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The "Desert Island" Revisited

Jack Bowers By

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Back in the last millennium, shortly after this column first saw the light of day, I posted a list of twenty "desert island" albums, those that would be snugly ensconced in a crash-proof, water-tight carrying case should yours truly ever be marooned on a miniature atoll with nothing to relieve the boredom save palm trees, coconuts, sandy beaches and ample electrical outlets. Here is the list as it appeared then:

1. Buddy Rich, Big Swing Face (Pacific Jazz). 2. Louie Bellson, Dynamite! (Concord Jazz). 3. Frank Capp Juggernaut, Play It Again, Sam (Concord Jazz). 4. Stan Kenton, Live at Keesler Air Force Base, 1958 (Astral Jazz). 5. Tom Kubis, Slightly Off the Ground (Sea Breeze). 6. Rob McConnell and the Boss Brass, Boss Brass and Woods (MCA / Impulse!). 7. Rob Parton, JazzTech Big Band. (Sea Breeze). 8. Maynard Ferguson, It Might as Well Be Spring: The Roulette Years (EMI Canada). 9. Bill Potts, 555 Feet High (Jazz Mark). 10. Pete Petersen, Jazz Journey (Chase Music Group). 11. The Hawk-Richard Orchestra, The Hawk's Out (Sea Breeze). 12. Erwin Lehn, 40 Jahre Jazz: 1951-91 (Intercord). 13. Chicago Metropolitan Jazz Orchestra, Live and Screamin' (Chicago Lakeside Jazz). 14. Woody Herman Orchestra, A Tribute to the Legacy of Woody Herman NY Jam). 15. McGill University Jazz Ensemble, Something Personal NU Jazz). 16. Kansas City Boulevard Big Band, Stellar (Sea Breeze). 17. John Fedchock, New York Big Band (Reservoir). 18. Dave McMurdo, Fire & Song Sackville). 19. University of Nevada-Las Vegas, Caliente, Muy Caliente (Walrus). 20. New England Jazz Ensemble, Version 3.0 (Brownstone).

Remarkably, almost fifteen years after the fact, roughly half of the albums named above remain firmly lodged in my psyche as "desert island" choices. This in spite of the fact that the big-band library has more than doubled since then and now stands at 2,572 CDs and counting. Needless to say, that's a lot of splendid music from which to choose. If I were to be cast away on that island today, I would surely need a larger carrying case! Here, in alphabetical order, are a number of albums not on the earlier list from which almost any big-band enthusiast on a desert island (or anywhere else) would derive endless recompense and pleasure.

Jerry Ascione, Beautiful Love (Sea Breeze Jazz). Mike Barone, Live at Donte's, 1968 (VSOP). Wayne Bergeron, Plays Well with Others (Concord Jazz). Boulevard Big Band, Live at Harling's Upstairs (Boulevard Records). Alf Clausen, Spring Can Really Hang You Up the Most (Sunny NoDak). Jack Cortner, Sound Check (Jazzed Media). Jack Cortner, Fast Track (Jazzed Media). DIVA, TNT: The Music of Tommy Newsom (DIVA Jazz). DIVA, Johnny Mandel: A Man and His Music (Arbors). Dutch Jazz Orchestra, Plays the Music of Rob Madna (Challenge Records; 5 CDs). Dizzy Gillespie All-Star Big Band, Dizzy's Business (MCG Jazz). H2 Big Band, You're It! (Jazzed Media). Jazzmania Big Band, New Impressions (BMCD). Don Junker, Junk Mail Special (Sea Breeze). John MacLeod Orchestra, Our First Set (Johns Jazz). Dick Meldonian / Sonny Igoe Swing Band, The Jersey Concerts (Circle). James Morrison, Snappy Too (KI Entertainment). New Vintage Big Band, Now and Forever (New Vintage Records). No Name Horses, Vol 1 (no label). Rob Parton, Just One of Those Things (Sea Breeze). Rob Parton, Two Different Days (Sea Breeze). Rob Parton, Eleventh Hour Live! (Sea Breeze). Brian Pastor, Common Men (BPO Music). Pete Petersen, Night and Day (Chase Music Group). George Stone, The Real Deal (no label). Kenichi Tsunoda, Big Swing (Sea Breeze). Gary Urwin, Kindred Spirits (Summit). Vezinho / Ward Big Band, Smile (DAB Music). Vezinho / Ward Big Band, With Friends Like These . . . (DAB Music).

There are many others but these should get you started packing. And your stay on the island would be even more agreeable should you bring along the CDs by Buddy Rich, Tom Kubis, Frank Capp, Stan Kenton, Rob McConnell, Maynard Ferguson, Bill Potts, Erwin Lehn and the Chicago Metropolitan Jazz Ensemble. After that, you're on your own . . .

Bert Sugar: Boxing Writer, Childhood Friend

When I entered first grade in Washington, DC, shortly after the most recent Ice Age, one of my classmates was Bert Randolph Sugar, who would later become widely known as one of the country's foremost boxing writers. Bert died from a heart attack March 25 at age seventy-five after a long battle with lung cancer. Also noted for his fedora, his ever-present cigar and his, shall we say, unusual yet always colorful choice of clothing, Bert was inducted in 2005 into the International Boxing Hall of Fame. Besides serving as owner / editor of Ring Magazine, he wrote more than eighty books on various topics (one of the best was The 100 Greatest Boxers of All Time) and appeared as himself in a handful of films including The Great White Hope, in which Samuel L. Jackson portrayed the first black heavyweight champion, Jack Johnson. I remember Bert as a kid with a plan. He would drag me over to the Shoreham Hotel in DC, where many of the baseball teams from other cities stayed, to collect autographs. Although I had little interest in doing that, I went because Bert was persuasive. I managed to get a number ballplayers to sign their names (Joe DiMaggio is one I remember) but I either lost the autographs or threw them away. Not Bert. He saved them all, and years later wrote books about baseball cards and autographs. As I said, even as a kid in elementary school Bert was always looking down the road. Later, I would see him from time to time on TV, offering his "expert analysis" of boxing and boxers. As a fan of the sport myself, I cringed in horror when he picked Buster Douglas, the recent conqueror of previously unbeaten Mike Tyson, to vanquish Evander Holyfield. "Size always wins," he said, or words to that effect, as I shouted at the inanimate screen, "No, Bert! No! It's the size of the heart that matters! Douglas doesn't stand a chance!" Buster, as we now know, leaned into a perfectly timed Holyfield right-hand counter in Round 3 and went into a deep and peaceful sleep. Oh well, no one is perfect, Bert, and you were right far more often than you were wrong. As Jack Hirsch, president of the Boxing Writers Association of America, said on learning of his passing, "Around ringside, it's not going to be the same with Bert not there." Let's have a moment of silence as the bell tolls ten . . .

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