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Salute to Stan Kenton: Artistry in Contrast

Jack Bowers By

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Artistry in Rhythm, the Ken Poston / Los Angeles Jazz Institute's 2009 homage to the renowned bandleader Stan Kenton, was held October 8-11 at the Sheraton LAX Four Points Hotel. As always, there was much to see, hear and admire: films, panel discussions, special presentations and, last but not least, no fewer than nineteen concerts by groups large and small including four lunchtime events at the Sheraton's outdoor swimming pool. A number of Kenton alumni were there, almost all of whom were performing in various ensembles and / or taking part in the panels. The music was, with at least one notable (and overlong) exception, well worth hearing. More about that later.

Prologue

Betty and I arrived in L.A. two days early (on our thirtieth wedding anniversary), not for the "bonus" event at Capitol Records in Hollywood (at which the Mike Vax Band performed twice) but to spend Wednesday morning and afternoon with Betty's sister Barbara in Encino. After a few harrowing miles on the Interstate we had a pleasant visit and delicious lunch, returning to the hotel around suppertime to rest and prepare for the opening of the Kenton extravaganza.

Thursday, October 8

Artistry began, as is customary, at 9 o'clock Thursday morning with the first of four films, all devoted to "The Kenton Era." This one, spanning the years 1941-48, included clips of Kenton (with Gus Arnheim's Orchestra in '37), bassists Howard Rumsey and Eddie Safranski, percussionist Chico (Alfred) Alvarez, trumpeter Buddy Childers, singer June Christy (whose "Something Cool" was sabotaged by a technical glitch), Pete Rugolo's orchestra, tenor saxophonist Stan Getz, trombonist Kai Winding playing "Lover Man" (with Thelonious Monk on piano, Art Blakey on drums, and trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie and saxophonist Sonny Stitt lurking nearby), drummer Shelly Manne (from the soundtrack of the Bob Hope / Bing Crosby film The Road to Bali), clips from the TV show featuring Herb Geller, Stu Williamson and Laurindo Almeida, and bongo master Jack Costanzo performing in the Elvis Presley film Harum Scarum and backing Nat Cole on "Calypso Blues."

The film was followed by the first of five special presentations, "In Search of Bob Graettinger," overseen by Werner Herbers, former principal oboist in the Netherlands Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, and Robert Morgan, director emeritus of the High School for the Performing and Visual Arts in Houston, Texas. While they were searching for Graettinger I went in search of band rehearsals, and found one delving into the more congenial music of Shorty Rogers. At noon, it was off to poolside for a bite to eat and a concert by the splendid Cal State University-Fullerton Jazz Ensemble led by Chuck Tumlinson. The weather was cool but pleasant for a sleek hour-long program that included Duke Ellington's "In a Mellow Tone," Bill Holman's "Hav-a-Havana," Gene Roland's "Street Scene," Hank Levy's "Time for a Change," trumpeter Tim Hagans' "Space Dozen" and Charlie Parker's "Anthropology" (with obligatory SuperSax passages for the reed section). The ensemble was tight, the soloists strong. Nice program.

After a short break, the Pete Rugolo Orchestra directed by Ron Jones was first up in the California Ballroom, playing music written by Rugolo for his own big band. With Rugolo's daughter Gina in the audience, the orchestra opened with "California Melodies," "Painted Rhythm" and "Early Stan" before featuring flautist Kim Richmond on a seductive version of "Poinciana." Richmond returned on alto for the venerable "Eager Beaver," which followed "Come Back Little Rocket." Rugolo was a consummate arranger of ballads, as shown on the next three numbers—"You Stepped Out of a Dream," "Sunday, Monday or Always" and "Laura." The orchestra closed the session with the lively "Fancy Meeting You." Besides Richmond, the first-rate improvisers included alto Dick Meldonian, trumpeters Ron Stout and Bob Summers, tenor Billy Kerr and pianist Rich Eames.

A panel discussion, the first of four, followed in the San Diego Room with moderator Kirk Silsbee overseeing a quintet whose members were Rumsey, "Mr. Bongos" Costanzo, trombonist Eddie Bert, bassist Don Bagley and trombonist Roy Wiegand. Rumsey, who appears to have gotten his second wind at age ninety-two, offered several perceptive sketches of Kenton and his orchestras, as did the other panelists.

Rumsey's legendary Lighthouse All-Stars were reassembled for the next concert, which showcased the music of one ot its most gifted (and underrated) members, tenor saxophonist Bob Cooper. Pete Christlieb sat in for Coop, with trombonist Andy Martin and trumpeter Marvin Stamm completing a solid front line that was backed by a blue-ribbon rhythm section (pianist Steve Strazzeri, bassist Luther Hughes and drummer Kendall Kay). The songs, all written and / or arranged by Cooper, included "Jubilation," "Night Life," "Snap the Whip," "Mad at the World," "All the Things You Are" and "Moto." Everyone was on the mark and the audience was enraptured, blissfully unaware of what was yet to come.

What follows is one's personal opinion and should not be construed as anything more.

After the dinner break, things began to slide inexorably downhill as Kim Richmond took center stage to conduct a concert of "Progressive Jazz." The set began with two of Pete Rugolo's more prosaic charts, the frenzied Afro-Cuban theme "Machito" and four-movement "Prologue Suite," before Richmond invited the charming vocalist Stephanie Nakasian onstage to sing three numbers—"Easy Street," "Interlude" and "How High the Moon." Following that brief respite, the ensemble closed with the equivocal "Impressions."

Many in the audience hadn't had time to recover before Werner Herbers appeared onstage to conduct a six-hour recital of "The Music of Bob Graettinger" (okay, it was one hour; it only seemed like six). Bob Graettinger. How can one suitably appraise his legacy? Well, to begin with, it must be conceded that his turgid and unwieldy themes, tedious and strident as they may be, do comprise "music" of a sort, even though devoid of any elements that would earn this listener's endorsement. To put it another way, were I to be appointed Jazz Czar I would immediately ban Graettinger's music from any and all future jazz events, as it clearly has nothing to do with jazz (that is to say, improvised music). The sole connection seems to be that it was performed by the Kenton Orchestra. Nevertheless, Graettinger's works were prominently displayed here, starting with "Thermopylae" and including "Untitled Original No. 427," "The Beachcomber," "Yenta," "Molshoaro" and a small-band version of the enigmatic "City of Glass."

I fully understand that some people, musicians among them, consider Graettinger's music to be nothing short of brilliant, while others shake their heads and wonder what the **** it was that they just heard. Obviously, I belong in the latter group. To me, most of it is nothing short of overwrought, self-indulgent noise. Among the comments I heard afterward, in the hall and elevator, none was positive—and that may be an understatement. On the other hand, a fully orchestrated version of Graettinger's reputed "masterpiece"—"City of Glass"—would not be heard until the following evening.

There were welcome reprieves during the set, as designated vocalist Nakasian made her second appearance and delighted the audience with her renditions of "Everything Happens to Me," "Lover Man" and "Fine and Dandy" ("Like singing in an earthquake," she later observed), while the orchestra performed one of Graettinger's more accessible charts, "April in Paris."

Perhaps Graettinger was, as some maintain, one of Kenton's more important composer / arrangers. But there were others, at least one of whom—the masterful William Russo—was scarcely mentioned during the four-day event. Of course, it could be argued that his output was minimal. After all, he only wrote (among others) "Solitaire," "Halls of Brass," "Bill's Blues," "Portrait of a Count," "Frank Speaking," "23 Degrees North, 82 Degrees West," "My Lady" and arranged much of the music on two of Kenton's more successful albums, Sketches on Standards and Portraits on Standards. End (for now) of unsolicited commentary.

Friday, October 9

Another day, another film, this one enveloping "Stan Kenton and the Birth of West Coast Jazz." Included were film clips of trumpeter Shorty Rogers (hilarious!); the Kenton Innovations Orchestra (from Ed Sullivan's TV show); saxophonist Art Pepper; the Maynard Ferguson Dream Band; Bob Cooper and saxophonist / flautist Bud Shank at the Lighthouse; trombonist Frank Rosolino playing "All the Things You Are" and singing the humorous "Please Don't Bug Me"; Rogers with Frank Sinatra in a scene from the movie Man with the Golden Arm; saxophonist Lee Konitz; Rogers, Ferguson and Shelly Manne with trumpeter Conte Candoli and saxophonist Richie Kamuca; and the Gerry Mulligan Sextet featuring saxophonist Zoot Sims and trombonist Bob Brookmeyer.

Panel No. 2, which followed, was a humdinger, with Dave Pell as moderator and panelists Dick Meldonian, Med Flory and Bill Trujillo trading humorous anecdotes and one-liners about the good old days while Pell responded in kind. An hour that flew by far too quickly. Afterward, Trujillo hustled poolside for a concert by "Shelly Manne's Men" (Bobby Shew, trumpet; Frank Collett, piano; Chuck Berghofer, bass; Paul Kreibich, drums). The upbeat session, a departure from the usual big-band poolside fare, opened with an original titled "Cabu," followed by Benny Golson's "Whisper Not," Tadd Dameron's "Our Delight" and "Poinciana." Russ Freeman's "Hugo Hureway" preceded "Nightingale" and the free-swinging closer, "Bee's Fleet." Shew was his lyrical self, Trujillo plainspoken, the quintet close-knit with Kreibich using mallets to awaken memories of Shelly on "Bee's Fleet."

The early afternoon concert brought another big band onstage, this time backing songstress Nakasian in "Something Cool: A Jazz Portrait of June Christy." Nakasian, who teaches at the University of Virginia and is as much musician as singer, has a clear and likable voice, excellent range, solid intonation, perceptive dynamics and, apparently, an unerring knack for choosing the proper songs. The stellar program included "I'll Take Romance," "I Should Care," "This Time the Dream's on Me," "Midnight Sun," "It's a Most Unusual Day," "All About Ronnie" (a bow to the recently departed Chris Connor, accompanied only by bassist Chris Conner), "Too Marvelous for Words," "The Night We Called It a Day," "Lullaby in Rhythm," "Something Cool" (of course), "It Could Happen to You," the Woody Herman favorite "I Told You I Love You, Now Get Out," "A Stranger Called the Blues" and "It Don't Mean a Thing If It Ain't Got That Swing." On "I Told You I Love You" Nakasian mimicked a trombone, trading sharp four-bar volleys with Scott Whitfield. Standing ovation? Yes, and well-deserved.

Alto saxophonist Fred Laurence Selden's exhilarating concert, "The Music of Art Pepper," was preceded by Poston's audio-visual presentation, "A Portrait of Bud Shank," covering the renowned saxophonist's early years until he joined the Kenton Orchestra in 1950. For his session, Selden was backed by Pepper's last rhythm section—pianist Milcho Leviev, bassist Tony Dumas and drummer Carl Burnette—for a program that included the spine-tingling "Surf Ride," "Make a Wish, Make a List" (on which Selden played flute), "Groovin' High," "Patricia" (written for Pepper's daughter, who was in the audience with his widow, Laurie), a rather ramshackle "Red Car" and the buoyant "Straight Life." To his credit, Selden didn't try to mimic Pepper's singular approach but did a marvelous job sitting in for him.

There was one more concert before the dinner break, by the Shorty Rogers Big Band directed by trumpeter Bobby Shew. This was not a panoramic view of Rogers' work, as seven of the dozen songs were taken from a single album, Cool and Crazy, recorded in 1953. Apparently, the band thought it was performing an eighth tune from the album, "Chiquito Loco," but it was actually a big band arrangement of Rogers' "Popo." Those from Cool and Crazy included "Coop de Graas," "Infinity Promenade," "Short Stop," "Boar-Jibu," "Contours," "Tale of an African Lobster" and "Sweetheart of Sigmund Freud." The others were "Pay the Piper," "At Home with Sweets" (for trumpeter Harry "Sweets" Edison), "The Pink Squirrel" and "Blues Express." The band could have used more rehearsal time (and brisker tempos, especially on "Short Stop") but the soloists were invariably impressive with Selden (alto) in a group that included tenors Trujillo and Gary Lefebvre, trombonist Whitfield, trumpeter Carl Saunders and pianist Jim Cox.

After supper, Werner Herbers returned to conduct a big-band concert (with strings) of Kenton's "Innovations in Modern Music" (a.k.a. more Bob Graettinger). The full orchestra opened with Graettinger's "Transparency" (actually its antithesis), after which the string section was featured by itself on his "House of Strings No. 2." Next came the moment everyone had been waiting for, a few with anticipation, most with dread—a sweeping orchestral version of Graettinger's "City of Glass." Herbers had directed the audience's attention to the last breathtaking chord in Movement No. 4, which couldn't arrive fast enough for this embattled listener. Helping pass the time more quickly was the thought of an amusing epigram attributed to the late trumpeter Buddy Childers that was making the rounds in the hallway: "People who live in glass cities shouldn't write charts."

Having splintered the "City" into countless shards, Herbers departed, and after a much-needed break the "Innovations" orchestra returned, this time with Kim Richmond at the helm, to clear the air with some relatively accessible themes, starting with the venerable "All the Things You Are," showcasing trumpeter Ron Stout in the solo role once owned by Maynard Ferguson. After Franklin Marks' downward "Spirals," Nakasian returned to offer a wordless vocal on Rugolo's well-named "Conflict" and stayed for Cole Porter's "Love for Sale." Alto Don Shelton was brilliant on Shorty Rogers' "Art Pepper," trombonist Roy Wiegand smooth as velvet on Johnny Richards' "Soliloquy." After three more vocals by Nakasian ("Get Happy," "I Want to Be Happy," Rugolo's arrangement of "Lonesome Road"), the orchestra wrapped up the concert and the evening with a rather stodgy and heavy-handed version of Rogers' buoyant "Jolly Rogers" (solos by Richmond, alto; Stout, trumpet).

Saturday, October 10

Saturday morning's third film, which I missed, was centered on the Kenton orchestra's vocalists including June Christy, Anita O'Day, the Four Freshmen, Ann Richards, Dolly Mitchell and Gene Howard. Alas, there was no available film footage of Chris Connor or Jean Turner. The montage was followed by a presentation of "Kenton Rarities" by Kenton bibliophile Steven Harris who must spend most of his waking hours searching for rare and almost-unknown Kenton curios. These particular items included "Artistry Jumps" (1945), an improvised Kenton / Christy duet ("He's Funny That Way"), "Autumn in New York" (with sub Al Cohn on tenor), a Chris Connor vocal ("Darn That Dream"), "Tamer-Lane," "Street Scene" featuring Gene Roland on mellophonium, "Swing Machine" (1968), "Step to the Rear of the Volkswagen" (1970), "Poinciana" (1971), "Pete Is a Four-Letter Word" (1974) and some choice four-letter words by Kenton himself from Donte's in Hollywood, circa 1968.

The noon poolside concert, by the Cal State-Fullerton Jazz Ensemble led by Chuck Tumlinson, was as sunny and refreshing as Los Angeles can be in mid-October. The band was pumped and on its toes throughout a pleasing set that opened with John Clayton's "Max" and included Mark Taylor's fine arrangement of "I Remember You," Clare Fischer's "The Duke," Don Menza's aptly named "Groove Blues," a Jeff Jarvis arrangement of Fats Waller's "Ain't Misbehavin'" (with the trumpet soloist doubling as band singer), Michael Brecker's "Slings and Arrows" and a Phil Wilson charmer, "Basically Blues." Another high-grade session by the college kids.

As Betty and I were to meet a young friend for lunch (she's a junior at nearby Pepperdine University), I was unable to catch the first half of another splendid concert, "Andy Martin Plays Frank Rosolino." What I did hear was superb, as Martin dazzled on Monk's "Well You Needn't," the standards "Flamingo," "Star Eyes" and "Yesterdays," and the chops-busting finale, "Take Me Out to the Ball Game." Martin's Grade A rhythm section was comprised of John Campbell, piano; Trey Henry, bass; and Kreibich, drums. As Martin noted, when it comes to jazz trombone Rosolino was truly in a class by himself, and there may never be another like him. But Martin comes about as close to Rosolino as anyone these days.

A late afternoon concert by the Maynard Ferguson Birdland Era Dream Band All-Stars directed by Don Menza was preceded by Panel No. 3, comprised of Kenton alumni Carl Saunders, Steve Huffsteter, Marvin Stamm, Jim Amlotte and Joel Kaye. Again, many tantalizing tales of Kenton and his orchestra, onstage and off, were recited, interspersed with humorous asides and anecdotes that kept the audience spellbound and chuckling with delight. Moderator Larry Hathaway had little to do but ask each of the panelists how he got on Kenton's band, then sit back and smile with everyone else.

Tony Inzalaco, one of Ferguson's drummers, was among the alumni in the All-Star Dream Band. Others included Menza, trumpeter Don Rader and alto Lanny Morgan. Rader and Morgan were featured on the easygoing opener, "And We Listened," Morgan again with trombonist Bill Reichenbach and trumpeter Shew on "Stella by Starlight." Menza took his turn alongside trumpeter Pete DeSiena and trombonist Charlie Morillas on "My Funny Valentine," after which Rader returned to share blowing space with Morgan, tenor Pete Christlieb and pianist Joe Bagg on Slide Hampton's colorful "Slide's Derangement." Another Hampton classic, the durable "Frame for the Blues," served as a backdrop for Menza, Morillas and bassist Chris Conner, with awesome high notes courtesy of DeSiena. The band closed with a twin salute to the animal kingdom by Willie Maiden, "Foxy" and "Three More Foxes," the first showcasing Christlieb, Menza, Bagg, baritone Adam Schroeder and trumpeter Jamie Hovorka, the second Rader, Shew, Hovorka and drummer Inzalaco. This was a loose and gregarious session, one that left almost everyone with a smile on his / her face.

Panel No. 4, held before the dinner break, was well-reasoned and perceptive, with clear and insightful commentary from its two panelists, bassist Max Bennett and legendary composer / arranger Bill Holman. Moderator Kirk Silsbee asked suitable questions, which neither panelist hesitated to answer. The usually reticent Holman seemed quite at ease, and his answers were thoughtful and comprehensive, as were Bennett's. Those who were there departed for supper with much to review and ponder.

Back in the California Ballroom with appetites assuaged, the audience readied itself for "Contemporary Concepts," another all-star session highlighting dynamic charts by Holman and Gerry Mulligan. As Al Porcino was ill and unable to direct the ensemble, his place was taken by Carl Saunders who doubled as lead trumpet. Unlike the previous two evening concerts, one can hardly go astray while playing the music of Holman or Mulligan, as the band quickly proved on the opener, Gerry's passionate "Young Blood." Alto Med Flory soloed alone on Holman's arrangement of "Cherokee" and with trombonist Bob McChesney and tenor Bill Trujillo on Mulligan's "Swing House." The standard "Yesterdays," once a showcase for tenor Bill Perkins, brought Trujillo to the fore again, while alto Dick Meldonian was featured on Holman's dashing arrangement of "Stella by Starlight." Mulligan's even-tempered "Walkin' Shoes" (Trujillo, Meldonian, trombonist Kenny Shroyer, trumpeter Marvin Stamm) and "Stella" preceded a pair of Holman's incomparable charts, "Stompin' at the Savoy" and "What's New," before the band rang down the curtain with his sparkling arrangement of Cole Porter's "I've Got You Under My Skin."

If that wasn't enough Holman to please everyone, the final concert of the evening brought to the stage the Bill Holman Band, one of the few actual working bands heard during the weekend. As this was Saturday evening's main event, it was disquieting to note that the ballroom was no more than two-thirds full, if that, underscoring the fact that attendance was down compared to other events we'd attended. There were times, during other concerts, when the audience occupied less than half the ballroom's seating area. Let's hope that attendance improves when the Poston events resume next May (more about that later).

Holman, who doesn't always wear his "swinging" hat, had it on this time, opening with the arrangement of Lennon / McCartney's "Norwegian Wood" he'd written for the Buddy Rich Band in the late 1960s (solos by trombonist Martin, alto Rick Keller, pianist Bagg) and continuing with "Lightnin'" (Bob Summers, trumpet; Kevin Garren, tenor sax), "A Day in the Life" (Martin, Garren), "All the Way" (featuring Martin all the way), Tadd Dameron's "If You Could See Me Now" (Saunders, trumpet), "Friday the 13th" (Bruce Babad, soprano sax; Ron Stout, trumpet) and closing (almost) with Dizzy Gillespie's "Dizzy Atmosphere" (Keller, alto; Stout, Summers, trumpet; Kevin Kanner, drums). The band started to leave but the audience wouldn't let them go that easily, applauding and cheering until Holman called for an encore, Monk's "Rhythm-a-Ning," underpinning electrifying solos by Bagg and tenor Rickey Woodard. What a way to end the day.

Sunday, October 11

Sunday morning's fourth and final film was another must-see, as it included vintage clips of such Kenton standouts as Bill Perkins, Jack Sheldon, Lennie Niehaus, Carl Fontana, Mel Lewis, Bill Chase, Shelly Manne, Charlie Mariano, Shorty Rogers, Stu Williamson, Richie Kamuca, Stan Levey, Max Bennett and Scott LaFaro. Speaking of LaFaro, the film was followed by a special presentation, "Jade Visions: The Life and Music of Scott LaFaro," by the bassist's sister, Helene LaFaro-Hernandez, who set aside time afterward to sign her book by that name. LaFaro, as most jazz fans know, was a Kenton alumnus who later became an integral part of pianist Bill Evans' groundbreaking trio before he was killed in an auto accident at age twenty-five. His sister emphasized his importance not only as a virtuosic bassist but also a rising composer whose influence would have been far greater had he not been taken from us so early in his career. Also taking part in the discussion were bassists Rumsey and Putter Smith.

The poolside concert, moved forward more than half an hour for scheduling purposes, turned out to be one of the weekend's highlights, as director Jeff Jarvis and the impressive Cal State-Long Beach Jazz Ensemble unleashed a spectacular performance that included the complete Cuban Fire suite, on which the rhythm / percussion section was no less than electrifying. The band opened in an easygoing vein with Willie Maiden's "A Little Minor Booze" and Dee Barton's soulful arrangement of "Here's That Rainy Day" before turning up the heat on Holman's version of "Stompin' at the Savoy." Having warmed up the audience, the ensemble sprang headlong into Cuban Fire (complete with narrator and French horns / mellophoniums), and Johnny Richards' rhythmically emphatic tone poem has seldom sounded sharper or more invigorating. One thing that set the CSULB group above its counterparts was the over-all strength and creativity of its soloists, all of whom were outstanding. I was especially impressed by tenor saxophonist Tristan Thomas who framed a number of persuasive statements. At concert's end, the CSULB ensemble received a well-earned standing ovation.

That was a tough act to follow, but Panel No. 5 did the best it could, as former Kenton lead trumpeter Mike Vax moderated a lively and interesting session whose panelists were members of the "later" (1970s) Kenton orchestras. They included Kim Richmond, Greg Smith, Al Yankee, Mike Suter, Dave Barduhn, Dale Devoe and Gary Hobbs, every one of whom said what an honor and a pleasure it was to have played with Stan the Man. Another eminent alumnus, alto saxophonist John Park, was lovingly remembered in a special audio / visual presentation, "The Legacy of John Park," by his son, Kim Parker, also a saxophonist and Kenton alumnus who had played alongside his dad in Kenton's sax section.

That set the stage for the weekend's seventeenth concert, this one by the innovative John Daversa Big Band playing "The Jazz Compositions of Dee Barton." The program included "Pententium Motion," "The Singing Oyster," "Three Thoughts," "Fast & Direct," "Camels," "A New Day" and "Missing Platelets," the last including the trumpet duo of John Daversa and his father, Jay, who had soloed earlier on "A New Day" and with alto Kim Richmond on Barton's "Three Thoughts." John Daversa fashioned several nimble solos, with others by trombonists Paul Young and Charlie Morillas and tenors John Yoakum and Tom Peterson. While the music wasn't what I'd call engaging, it was certainly well-played, and John Daversa is a personable and talented leader, composer and arranger.

After a break, another all-star band, this one led by pianist Barduhn, presented a prelude to suppertime entitled "Creative World: Stan Kenton in the Seventies." Jay Daversa was in the trumpet section, and Dee Barton's spirit was very much in evidence as the trombones took center stage on his enchanting arrangement of "Here's That Rainy Day." Maiden's "A Little Minor Booze" was followed by Ken Hanna's "Bonhomme Richard" (written for Dick Shearer and featuring Dale Devoe), Hank Levy's "Pegasus" and the lush Kenton treatment of Stephen Sondheim's "Send in the Clowns." Lennie Niehaus arranged "The Party's Over," which preceded "MacArthur Park" (with men's chorus!), Al Yankee's arrangement of "Lush Life" and Holman's "Malaga." As an encore, Jay Daversa was featured on "America the Beautiful." The other captivating soloists were Barduhn; trumpeters Huffsteter, Stamm, Vax and Dennis Noday; trombonist Eric Jorgensen, alto Richmond and tenor Kim Park.

The light at the end of the tunnel was growing brighter as the Mike Vax Orchestra Featuring Stan Kenton Alumni began warming up for the final concerts of the four-day event. Audience in place, the band opened the first of two exhilarating sets with Dale Devoe's sunny "Alex's Tune" (solos by Peterson, tenor; Devoe, trombone; Huffsteter, trumpet), followed by a medley from West Side Story (Huffsteter, muted trumpet), Paul Baker's "El Viento Caliente" and Bronislau Kaper's "Invitation" (showcasing Kim Richmond's sensuous alto). Lennie Niehaus arranged Jerome Kern's lovely "Long Ago and Far Away" (Joel Kaye, baritone sax), which set the stage for vocalists Scott Whitfield and Ginger Berglund who wowed the audience with Steve Allen's "This Could Be the Start of Something" and Bob Florence's "I'll Remember" (renamed "Our Garden" with lyrics by Scott and Ginger). Between songs, the duo had fun explaining that they are now man and wife. Trumpeter Don Rader was featured on Devoe's arrangement of "Softly As I Leave You" before the band closed the first set with an exuberant rendition of the venerable "Peanut Vendor" (during which members of the ensemble left the stage to walk among the audience as they played).

After an intermission, Set 2 got under way with Eric Richards' funky "Crescent City Stomp" (solos by Vax, trombonist Wiegand, baritone Nancy Newman, drummer Hobbs). Niehaus' arrangement of "Lullaby of Broadway" was next, followed by Johnny Richards' "Artemis and Apollo." After Whitfield and Berglund returned to sing Frank Loesser's "Slow Boat to China," the ensemble tackled Richmond's new arrangement of "Intermission Riff," wherein he scored trombonist Fontana's solo for the band. Huffsteter's clever "Joint Tenancy" was a vehicle for two trumpets, his and Rader's, while Kaye's arrangement of Johnny Mandel's "The Shadow of Your Smile" featured his bass flute with Rader's flugelhorn and Billy Kerr's tenor sax. Closing time had come, and what better way to end the concert and the weekend than with Holman's volcanic arrangement of "Malaguena." With Kerr's tenor out front, the ensemble tore into the chart with gusto, leaving the audience nearly breathless with euphoria tinged with a sadness prompted by the realization that "Artistry in Rhythm" was indeed over and the time had come to start packing, head for the airport (if necessary) and return home.

Epilogue

In sum, "Artistry in Rhythm" lived up to its promise in spite of some harrowing detours into the realm of the avant-garde (which Kenton no doubt would have relished). In other words, the high spots more than made up for any shortcomings (which, when seen by others, may have been hallmarks). Before leaving, Betty and I had already been given a flier announcing the next LAJI event, to be held May 27-30 at the Sheraton LAX Four Points, with a "bonus" Sunset Harbor cruise May 26 for the first 100 VIP registrants celebrating the legendary "Four Brothers" sound with the Woody Herman Orchestra directed by Frank Tiberi and special "guest brothers" Arno Marsh, Bill Trujillo, Dick Hafer, Med Flory and Roger Neumann. Although the event doesn't yet have a name, the lineup of artists and groups is already impressive, starting with the Gerry Mulligan Concert Jazz Band and including Johnny Mandel, the Teddy Charles Tentet, Hal McKusick's Jazz Workshop, the Gil Evans Big Band, Terry Gibbs (playing the music of Tiny Kahn), the Gerry Mulligan Sextet, a tribute to Stan Getz by Don Menza, the Elliot Lawrence Big Band, Bob Brookmeyer, a celebration of Al Cohn and Zoot Sims, and the music of Quincy Jones, George Russell, Manny Albam, Johnny Carisi and Alec Wilder. And that's just for starters, as more performers and groups are sure to be added later. As always, one can find more details and registration information at 562-985-7065.

On the Horizon

The Albuquerque Jazz Orchestra swings back into action this month (November 2009) with concerts on the 24th at Eldorado High School and on the 29th at The Cooperage. In December, the AJO has dates on the 5th at the Albuquerque Museum (the annual NM Jazz Workshop fund-raiser, "Yule Struttin'") and on the 11th at Manzano High School.

A tribute to the late composer / arranger / pianist Bob Florence will be held at 7 p.m. February 21 at the Lobrero Theatre in Santa Barbara, CA. The concert will feature Florence's Limited Edition Big Band playing his compositions and arrangements including those from the band's CD, Legacy, recorded after Florence's passing in May 2008.

The Mike Vax Big Band, recently renamed the Stan Kenton Alumni Band Directed by Mike Vax, is planning a tour of western states next March, and a second tour of the South and Southeast in April. A limited number of fans rides the bus on every tour. For information, to book the band or sign up for the bus rides, phone 925-427-6666 or 925-872-1942, e-mail vaxtrpts@aol.com, or visit the web site www.mikevax.net

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


New and Noteworthy

1. Jack Cortner Big Band, Sound Check (Jazzed Media)
2. Dana Legg Stage Band, The Other One (Sea Breeze Jazz)
3. SWR Big Band / Sammy Nestico, Fun Time (Hanssler Classic)
4. Alf Clausen Jazz Orchestra, Swing Can Really Hang You Up the Most (Sunny Nodak)
5. Terry Vosbein / Knoxville Jazz Orchestra, Progressive Jazz 2009 (no label)
6. John Burnett Swing Orchestra, West of State Street / East of Harlem (Delmark)
7. Dizzy Gillespie All-Star Big Band, I'm BeBoppin' Too (HighNote)
8. Dan Cavanagh, Pulse (OA2)
9. Ayn Inserto Jazz Orchestra, Muse (Creative Nation Music)
10. Terry Gibbs Big Band, Swing Is Here (Verve)
11. Dan McMillion Jazz Orchestra, Nice n' Juicy (Sea Breeze Jazz)
12. Cal State University-Northridge, Rain Song (no label)
13. Count Basie, Mustermesse Basel 1956, Part 1 (TCB)
14. European Jazz Orchestra, Swinging Europe 2008 (Music Mecca)
15. Arveheim / Berke Upscale Ten, Scope (Phono Suecia)


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