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I'd not heard of the Citrus College Jazz Ensemble (in Glendora, CA) until several weeks ago when I received an e-mail request to "check 'em out." Glad I did. Director Robert Slack and coordinator Ann Heming were kind enough to send me two discs by the ensemble. We'll comment first on Take a Number, the more recent of the two, which gives Slack's young charges an opportunity to display their mettle on a number of vibrant originals including three by Bill Liston ("Take a Number," "Jerry's Tune," "Common Market") and one each by Tom Kubis ("Purple Porpoise Parkway"), Steve Allen ("In Memory of Bix," arranged by Kubis), Tom Hynes ("Siete"), and band members Jason Powell ("Brief Encounter") and Darren Plies ("Megiddo"). Completing the exemplary program are Ellington/Tizol's "Caravan" and two well-known standards, "That Old Black Magic" and "Almost Like Being in Love" (both of which feature the ensemble's vocalist, Leslie Scott, with excellent support from the band). It seems not to matter these days whether a school is large or small, well-known or unknown - if it has a Jazz Studies program, the band is hard-working, perceptive and cooks when necessary. Citrus College certainly boasts those assets (any doubts are quickly laid to rest along the sinuous "Purple Porpoise Parkway") and some others as well - capable soloists (pianist Reilich, alto Silva, trumpeters Brigstocke and de la Garza, guitarist McCormick among them) and a topnotch rhythm section (Reilich, McCormick, bassist Plies and drummer Bryant on most selections). This one's definitely worth checking out. CC's earlier disc, whose meager 34:20 playing time weighs heavily against it, embodies a more traditional salute to big bands of the Swing Era including Ellington, Basie, Goodman, Glenn Miller and Ted Heath. The session opens with a lively overture, arranged by Liston (who also scored "Over the Rainbow" and a Roaring '20s version of Cole Porter's "Anything Goes"), before reprising Goodman's trademark "Sing, Sing, Sing," written by Louis Prima and featuring drummer Bryant sitting in for Gene Krupa. Also on the agenda are bows to Miller ("Pennsylvania 6-5000," "A String of Pearls"), Ellington ("A Train"), Heath (his arrangement of "Stardust" on which the soaring trumpets of de la Garza and director Slack are showcased), Basie ("Shiny Stockings") and even the Andrews Sisters ("Rum and Coca-Cola"). Melissa Stewart sings "Over the Rainbow" (including the lovely verse), which takes courage if your name isn't Garland. The band plays well enough, but there's nothing here that the average Jazz fan shouldn't have long ago committed to memory. Be that as it may, Slack has established a strong program at Citrus College, and we look forward to hearing more from his enterprising ensemble.
Take a Number: Take a Number; Caravan; In Memory of Bix; Jerry's Tune; Brief Encounter; That Old Black Magic; Siete; Megiddo; Common Market; Almost Like Being in Love; On Purple Porpoise Parkway (56:42). Time Was: Overture; Sing, Sing, Sing; Pennsylvania 6-5000; Anything Goes; Take the "A" Train; Stardust; Rum and Coca-Cola; A String of Pearls; Over the Rainbow; Shiny Stockings (34:20).
Take a Number: Daniel Silva, alto, soprano saxophone, piccolo; Robert Castro, alto sax; Jason Powell, Joe Castro, tenor sax; Derryk Ludwig, baritone sax; Allen Everman, Brad Pray, Douglas Reid, trombone; Jerald Gray, bass trombone, tuba; James de la Garza, Colin Brigstocke, Gino Munoz, Jason Basoco, trumpet; Carlos Duque, French horn; Peter Reilich, piano; Corey McCormick, Tim O'Leary, guitar; Darren Plies, Jeff Johnson, bass; George Bryant, drums; Johnny Everman, Ken McGrath, Joe Cheek, percussion; Leslie Scott, vocals. Time Was: Dan Silva, Steve Judkins, Jason Powell, Wade Watkins, Derryk Ludwig, reeds; James de la Garza, Gino Munoz, Jason Basoco, Max Shanter, Mauricio Centeno, trumpet; Brad Prey, Doug Reid, Mike Ditta, Mike Howden, Tim Younghans, trombone; Allen Everman, piano; Corey McCormick, guitar; Darren Plies, bass; George Bryant, drums; Joe Cheek, Johnny Everman, Ken McGrath, percussion; Pavel Farkas, Yarda Kettner, Nicole Bush, Gail Cruz Farkas, Robert Peterson, Zheng Wang, violin; Ray Tischer, Jing Yu-Lou, viola; John Acosta, Kevin Plunkett, cello; Nathan Campbell, Ronn Kaufmann, French horn.
Years ago now--in Rhodesia--listening to Voice of America with Willis Conover I heard Bunk Johnson play When The Saints Go Marching In, and Billie Holiday sing Don't Explain. I knew then there was no other life for me than jazz.