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Musical Talent Is (Now and Then) All in the Family

Jack Bowers By

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The induction of almost the entire Marsalis family (father Ellis, piano, and sons Wynton, trumpet; Branford, saxophones; Delfeayo, trombone; and Jason, drums) set me to thinking about how musical talent sometimes runs in families. In the pop world, almost everyone knows about the Jacksons, the Kings, the Osmonds and others. The same is true in jazz, in which a few families manifest extraordinary musical aptitude, well beyond what the law of averages would presume. Is it nature, nurture or some combination of those ingredients? Your guess is as good as mine (perhaps better). The fact is that musical proficiency sometimes runs in families. And the families in which it arises are in many cases blessed not only with talent, but extraordinary talent, above and beyond the norm.

In spite of their impressive talents, the Marsalises are in effect laboring to keep up with the Joneses, within whose ranks are three Hall of Fame standouts (trumpeter Thad, pianist Hank, drummer Elvin). And they are by no means the only families in which musical talent seems to run rampant. The Heath brothers (Jimmy, tenor sax; Percy, bass; Albert "Tootie," drums) must be ranked near the top of any list, and one mustn't overlook the Montgomerys (Wes, guitar; Buddy, piano / vibes; Monk, bass) or the LaBarberas (Pat, saxophones; Joe, drums; John, trumpet / composer). A few have played the same instrument (Pete and Conte Candoli, trumpet; Bud and Richie Powell, piano, for example) but not many if one excludes the vocalists (Nat and Freddie Cole, Bing and Bob Crosby, Roy and Irene Kral among them).

Here's a brief (and far from inclusive) list of other family members whose talent has enabled them to become well-known while making a decent living playing jazz:

The Dorseys (Tommy, trombone; Jimmy, saxophone); the Adderleys (Julian "Cannonball," alto sax; Nat, flugelhorn); the Breckers (Michael, tenor sax; Randy, trumpet); the Claytons (John, bass; Jeff, saxophones); the Mangiones (Chuck, trumpet; Gap, piano); the Methenys (Pat, guitar; Mike, trumpet); the Eubanks (Robin, trombone; Kevin, guitar); the Williamsons (Claude, piano; Stu, trumpet, valve trombone); the Royals (Ernie, trumpet; Marshall, alto sax); the Sims (Zoot, saxophones; Ray, trombone); the Turrentines (Stanley, tenor sax; Tommy, trumpet); the Teagardens (Jack, trombone; Charlie, trumpet); the Vaches (Warren, trumpet; Allan, clarinet). While there are no doubt many more where these came from, this should serve as a reminder that when it comes to intrafamily musical aptitude, the Marsalises aren't alone or even unique. Others may advance reasons for the phenomenon; as for this writer (whose musical talent is less than nil), I am simply amazed, thankful (and, I'll admit, a trifle envious) that some families have been so abundantly blessed.

Out and About

On October 5, Betty saw a brief notice in the local paper about a jazz concert that very evening by the U.S. Air Force Band of the West, "Dimensions in Blue," at Cleveland High School in nearby Rio Rancho. Having never seen the band perform, I decided to make up for that oversight, leaving early so as to find the school and get a good seat. Leaving early, as it turns out, was a splendid idea, as the school is in the middle of nowhere, I missed a turn and wound up flagging down a sheriff's car to ask directions. I sprinted into the school auditorium as the last strains of the Star Spangled Banner were being played, and took my seat as the band launched into Pete Meyers' classic arrangement of Cole Porter's "Love for Sale" (the second-ranked chart on my list of 100 personal favorites in last month's column). Worth running for, I thought, as the Airmen turned next to alto saxophonist Randy Leatherman's nice arrangement of the standard "Mean to Me," followed by Pat Metheny's "See the World," arranged by Bob Curnow. Vocalist Christen Foley was next up with "I'm Gonna Live 'Til I Die" and Stevie Wonder's Love's in Need of Me," the latter with guitarist Steve Wilson providing the backdrop. Frank Foster's "Blues in Hoss' Flat" was next, followed by Glenn Miller's breezy "Mission to Moscow," Leatherman's Latin arrangement of Rodgers and Hart's "Have You Met Miss Jones" and Mike Loveless' tribute to Don Ellis, "The Poet." The band then saluted the members of various services in the audience and closed with "America the Beautiful" before returning for an encore, Miller's most-repeated theme, "In the Mood." Leatherman was among a group of capable soloists who included Wilson, alto Rosemary Castillo, tenors Rob Karns and Cody Brown, baritone (and emcee) Ken Drefke, trumpeter Ken Jones, trombonist Don Marchand and pianist Darrin Dziergowski. In sum, a pleasurable and persuasive concert by the band from Lackland AFB in San Antonio, Texas, which performs more than 300 times a year in Texas, Arizona, New Mexico and Louisiana.

On the Horizon

Saturday, February 11, is the date for the annual Frank Mantooth Jazz Festival at New Trier High School in Winnetka, Illinois. This year's featured ensemble is the Mingus Big Band from NYC, with afternoon performances by the Jazz Director's Big Band and the University of Michigan Jazz Ensemble along with more than 40 high school and junior high school bands. The New Trier Jazz Ensemble 1 will perform with the Mingus Big Band that evening. For information, go online to www.ntjazz.com

Before the Los Angeles Jazz Institute's October salute to Frank Sinatra, "Come Swing with Me," had even begun, Ken Poston and the LAJI had announced the theme for next May's event, "The Big Band Olympics," celebrating big band sounds from around the world and featuring such luminaries as Michel Legrand, Bill Holman and Toshiko Akiyoshi. The four-day event will be held May 26-29 at the Los Angeles Airport Marriott Hotel with a "bonus" event, the Tonight Show Band Reunion, May 25 at the NBC studios in nearby Burbank, available to the first 110 full registrants. Besides those already named, bands scheduled to perform (with more to come) include the Chris Walden (Germany), Rob Pronk (Netherlands) and John Altman (UK) ensembles, a tribute to Canada's Rob McConnell and the Boss Brass featuring BB alumni, music of the legendary Clarke-Boland Big Band, and a gala opening ceremony highlighting Stan Kenton's national anthems of the world. This is, of course, in addition to the usual films, panel discussions and special presentations. For information, phone 562-200-5477.

Honors and Such

On October 16, Y'All of New York Inc., a nonprofit group dedicated to the composition, development, promotion and preservation of creative music, held its seventh annual Awards Concert at which New Yorkers Mike and Dorothy Longo were honored for producing an ongoing and highly successful series of Jazz Tuesdays at the New York City Baha'i Center. The Longos are the first non-African Americans to receive the award. "When you enter the Baha'i Center," said William Lowe, a trombonist and member of Y'All Inc.'s Board of Directors, "you are always greeted warmly and made to feel welcome." Groups of various sizes from big bands to trios have performed at the Center since the series of concerts was begun in January 2004. One of the bands that has appeared on more than one occasion is James Jabbo Ware's Me We and Them Orchestra, which performed again at the awards ceremony. Mike Longo, a jazz pianist who heads his own record label, Consolidated Artists, served for a number of years as trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie's pianist and music director. His big band and trio are among those that have performed at the Jazz Tuesdays events.

Trumpeter Orbert Davis, a well-known educator, recording artist and leader of the Chicago Jazz Philharmonic, was one of two musical luminaries honored by Arts Alliance Illinois, the state's leading voice for the arts and arts education, at its Awards 2010 ceremony this month in Chicago. Davis received the group's Arts Legend Award, while Joan Harris of the Irving Harris Foundation earned the Arts Advocate Award.

Farewells

Big band jazz and human rights lost another champion September 19 when the versatile musician and bandleader Buddy Collette died in Los Angeles. Collette, who was 89 years old, had been unable to play since suffering a stroke in 1998 but continued to lead his band for recordings and special occasions. Prior to his illness, Collette was known as a superb saxophonist, flutist and clarinetist who performed with such jazz icons as Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Thelonious Monk, Stan Kenton, Sarah Vaughan, Ella Fitzgerald, Frank Sinatra, Nat Cole, Louie Bellson and Nelson Riddle. He came to prominence in 1955 as a member of drummer Chico Hamilton's quintet, thanks to his smooth, enticing sound on tenor sax and his nimble phrasing on flute. Along with saxophonist Benny Carter, Collette became a leader in the struggle to end segregation in the American Federation of Musicians. On April 1, 1953, the black and white locals of the union in Los Angeles merged. "I had been in the service," Collette told The Los Angeles Times in 2000, "and our band was integrated. My high school band had been fully integrated. I really didn't know anything about racism, but I knew it wasn't right. Musicians should be judged by how they play, not by the color of their skin." Happily, Buddy Collette will be judged by how he played—and lived.

Another big band veteran, trombonist Buddy Morrow, who led the Tommy Dorsey ghost band since 1976, died September 27 at age 91, six days after conducting a concert performance by the band from a wheelchair. Morrow, born Moe Zudekoff in New Haven, Connecticut, achieved a measure of fame in 1952 with a hit recording of "Night Train." He had joined Artie Shaw's band in 1936, Tommy Dorsey in 1938, Paul Whiteman in '39 and Bob Crosby in '41 before entering the Navy in 1942. Afterward, he played in Jimmy Dorsey's band, then went to work as a studio musician before forming his own band in 1950 and recording the hits "Night Train," "One Mint Julep" and "Rose, Rose I Love You." Morrow eventually returned to the studios, where he remained until 1976, when he assumed leadership of the re-formed Tommy Dorsey orchestra.

And that's it for now. Until next time, keep swingin' . . . !

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4. Des Moines Big Band, Landmark (No Label)

5. The Timucua Jazz Orchestra, Live at Timucua (Timucua Arts Foundation)

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