Keen and Peachy," "More Moon" and "Lemon Drop," pressed onward with "The Great Lie," "Keeper of the Flame," "Summit Blues," "What's New" and "Man, Don't Be Ridiculous!" before closing the scintillating session with the flag-waver "That's Right." Gibbs did his usual impression of the Energizer Bunny, driving the band with enthusiasm, soloing with verve and dexterity that belied his eighty-seven years, and even scatting with trumpeter Ron Stout on "Lemon Drop" (as he had with Rogers on the original recording). Gibbs's exuberance was infectious, prompting splendid solos by Stout, Neumann, drummer Jeff Hamilton, twenty-three year-old pianist Konrad Paszkudzki, baritone Adam Schroeder (featured on "Don't Be Ridiculous!," written originally for Serge Chaloff) and especially trombonist Paul Young, a dynamic newcomer to these events who I daresay will be invited to return.
While that band was indeed a tough act to follow, Joel Kaye's eighteen-piece ensemble did its best, performing music composed and arranged by Rogers for the Kenton Orchestra. Several of these charts were written especially for members of the Kenton ensemble; Glen Berger was the surrogate on "Coop's Solo," alto Fred Laurence Selden on "Art Pepper," while trumpeter Mike Bogart had the unenviable task of sitting in for the high-note master himself on "Maynard Ferguson." Even though Bogart gave it all he had, there has been only one Maynard Ferguson, and he wasn't here. Selden and trumpeter John Daversa shared solo honors on the lively opener, "Round Robin," trumpeter Kye Palmer was center stage on "Take the 'A' Train," while Selden and Berger had their say on "Viva Prado," pianist Rich Eames on "Jambo." The group also played "Autumn Leaves" before wrapping things up with another of Shorty's memorable themes, "Jolly Rogers" (featuring Selden and Daversa).
There was yet one more concert that evening, this one by a Selden-led octet performing "Modern Sounds: The Music of Shorty Rogers' Giants." The menu, with one exception, consisted of compositions and arrangements by Rogers and Jimmy Giuffre. Included were "Popo," "Apropos," "Over the Rainbow," "Sam and the Lady," "Four Mothers" and "Didi." The concert ended with the ballad "Musical Offering," written for and featuring Selden on flute and alto sax (I didn't catch the composer's name; it could have been Selden himself). The concert ended well after eleven o'clock, which was past time to catch a few hours' sleep before Round Two of the four-day marathon.
Friday, October 21
The theme of Friday morning's film, which began at 8:30, was "Mulliganesque: Gerry Mulligan and Pacific Jazz." Included were clips of Mulligan, Bob Brookmeyer, Art Farmer, Chet Baker (in one of the weirdest Italian films ever made, and that covers a lot of ground), bassist Harry Babasin, Bud Shank, Bob Cooper, Russ Freeman and the only (known) surviving footage of trumpeter Clifford Brown, from a Soupy Sales TV show circa 1955. The film was followed by a discourse on "The Nocturne Records: Drum City Story," presented by Dr. Robert Gordon. Nocturne Records, which lasted less than a year in 1954, was nonetheless an important part of the West Coast jazz narrative, as pointed out by Dr. Gordon in his summary. Bassist Babasin was a founder of Nocturne, as was Roy Harte, one of the architects of Pacific Jazz.
At poolside, what was billed in the brochure as "Don Shelton and Three Trombones" morphed into the Don Shelton Quartet (John Beasley, piano; Kenny Wild, bass; Paul Kreibich, drums). No matter; it was still Don Shelton, one of the more underrated alto saxophonists on the West Coast and elsewhere, playing music by Bud Shank, Bob Cooper and Johnny Mandel. The group opened with Shank's "The King," continued with "Pavanne" ("The Lamp Is Low") and a Cooper tune whose name I didn't catch before returning to Shank for "Misty Eyes." Completing the elegant set (which was marred only by the thin and erratic sound; I had a pretty good seat near the front) were Ellington's "Do Nothin' Till You Hear from Me," "Black and Blues," "Jubilation" and Mandel's "Emily." Shelton is consistently inspired, and even under less than respectable conditions is always a pleasure to hear.
Next, it was back to the Marquis Ballroom for a labor of love as Joel Kaye directed the Johnny Richards Big Band in music from the album Something Else. Kaye, a long-time friend of Richards and champion of his music, had the band tuned up and ready to rumble, as was evident from the opening measures of the fast-paced "Band-Aide" (featuring crisp solos by tenor saxophonist Charles Owens, alto Billy Kerr and trumpeter Ron Stout). Two standards, the lovely "Long Ago and Far Away" (Jeff Bunnell, trumpet) and "For All We Know" (Owens, Stout), preceded Kerr's feature, the Latin "Burrito Borrachio," and the playful "Dimples" (Stout, Owens, Kerr, trumpeter Mike Bogart and the first solo by a talented young pianist, Mahesh Balasooryia, who was sitting in for Alan Steinberger). Owens was out front again on a number whose name sounded like "Adulon," Kerr, Owens and the trumpet section on "Turnabout" before the charming finale, "Waltz, Anyone?" Another first-class set.
There were two concerts yet to come before suppertime, preceded by Ken Poston's absorbing hour-long survey of Contemporary Records, the West Coast label founded in 1951 by Lester Koenig and enhanced five years later by the addition of legendary sound engineer Roy DuNann who produced some of the most striking vinyl recordings to be found anywhere. Contemporary reached its zenith in the 1950s and '60s with spectacular albums by Sonny Rollins, Ornette Coleman, Art Pepper, Benny Golson, Shelly Manne, Hampton Hawes, Barney Kessel, Woody Shaw, Curtis Counce, Leroy Vinnegar and many others. In 1984, Contemporary was acquired by Fantasy Records.
Back in the ballroom, trumpeter Bobby Shew led an octet that performed music by Jack Montrose (including the classic Chet Baker / Clifford Brown arrangements) before joining forces with conductor Nathan Tanouye and the Las Vegas Jazz Connection to remember the music of pianist Russ Freeman. The Montrose charts, most of which are as well-known today as they were when written in the mid-50s, included "Tiny Capers," "Joy Spring," "Gone with the Wind," "Finders Keepers," "Daahoud" and "Goodbye." Besides Shew, the members of the octet (most of whom were given room to solo) included alto saxophonist Ann Patterson, tenor Tom Peterson, baritone Adam Schroeder, trombonist Jacques Voyemant, pianist Mahesh Balasooryia (subbing this time for Matt Harris), bassist Luis Guerra and drommer Paul Kreibich.
Tanouye, who is doing his best to keep the music of Freeman alive, brought his entire sixteen-member ensemble from Las Vegas for the occasion (I was told they car-pooled). The fact that this is a working band, not one that had to perform after only one or two brief rehearsals, was immediately apparent. The band was tight, with every section sharp and every member not only on the same page but tuned to the same wavelength. That's not meant to impugn any of the other groups, all of which were quite good; simply to note that working together on a regular basis and becoming familiar with the music can make a perceptible difference. As for that music, while Freeman is best known as an excellent pianist, he was also a talented composer and arranger, at least one of whose themes, "The Wind," has become a jazz standard that is played quite often today. The LVJC opened with the rapid-fire "Russ Job" and "Hugo Herway" (I think that's the name) before showcasing tenor saxophonist Marc Solis on "The Wind." "Band-Aide," "Summer Sketch" and "Happy Little Sunbeam" followed before Shew came onstage to solo on the closing numbers, "Piece for Russ" and "Made in Mexico" (again, I can't vouch for completely accurate names; that's what I heard from my seat in the back row).
Friday evening's three concerts were centered around "Gerry Mulligan on the West Coast," with Roger Neumann's octet reading the Gerry Mulligan Songbook, the eminent Bill Holman directing the Mulligan Tentet and presiding over an all-star big band featuring Kenton alumni playing Mulligan arrangements written for the Kenton orchestra. This was, to state the matter clearly, as impressive a three hours of West Coast-style jazz as could possibly be envisioned. The Mulligan Songbook, as enchanting and lyrical as they come, was handled with care by tenor saxophonist Neumann and his colleagues (who included altos Brian Scanlon and Keith Bishop, tenor Jerry Pinter, baritone Jennifer Hall, guitarist John Pisano, bassist Putter Smith and drummer Chuck Flores). After opening with "Disc Jockey Jump," written for the Gene Krupa Orchestra when Mulligan was a teen-ager, the group sailed easily through "Sextet," "Venus de Milo," "Revelation," "Four and One Moore," "Crazy Day" and "Turnstile," the last highlighted by Neumann and Hall's fiery two-baritone "duel."
Good as that was, it served merely as an appetizer for the main courses, beginning with the Mulligan Tentet and its cogent readings of such classics as "Westwood Walk," "Simba," "Walking Shoes" and "Jeru" (which was performed, impeccably, without benefit of a rehearsal!). Also on the appetizing menu were "My Funny Valentine" (featuring trumpeters Ron Stout and Carl Saunders), "A Ballad" (Stout, baritone Bob Efford) and "Taking a Chance on Love" (Stout, Efford, bassist Adam Cohen, trombonist Derick Hughes, alto Bruce Babad). The tentet included in its ranks a tuba (Chuck Koontz) and French horn (Stephanie O'Keefe). Following a well-deserved standing ovation, the tentet replayed "Simba" as an encore.
As if that weren't enough "Simba," the larger ensemble, which convened after a brief intermission, opened with Mulligan's "Intro," which, Holman said, is another version of "Simba." The ballad "Where or When" preceded the exuberant "Swing House" (solos by trombonist Hughes, alto Babad, trumpeter Stout and tenor Pete Christlieb, sitting in for Danny Janklow) and a second version of the easygoing "Walking Shoes" (Stout, Babad, tenor Doug Webb, trombonist Francisco Torres). After two more standards ("Dancing in the Dark," "Begin the Beguine"), the band launched into a sparkling version of what to these ears is one of Mulligan's most captivating themes, "Young Blood," which featured emphatic statements by trumpeter Saunders, tenor Webb and alto Billy Kerr. Trombonist Andy Martin was showcased on what was to have been the finale, "Limelight," but again the audience would not be placated without an encore, and the band responded to end the evening with a splendid reading of Jerome Kern's "All the Things You Are."
Saturday, October 22
Saturday morning's film, "The West Coast Sound," was another winner with rare clips of Shelly Manne, Andre Previn, the Lighthouse All-Stars, Buddy Collette, Barney Kessel, Art Pepper, Red Norvo, Harold Land, Carmell Jones and Victor Feldman. It was followed by Ken Borgers' audio-visual salute to disc jockey Sleepy Stein and the birth of the world's first all-jazz radio station, KNOB in Signal Hill. After Stein bought the station in 1957 it became known as the "Jazz Knob." Stein sold the station in 1966 and began a successful career as a stockbroker.
The invariably smooth and spectacular Carl Saunders was next up at poolside, performing the music of one of his early role models, trumpeter Don Fagerquist, with an octet that included alto Bob Sheppard, tenor Jerry Pinter, baritone Doug Webb, trombonist Andy Martin, pianist John Campbell, bassist Dave Stone and drummer Santo Savino, with arrangements by the ubiquitous Marty Paich. Saunders, who plays a few more notes than Fagerquist, was on his game, as were the others on an all-standards program that opened with "Aren't You Glad You're You" and continued with "Easy to Love," "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes," "Lullaby of Broadway," The Song Is You," "Easy Living" and "Time After Time." Even with the anemic sound system, Saunders' virile trumpet came through loud and clear.
Back in the ballroom, Duane Tatro supervised an octet that performed music from his album Jazz for Moderns, released in 1956. Tatro's writing is based on the twelve-tone model (don't ask me), which apparently was quite innovative for the time. His octet ran through eight numbers, only one of which"Folly"Tatro bothered to name. The others were anonymous and about as interesting, even though the musicians were diligent and seemed to be having a good time. And they did have namesDanny Janklow, alto sax; Jerry Pinter, tenor sax; Tom Peterson, baritone sax; Bob Summers, trumpet; Joey Sellers, trombone; John Dickson, horn; Dave Stone, bass; Ray Brinker, drums. Nice try, gentlemen, but despite your best efforts, Tatro's abstract and elaborate themes left me more disconcerted than engaged (appraisal valid for intractable ears only; other opinions may vary).
More twelve-tone music followed Ken Poston's colorful and informative audio / visual presentation, "Jazz and Modern Animation on the West Coast," this time from Russ Garcia's Wigville Ensemble, directed in his absence by Ann Patterson. The ten selections, from Garcia's album Wigville, while generally more melodic and accessible than Tatro's intricate compositions, were nevertheless a tad too enigmatic and radical for these ears, even though, as in the earlier session, the musicians who performed them were splendid. Besides Patterson (alto sax) they included soprano Rick Keller, tenor Gene Cipriano, baritone Joel Kaye, trumpeter Bobby Shew, bassist Trey Henry and drummer Paul Kreibich. The songs also had names: "Wigville," "Butterduck," "Rocky Road" (one of the best), "Floating," "Tone Row," "Livin' It Up," "Lonely One," "Smogville" and "The Lid Blew Off."
As I was preparing to write off the afternoon session and prepare for that evening's "Jazz Goes to the Movies" program, alto saxophonist Lanny Morgan rode to the rescue with a bright and swinging recital of the music of Jimmy Giuffre (the pre-free form Giuffre, that is). Morgan, the quintessential cooker, spurred a lively octet whose other residents were trumpeters Bob Summers and Ron Stout, trombonist Andrew Lippman, tubaist Jim Self, pianist John Campbell, bassist Richard Simon and drummer Steve Schaeffer. Besides Morgan, the animated soloists included Lippman and Self ("NYC Blues"), Campbell and Stout ("Laura") and almost everyone else ("Giuff," "Sonny Boy," Downtown," "Two for Timbuktu"). Jazz as it was meant to be written and played, pleasurable enough to erase any lingering memories of twelve-tone intemperance.
After supper, the hallway outside the Marquis Ballroom was thronged as the doors remained closed well past the scheduled 7:30 starting time for the first of three concerts, a performance by the Johnny Mandel Big Band of music from the film I Want to Live! "and more." As it turns out, the band was conducting a run-through (its only one) onstage, as it received no music to rehearse until six o'clock that evening. The doors were eventually opened and the concert got under way shortly after eight o'clock, with Mandel, who had suffered a recent fall, conducting from a wheelchair. As promised, the ensemble played music from Susan Hayward's heart-rending vehicle, I Want to Live! ("Black Nightgown," the main theme), reinforced by a number of Mandel's "greatest hits" ("Close Enough for Love," "Not Really the Blues," "Emily," "The Shadow of Your Smile," the theme from "M*A*S*H"). The band opened with a piece called "Bowlegs" (I think) and closed with the late drummer Tiny Kahn's explosive "TNT." The audience called for an encore, and the ensemble obliged with Mandel's sensuous "Keester Parade." Trombonist Ira Nepus was featured on "Bowlegs," tenor saxophonist Pete Christlieb on "Close Enough for Love," pianist John Campbell on "Emily," trumpeter Ron Stout on "The Shadow of Your Smile," baritone Bob Efford on "I Want to Live!" with other crisp solos along the way by trumpeters Bob Summers and Carl Saunders, alto Dick Mitchell, tenor Doug Webb, trombonist George Bohannon, guitarist John Chiodini and bassist Chuck Berghofer. Drummer Peter Erskine was steadfastly persuasive, directing traffic and herding everyone together with ease and efficiency.
Charming as Mandel's concert was, it ran longer than anticipated, and so the second performance, re-creating arrangements by Shorty Rogers from Marlon Brando's motorcycle-gang clunker The Wild One, started well behind schedule. To compound the problem, the concert was interspersed with scenes from the film, which was so appalling that if Brando hadn't already earned a reputation as one of Hollywood's biggest stars it's unlikely he could have survived such a fiasco and earned the distinguished career he later had. As for the music, it was typically soundtrack-y, not something you were likely to hum on the way home, but capably dispatched by the Fred Selden-led orchestra, which, I noted, was "excellent and well-prepared." As a little soundtrack music can go a long way, Selden chose to amplify it with several pieces written for Shorty's Giants: "Infinity Promenade," "The Sweetheart of Sigmund Freud," and, most welcome of all, the irrepressible "Short Stop." Tenor saxophonist Jerry Pinter was showcased on "Blues for Brando," Selden (alto) on "Infinity Promenade," Selden, Pinter, trombonist Alan Kaplan and trumpeter Ron King on a "source cue" from the film entitled "First Jukebox." Despite having to watch those dreadful film clips, a bright and pleasurable concert.
The evening's third and final performance, "Jazz Themes from The Subterraneans," music from Andre Previn's soundtrack for the film inspired by the Jack Kerouac novel of that name, was to have ended at 10:45. Instead, it started at 10:45. A handful of diehards remained, including this one, but after two selections"Bread and Wine," "Guido's Blackhawk"I quietly excused myself and headed upstairs to bed. Fourteen-plus hours of jazz in various forms was quite enough for one day.
Sunday, October 23
Sunday, the last day of "Modern Sounds," began as usual with a filmed anthology, "West Coasting," that embodied clips of Les Brown's band, the Dave Pell Octet, Mel Torme, Pete Jolly, the Shorty Rogers Big Band, Jimmy Giuffre, Lou Levy, Anita O'Day, Richie Kamuca and Frank Rosolino. That preceded Ken Poston's tribute to the legendary sound engineer Roy DuNann who was there to discuss his groundbreaking work for Contemporary Records in the 1950s. Also taking part in the discussion were audio engineer Bernie Grundman and John Koenig, the son of Lester Koenig, founder and president of Contemporary, who lured DuNann away from Capitol Records.
The last of the four poolside concerts was devoted to the music of jazz French horn player John Graas, with Ken Wiley sitting in for Graas and leading a nonet whose other members were trumpeter Jeff Bunnell, tubaist Bill Roper, alto Bruce Babad, tenor Glen Berger, baritone Bob Carr, pianist Konrad Paszkudszki, bassist Jennifer Leitham (good to have her back on the West Coast) and drummer Dick Weller. Sadly, the sound system did Wiley no favors (he was for some unknown reason seated in the back row next to Weller) and his wind-blown French horn was barely audible through the first several numbers. Nevertheless, another well-played set from the album Jazz-Mantics including "Jazz Overture," "Argyles," "Let's Fall in Love," "Blue Haze," "6-4 Trend," "Flip Tip" and "I.D."
I approached the next concert with trepidation, as its title, "Orbits in Sound: the 12-Tone Compositions and Arrangements of Spud Murphy," was less than inviting. Having endured two hours of twelve-tone discord the day before, I was not eager to hear more of the same. On the other hand, I reasoned, you've come this far . . . how much discomfort can another hour of it cause? So I found a seat near the back of the room and prepared for the worst, whenholy Schoenberg, Batman!I found myself listening to some of the loveliest and most enchanting music I'd heard all week! Needless to say, I was taken completely by surprise. Is this the way twelve-tone jazz can sound? The way it should sound? If so, what had I been listening to on Saturday? I had to learn more about Lyle "Spud" Murphy, a man whose name I had heard but whose music I hadn't. Murphy (given name Stefanovic) was born in Germany, grew up in Salt Lake City, was a multi-instrumentalist who once served as a staff arranger for Benny Goodman, had a long career as a composer and arranger in Hollywood, and was an educator who is perhaps best known for his 1,200-page textbook, "System of Horizontal Composition" (also known as the Equal Interval System). Murphy died in 2005, two weeks short of his ninety-seventh birthday.
Horizontal composition, equal interval, or whatever anyone chooses to call it, Murphy's writing for a saxophone section is as good as I've ever heardfrom anyone. There may be ways to elicit a more lustrous and seductive sound from woodwinds but none that I can recall. The group on this occasion consisted of altos Roger Neumann and Phil Feather, tenors Terry Harrington and John Yoakum, and baritone Jay Mason, backed by a first-rate rhythm section (Rich Eames, piano; Autorickshaw, bass; Santo Savino, drums) and joined on the last three numbers by trombonists Charlie Morillas and Jacques Voyemant. They glided through a dozen of Murphy's endearing originals including "Orbit," "Fourth Dimension," "Lost in a Fugue," "Illusion" (featuring Mason's baritone), "Caleta," "Crazy Quilt," "Seismograph," "Slightly Off Center," "Tone Poem," "Fran-tastic," "Misty Rose" and "Frankly Speaking." To further enhance their beauty, Murphy's tunes are sunny and melodic. Misgivings forgotten, I was sorry to reach the end of that hour.
The weekend's lone panel discussion was, through no fault of its designers, slightly mislabeled. "The Masters" was to have included Mandel, Holman and Gerald Wilson, but only Wilson showed up to spar with moderator Kirk Silsbee. In some cases this would have been unpromising, but not this one. About all Silsbee had to say was "Gerald, tell us something about how you got started as a bandleader," hand the microphone to his guest and relax for the next hour as Wilson, now ninety-three years young, retraced his life and career in crystal-clear detail almost from the cradle. Wilson's encyclopedic monologue served as a congenial introduction to the afternoon's final concert, "The Los Angeles Jazz Orchestra Plays Marty Paich," featuring Paich's buoyant arrangements from the albums I Get a Boot Out of You and The Broadway Bit, conducted by Paich's son, David, and including a guest appearance by Mel Torme's son, Jamie, on the last three numbers ("Too Close for Comfort," "Just in Time," "Too Darn Hot"). Among the instrumentals were "It Don't Mean a Thing," "Moanin,'" "Violets for Your Furs," "What Am I Here For," Cottontail" and "It's All Right with Me." Jamie Torme, more a cabaret-style entertainer than a jazz singer like his dad, reminded this auditor (if any prompting were needed) that there was only one Mel Torme. The set included nimble solos by trumpeter Carl Saunders, alto Lanny Morgan, tenor Doug Webb and pianist Mike Lang, among others, and as a bonus, a spicy soprano solo by guest John Altman on "Too Close for Comfort."
After supper we entered the homestretch, one that was abbreviated by the last-minute cancellation of a concert by the Russ Garcia Big Band, leaving the Holman and Wilson ensembles to add the finishing touches to the week's events. Holman was first up, and it was immediately apparent that the maestro, who can swing as hard as anyone when he chooses to, had chosen not to, opening with the tedious "No Joy in Mudville," which wore out its welcome early on but plodded onward for what seemed a much longer time than it actually was. Stevie Wonder's "Isn't She Lovely," a rather banal song in its own right, offered little change for the better, nor did baritone Bob Efford's feature, "Bari Me Not," which followed Alec Wilder's ballad "I'll Be Around" (solo by the superb trombonist Andy Martin). Rounding out the program were the Beatles' "Norwegian Wood," Holman's "Sweet Spot" and the standard "Just Friends" (on which the ensemble finally started to percolate). The audience must have been won over, as they insisted on an encore, and Holman obliged with another crowd-pleaser, "Far Down Below," featuring trumpeter Bob Summers, pianist John Campbell and tenor Doug Webb. Webb (soprano) and Carl Saunders had tasteful solos on "Sweet Spot," and there were other trim statements by alto Bruce Babad, bassist Adam Cohen, trombonist Eric Hughes (at twenty-three, the band's second-youngest member) and tenor Danny Janklow (the youngest at age twenty-two). To deflect any ill-advised impressions, it should be noted that I am and have long been an admirer of Holman's writing and arranging ("Stompin' at the Savoy" remains my all-time favorite chart) but I'd rather hear the band swing, as it surely can. On this occasion, that was not, for the most part, its modus operandi.
While I'm also an outspoken champion of Gerald Wilson's music, it must be said that I found his concert disappointing as well. The main problem here was the orchestra, which (to me) seemed ill-prepared and sloppy. Nothing you can really put your finger on, but you know when it's happening (or in this case, not happening). Wilson's charts were fine but the ensemble seemed to be sight-reading them, starting with "Blues for the Count" and continuing through the boisterous finale, "The Sax Chase," featuring guess which section. Other tunes on the menu were "Clair de Lune," "Blues for Yna," "Milestones," variations on Stravinsky's Firebird Suite and "September Sky." Although each had its moments, there were other times when everyone seemed to be winging it, which is surprising when the talent pool includes such respected names as Randall Willis, Louis Van Taylor, Kamasi Washington, Les Benedict, Maurice Spears, Ron Barrows, Brian O'Rourke and the conductor's son, guitarist Anthony Wilson, who wasn't listed on the program but showed up anyway. Perhaps I'm over-reacting and set the bar too high. The band did make a lot of noise, and Wilson should be given extra credit for conducting anything at age ninety-three. But the concert as a whole was less than persuasive, and there was no encore this time around. Perhaps everyone's ears were on overload after twenty-five concerts in four days. And for some of them there was more to come, as the LAJI's day-long salute to Stan Kenton was to start at 10 a.m. Monday.
Monday, October 24
Yes, Betty and I were among those who stayed around for the Kenton celebration. Had we not, how could you possibly read all about it? Not in The New York Times, that's for sure (or even The Los Angeles Times, for that matter). On the other hand, Will Friedwald was there to cover the event for the Wall Street Journal, and his report should appear there in a few days (or weeks; he wasn't sure). Be that as it may, the tribute to Kenton got under way as advertised at 10 o'clock Monday morning with an audio / visual presentation, "Treasures from the Archives," covering the early Kenton era with clips from Will Cowan shorts from 1944 onward, beginning with "Artistry in Rhythm" and vocals by Anita O'Day and Gene Howard. There were a number of home movies by drummer Shelly Manne (narrated "in the moment" by Flip Manne) and audios by Jimmy Valentine, one of which was the tape of a 1956 reunion in Balboa of the original Kenton orchestra. The reunion, which was a complete surprise to Kenton, was arranged by the orchestra's original bassist, Howard Rumsey, who was in the audience on Sunday to relive the experience. Rumsey turns ninety-four on November 7. Other videos included an appearance by the orchestra on the Music 55 television show and another in which Stan and Duke Ellington engage in a playful two-piano duet.