For more than twenty years, the Stan Kenton Alumni Band has kept the pulse of big-band jazz strongly beating through regular touring under the direction of trumpet master Mike Vax, who served as the Orchestra's first trumpet, soloist and road manager (and also spent one year leading The Dukes of Dixieland, a genuine New Orleans musical treasure) before assuming leadership of the Stan Kenton Alumni Band.
Road Scholars Live captures this Band in their element: Blowing hot and cool through an encyclopedic survey of modern styles for an appreciative concert audience during their 2013 performance tour. It pulls out of the gate on the strong rhythmic tracks laid by pianist Charlie Ferguson and bassist Jennifer Leitham in "Neverbird," written by Kenton trumpeter/arranger Ray Brown in honor of the Orchestra's 1970s tour bus (This bus is further commemorated in the original cover art drawn by cartoonist Tom Batiuk of Funky Winkerbean fame).
"Stompin' at the Savoy" shines with all the brilliance of a highly polished ballroom dance floor, with ensemble and solo highlights that seem to reflect both the Glenn Miller and Benny Goodman Orchestras. "Stompin'" leads into the Latin-tinged Chico & the Man, originally written by Jose Feliciano as the TV show theme but here a springboard for Vax's enchanting trumpet solo. "Sneaky" twists into another different mood, with bassist Leitham and drummer Gary Hobbs rocking the tempo hard and fast and saxophone soloists blowing high heat to match.
Even after two vocal stops"Stockholm Sweetnin'" (written by Quincy Jones) and "Cinnamon and Cloves"this tour continues to find new and different venues to explore. "Nessun Dorma" masterfully rearranges Giacomo Puccini's aria for Vax's solo trumpet before the Band rips like a howling wind through Lennie Niehaus' arrangement (custom written for Kenton's Orchestra) of "Lullaby of Broadway."
"Reed Rapture" crowns Road Scholars with Kenton's brilliant original written and arranged for saxophones only, but sounding like a complete orchestra thanks to Kenton's compositional, and his Alumni Band's instrumental, genius.
Neverbird; I Have Dreamed; Stompin' At the Savoy; Chico & the Man; Sneaky; Yesterdays; Beautiful Friendship; Stockholm Sweetnin'; Cinnamon & Clove; Nessun Dorma; Lullaby of Broadway; Reed Rapture; Alex Revisited; America the Beautiful.
Ginger Berglund: vocals; Rick Bullock: trombone; Rick Condit: saxophone; Dale Devoe: trombone; Charlie Ferguson: piano; Pete Gallio: saxophone; Phil Hilger: saxophone; Gary Hobbs: drums; Dee Huffsteter: Latin percussion; Steve Huffsteter: trumpet; Joel Kaye: saxophone; Jennifer Leitham: bass; Dennis Noday: trumpet; Don Rader: trumpet; Kim Richmond: saxophone; Carl Saunders: trumpet; Kenny Shroyer: trombone; Mike Vax: trumpet; Scott Whitfield: trombone, vocals; Roy Wiegand: trombone.