In 1983, when the "new Artie Shaw Orchestra was formed (Shaw had been out of the music business for nearly three decades), Boston-based clarinetist Dick Johnson was chosen to lead the band, which he has done to this day. After Shaw died in December of 2004, Johnson decided to record a tribute to his long-time friend and musical inspiration, but he vowed that it would be more than a sweet and sentimental stroll down memory lane.
Johnson put together a grade-A ensemble, enlisted the services of seasoned arrangers Bob Freedman and Jay Brandford, and leavened such timeless Shaw themes as "Stardust, "The Grabtown Grapple, "My Funny Valentine, "In the Still of the Night, "I Concentrate on You and "The Anniversary Song (smartly arranged by Sonny Burke) with more contemporary works by Blue Mitchell ("Fungii Mama ), Bill Evans ("Waltz for Debby ), Joe Ciavardone ("Moody Street ) and Johnson himself ("Bossa for Pam, "Pray Tell, Sarah, Where's Dan? ). Rounding out the amiable and thoroughly trendy program are the standards "Gone with the Wind, "My Romance and "When the Sun Comes Out.
Although Johnson is now in his 80s, there's no suggestion of that here; his creativity remains unimpaired and he plays with the passion and virility of someone half his age. Johnson solos often but leaves ample room for his younger colleagues to express themselves, which they do quite eloquently. Tenor saxophonist Matt Koza is featured on "Gone with the Wind, alto Dave Chapman on "Valentine, trumpeter Kerry McKillop on "My Romance, and there are cogent statements elsewhere by trombonists Chris Oberholtzer, Doug Elliott and Chris Dempsey, trumpeters Trent Austin and Phil Person, alto Sil D'Urbano, tenor Ed Harlow, guitarist Jon Wheatley and pianist Paul Odeh. Trumpeter Lou Colombo is a splendid guest soloist on "Stardust.
Even though some of the tunes are familiar, they shine anew in Freedman and Brandford's exemplary charts, while the ensemble gives each of them an earnest reading. Lead trumpeter Jay Daly is a standout, as are those in the orchestra's industrious rhythm section (Odeh, Wheatley, bassist Bronek Suchanek, drummer Mark Holovnia). Setting aside the knowledge that it is a "tribute, Star Dust and Beyond stands on its own as a sharp and swinging session that is sure to please anyone who gets a kick out of first-class big band jazz.
In the Still of the Night: Fungii Mama; Gone with the Wind; The Grabtown Grapple; Stardust; Moody Street; My Funny Valentine; Waltz for Debby; I Concentrate on You; Anniversary Song; Bossa for Pam; When the Sun Comes Out; My Romance; Pray Tell, Sarah, Where
Dick Johnson: leader, clarinet; Robert Freedman: arranger (1-3,5-8,11,12,14), conductor
(1-3,5-8,10-12,14); Jay Brandford: arranger, conductor (4,9,13); Jay Daly, Trent Austin,
Phil Person, Kerry MacKillop: trumpet, flugelhorn; Lou Columbo: trumpet (5); Dave
Chapman: alto sax, clarinet; Sil D
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