This month's most welcome news has nothing to do with big bands but everything to do with artistry and excellence: saxophonist and jazz icon Sonny Rollins
has been elected to membership in the American Academy of Arts & Sciences. The Academy, a center for independent policy research (I don't quite understand what that has to do with jazz, but so be it), is among the country's oldest and most prestigious honorary societies and celebrates the 230th anniversary of its founding in 2010.
Other new members in the humanities and arts include Francis Ford Coppola, Denzel Washington, Suzanne Farrell and Thomas Hampson. The scholars, scientists, writers, artists and civic, philanthropic and corporate leaders among the 229 inductees include winners of the Nobel, Pulitzer and Shaw Prizes; MacArthur and Guggenheim fellows; and Oscar, Tony and Grammy Awards. The current membership includes more than 250 Nobel laureates and more than 60 Pulitzer Prize winners.
"It's a tremendous privilege and honor to be made a Fellow of the Academy," said Rollins. "Not only for me, but for what I representthe great American music called jazz." The new class will be inducted in a ceremony October 10 at the Academy's headquarters in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
The Roy Hargrove Big Band is among the performers June 1-13 at the DC Jazz Festival (formerly the Duke Ellington Jazz Festival) in America's capital city. Other luminaries scheduled to appear include pianists Kenny Barron and Cyrus Chestnut, trumpeter Claudio Roditi, saxophonist Paquito D'Rivera, singers Roberta Gambarini and Dianne Reeves, the Poncho Sanchez and Eddie Palmieri Latin Jazz Bands, violinist Regina Carter and the Dizzy Gillespie All-Stars in a special tribute to NEA Jazz Master James Moody.
A number of events are free to the public including two Jazz and Families Fun Days, a courtyard concert at the Smithsonian American Art Museum, Jazz in the Garden at the National Gallery of Art's Sculpture Garden, and Jazz on the Potomac performances at the Kennedy Center's Millennium Stage with trumpeter Etienne Charles and the Berklee College World Jazz Nonet. For information, phone Kim Smith, 718-858-2557, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
We finally have a name for the Ken Poston / Los Angeles Jazz Institute event May 27-30 at the L.A. Airport Marriott Hotel"East Coast Sounds: Out of the Cool and Into the Hot." Sixteen concerts in all featuring Bob Brookmeyer, Johnny Mandel, Mose Allison, Terry Gibbs, Mundell Lowe, Teddy Charles, Harry Allen, Grant Stewart, Scott Robinson, Sam Most, Jeff Hamilton, Med Flory and SuperSax, Don Menza, the Gerry Mulligan Concert Jazz Band, the Maynard Ferguson Alumni Band and the Cannonball / Coltrane Project. Plus the usual films, panel discussions and poolside concerts. For more information, phone 562-200-5477 or go online to www.lajazzinstitute.org
How's this for an idea whose time has come: a Jazz and Blues Camp for girls. No kidding! The camp is set for August 9-14 at the Jazzschool in Berkeley, California. Designed for instrumentalists and vocalists from grades 6-12, the camp includes classes and instruction in combos, blues and funk, Latin band, percussion, vocal group, big band, gospel choir, songwriting, theory and improvisation, listening and appreciation, and labs for horns, piano, guitar, bass and drums. Each musician also receives one private lesson on her chosen instrument or voice.
The Jazz and Blues Camp is directed by Ellen Seeling and Jean Fineberg, both members of the splendid Montclair Women's Big Band, and the faculty includes Fineberg and Mad Duran (saxophones, winds, ensembles), Seeling and Christy Dana (trumpet, ensembles, theory and improvisation, Jazz listening and appreciation), Mimi Fox (guitar, ensembles), Tammy Hall and Erika Oba (piano, keyboards, ensembles), Ruth Davies and Ariane Cap (acoustic and electric bass, ensembles), Kelly Fasman and Michaelle Goerlitz (drums, percussion, ensembles), Jessica Neighbor and Rhonda Benin (vocals, vocal ensembles, song writing). Most are members of the Montclair Women's Big Band.
While some may scoff at the idea of a Jazz Camp for girls, they are living in the past, as even a cursory glance at today's jazz scene will confirm that talented women are rapidly moving to the forefront in what was once a male-dominated realm. No longer confined to the role of vocalist or pianist, women in 2010 are excelling on every instrument in groups of all shapes and sizes, playing music from traditional to straight-ahead to avant-garde. They've even formed big bands that are as taut and swinging as almost any that one can namenot only Montclair but DIVA, Maiden Voyage and the Seattle Women's Jazz Orchestra, as well as "mixed" bands led by Carla Bley, Jill Townsend, Anita Brown and others. And when an ensemble like the Army Blues names Liesl Whitaker to lead its trumpet section, one knows that women have arrived and are here to stay. Let's hope that Jazz Camps for girls are here to stay too.
For program information, phone 510-758-2200, or e-mail email@example.com. For registration information, phone the Jazzschool, 510-845-5373, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org, or go online to www.jazzschool.com
Noted in Passing
Romanian-born trombonist Peter Herbolzheimer, who became one of Germany's best and most popular big-band leaders, died March 27 in Cologne. He was 74 years old.
After honing his chops in the U.S., Herbolzheimer's long and distinguished career moved into high gear in 1969 when he formed the Rhythm Combination & Brass, a semi-big band (trumpets, trombones, rhythm and one saxophonist, Herb Geller) that was later expanded to include a full saxophone section, much like Rob McConnell's Boss Brass in Canada. In 1987, he became founder and music director of the German Youth Jazz Orchestra, BuJazzO, a position he held through 2006.
Herbolzheimer amassed many honors, performed with a who's who of jazz greats from the States and Europe, and recorded a number of superb big-band albums with the RC&B and BuJazzO. Some are out of print but among those still available, one can easily recommend Colours of a Band, Masterpieces, Smile, Friends and Silhouettes and (with BuJazzO) Calling South Africa, Focus on Vocals and On Tour.
Here in the States, jazz suffered two great losses in March and April with the passing of guitarist Herb Ellis (March 28) and pianist John Bunch (April 6).
Ellis, whose smooth, blues-inflected style endeared him to generations of fans, is perhaps best known as a member of the acclaimed Oscar Peterson Trio in the mid- to late-1950s. He was the last surviving member of that particular group, Peterson having died in December 2007 and bassist Ray Brown in July 2002. In the 1960s, Ellis became a busy studio musician in Los Angeles, performing mainly on television variety shows. He returned to jazz in 1973, joining fellow guitarists Barney Kessel and Charlie Byrd in the group Great Guitars. He recorded frequently over the next two decades, with that group and as a leader, on the Concord Jazz label.
Bunch, an elegant stylist who was at home playing swing or bop, performed most recently with the trio New York Swing, whose other members were guitarist Bucky Pizzarelli and bassist Jay Leonhart. That was the latest stop in a career that began when Bunch was a teen-ager in Tipton, Indiana, and included time in bands led by Woody Herman, Benny Goodman, Maynard Ferguson, Buddy Rich and Gene Krupa and six years as pianist and music director for singer Tony Bennett. He played almost to the end, appearing with New York Swing less than a month before his passing.
North of the border, Canada lost a fine musician in March with the passing of saxophonist Eugene Amaro, a longtime stalwart with Rob McConnell's Boss Brass who more recently led the Eugene Amaro Quartet. He also co-led the Eugene Amaro / Sam Noto Quintet and performed with the Ron Rully Sextet and Ian McDougall Dectet.
Mike Zwerin, who gave up the presidency of an American steel company to play Jazz trombone and later became a noted critic in Europe, died April 2 in Paris. He was 79 years old. As a trombonist, Zwerin played with big bands led by Maynard Ferguson and Claude Thornhill, and recorded with musicians including Miles Davis, Charles Mingus, Earl Hines and Bob Dylan He worked for his father at the Capitol Steel Corp. and became president when his father died in 1960. From 1964-69, Zwerin was jazz columnist for the Village Voice in New York, and in 1977 became a music critic for the International Herald Tribune in Paris. Zwerin wrote a number of books including five about jazz, most notably Close Enough for Jazz and The Parisian Jazz Chronicles: An Improvisational Memoir.
Which brings us to another writer of note, Gene Lees, a transplanted Canadian who was widely known and respected for his jazz essays and biographies of such music greats as Oscar Peterson, Woody Herman and Johnny Mercer. Lees died April 22 at his home in Ojai, California. He was 82 years old. Lees was also a composer and lyricist who wrote the words to Antonio Carlos Jobim's "Quiet Nights and Quiet Stars" and pianist Bill Evans' "Waltz for Debby," among other songs. Lees served as editor of DownBeat magazine from 1959-61 before striking out on his own as a writer, critic and historian. In 1981 he founded the Gene Lees Newsletter, which he maintained until his passing. Among Lees' 18 books are Oscar Peterson: The Will to Swing; Cats of Any Color: Jazz Black and White; Leader of the Band: The Life of Woody Herman and You Can't Steal a Gift: Dizzy, Clark, Milt and Nat. At the time of his death, Lees was completing work on a biography of Artie Shaw.
And that's it for now. Until next time, keep swingin'!
New and Noteworthy
1. Phil Kelly, Ballet of the Bouncing Beagles (Origin)
2. Frank Macchia, Folk Songs for Jazzers (Cacophony)
3. Molnycke Storband, Premiere (InVision Group)
4. Nova Jazz Orchestra, A Time of Reckoning (NJO)
5. DVC Jazz with Bob Mintzer, Live at Yoshi's (DVC Jazz)
6. Steve Waterman Jazz Orchestra, October Arrival (Hydro Jazz)
7. New Zealand School of Music Big Band, Run for Cover (Tbone Music)
8. Omar Sosa / NDR Big Band, Celebration (ta Records)
9. Russ Spiegel's Big Bang (Oomph! Records)
10. Istanbul Superband, Plays Omer Goksel (Muzikal)
11. The Limited Edition Big Band, For Love of the Music (No Label)
12. Lasse Lindgren Constellations, In the Mood for Standards (Imogena)
13. Norrbotten Big Band, Grains (Phono Suecia)
14. U North Texas One O'Clock Lab Band, Lab 2009 (UNT Jazz)
15. Big Band Ritmo Sinfonica Citta di Verona, Restless Spirits (no label)