Amid the gloom and darkness that enshroud the future of fine arts and good music in this country, there is an occasional beacon of hope and light. One that has shone brightly in Southern California for the past eight years is the Henry Mancini Institute, founded in 1997 by composer / conductor Jack Elliott to honor his friend, Henry Mancini, one of the most accomplished and admired composers in the history of television and film. The HMI is "a non-profit organization whose mission is to nurture the future of music by providing comprehensive professional training and multi-level outreach programs that make a direct impact in people's lives."
The Institute began making that impact almost immediately, through its Summer Education Program and Community Outreach Initiative, and is fast becoming a touchstone for music education, not only on the West Coast but around the world. Each summer, more than 80 musicians (college and post-college age) are chosen through a worldwide audition process to receive full scholarships (including tuition and room and board) to study and perform with some of today's finest professional musicians during the four-week HMI program, built on "the desire to educate the next generation of musicians through guidance and hands-on training with knowledgeable professionals," and "the conviction that musicians, regardless of their backgrounds, experience Jazz, improvisation, contemporary and film music in large and small ensembles to maximize professional opportunity." To date, the Summer Education Program boasts more than 500 alumni from 41 states and 27 countries.
Meanwhile, the Community Outreach Initiative helps provide year-round music education and gives performances for underserved youth and communities in the Los Angeles area through its After School Program (grades K-5), School Partnerships (6-12) and Community Combos, showcasing HMI alumni in free concerts that encompass a variety of musical genres and instrumentation. The Initiative, says program manager Kerry Farrell, "involves going to places where there is no opportunity for people to experience or take part in live musical performances, and giving them those opportunities. With younger kids, where a music program is either overwhelmed by the number of students or lacks enough teachers, we try to create excitement by introducing the basic elements of music. With older kids, we support the teachers by sending in specialists to do extra work."
During July and August, the HMI holds a Free Summer Music Festival during which the HMI orchestra, big band, chamber orchestra, Jazz string band and small ensembles perform more than seventy works with various conductors and guest artists spanning all musical genres and featuring newly commissioned music by established composers and HMI students. Last summer, the Institute increased public exposure to its concerts by going beyond UCLA's Royce and Schoenberg Halls to present big-band concerts in Beverly Hills and in downtown Los Angeles, and a full orchestra concert at a waterside park in Marina del Rey. The climax of the summer concert season is the Mancini Musicale, the HMI's annual fund-raising gala, which bestows the Hank Award on individuals who have made distinguished contributions to American music. Past recipients have included Clint Eastwood, Quincy Jones and Burt Bacharach.
Also last summer, the HMI introduced two large strings-only ensembles, one with rhythm section, the other without. "They're like big bands, only with strings," says resident conductor J. Karla Lemon. "Players are featured as soloists, and Christian McBride and Jeremy Cohen have been commissioned to write new music for them. Another innovation," she says, "is a leadership program for principal string players. Four to six violinists share the first and principal chairs in rotation, and top principals from the Los Angeles area work one-on-one with the participants."
Prospective students at the HMI undergo a rigorous three-month audition designed to evaluate their musical presence, technical prowess and range of abilities, with an eye toward finding the most versatile artists who are dedicated to their professional development. From the hundreds who apply, seventy-seven instrumentalists and seven composers are chosen each year to take part in the program. Once at the HMI, attendees receive mentoring and performance experience supporting their professional advancement. HMI provides resident and guest artists to oversee workshops, master classes, private lessons, panel discussions and seminars, while the program repertoire ranges from Twentieth Century American orchestral works and Jazz standards to film and television music all hallmarks of Henry Mancini's career.
Each instrumentalist takes part in a variety of ensembles including the seventy-seven piece Henry Mancini Orchestra, the big band, chamber orchestra, Jazz string band, combos and chamber ensembles. The seven composers are given opportunities to write new compositions that will premiere throughout the Free Summer Music Festival and to work with guest composers and conductors to enhance their professional skills.
The list of instructors is indeed impressive. Those whose names would be most familiar to Jazz enthusiasts include Christian McBride and John Clayton (strings), Gary Foster, Dan Higgins, Bob Sheppard and Ray Pizzi (woodwinds), Bruce Fowler, Andy Martin, Bruce Paulson and Charley Davis (brass), Billy Childs, Bill Cunliffe, Gregg Field, Steve Houghton and Harold Jones (rhythm), Foster, Pizzi, Justin DiCioccio and Ladd McIntosh (improvisation), DiCioccio, Vince Mendoza and Patrick Williams (conductors). Williams, an Emmy- and Grammy-winning composer who needs no introduction to Jazz fans, is the HMI's artistic director. Even though the Institute's summer program has a way to go to catch up with such well-established alliances as Aspen, Tanglewood, Brevard or Round Top, says Williams, "there's no other summer program where you'll find such variety, including Jazz, film, contemporary classical, world, and even some folk-influenced music. Boundaries are not the issue here. This is about creativity and talent."
Speaking of talent, guest artists who've spent time at the MCI working with ensembles, performing with them in concert, holding panel discussions and conducting master classes include such well-known names as Terence Blanchard, Randy Brecker, Regina Carter, Peter Erskine, Dave Grusin, Roy Hargrove, Diana Krall, Hubert Laws, Bob Mintzer, Alan Pasqua, Chris Potter, Dianne Reeves, Lee Ritenour, Arturo Sandoval, Doc Severinsen, Kenny Werner and others. Among the previous guest conductors are Michael Abene, Bob Brookmeyer, Alf Clausen, John Clayton, John Corigliano, Jerry Goldsmith, Quincy Jones, Teo Macero, Jim McNeely, Vince Mendoza, Randy Newman, Patrice Rushen, Gunther Schuller and three renowned maestros who have since passed on, Elmer Bernstein, David Raksin and Pete Rugolo.
This year's HMI Summer Education Program will be held July 15-August 14 at UCLA. As noted earlier, the Institute is a non-profit organization that is completely funded by grants from foundations and corporations and donations from individual friends and supporters. For information about how you can help support the Mancini Institute, please contact the HMI's director of development, Paula Minardi, at 310-845-1900. If you'd like to learn more about the Mancini Institute and its programs, you can do so on the web.
Mancini Magic: An Interview with Ginny Mancini
The Albuquerque Scene
Albuquerque held its annual Jazz Festival in February, a prelude to what should be the most exciting summer for Jazz in the city's history. The Jazz Festival is mostly for high school and middle school bands, but includes a Saturday evening concert by the Albuquerque Jazz Orchestra and an invited guest, which this year was the outstanding West Coast tenor saxophonist, Pete Christlieb. The AJO paved the way for Christlieb, opening the concert with Sammy Nestico's "Ya Gotta Try," Matt Harris's "Beijo Inocente," Bronislau Kaper's "On Green Dolphin Street" and arrangements by Glenn Kostur of "We'll Be Together Again" and Mike Abene of Cole Porter's "Ev'ry Time We Say Goodbye." Pete then joined the orchestra for Jeff Bunnell's "This Space for Rent," Steve Huffsteter's "Mr. Natural," his own "3 Ton Blues," Nestico's arrangement of Strayhorn's "Chelsea Bridge," and a Bill Holman original, "Sow's Ear." Besides Christlieb, the capable AJO soloists included alto Kostur, tenor Lee Taylor, trombonist Ed Ulman (director of the NM Jazz Workshop), pianist Chris Ishee and trumpeters Bruce Dalby, Brad Dubbs and Kent Erickson. A swingin' time was had by all.
The summer excitement begins in June with the annual Jazz, Blues and Salsa Under the Stars series at the brand new Arts Museum amphitheatre, and peaks in July when Bud Shank brings his week-long Jazz Workshop to Albuquerque after a twenty-five-year residency in Port Townsend, WA. The Workshop will be held July 17-24 at the University of New Mexico with an all-star faculty that includes Christlieb, Bob Florence, Randy Halberstadt, Dave Friesen, Chuck Deardorf, Bobby Shew, Carl Saunders, Jay Thomas, Joe LaBarbera, Gary Hobbs, Ron Escheté, George Cables, Bill Mays, Dave Peck, Kim Richmond, Bill Ramsay, Jiggs Whigham and others. That same week, the NM Jazz Workshop will host the Southwest Jazz Party with performances by Jane Bunnett and the Spirits of Havana (July 21), quartets led by Shank, Shew, Steve Turre and Stephanie Nakasian, and a big band conducted by Grammy winner Maria Schneider (July 22).
Those are some pretty good reasons to stay home this summer, and even though I'll be in Los Angeles in late May to attend the four-day Mellophonium Moods event hosted by Ken Poston and the L.A. Jazz Institute, that won't interfere with any plans to see and hear the great Jazz that'll make Albuquerque's summer memorable. If you're interested in learning more about the Jazz Workshop, SW Jazz Party or Jazz Under the Stars series, check out the NM Jazz Workshop's web site, www.nmjazz.org, or phone 505-255-9798.
Coming Up This Month . . .
On April 8-9, Chicago's Columbia College will host the Midwest Regional IAJE Conference for Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio and Wisconsin. The conference will include performances Friday evening by the Chicago Jazz Orchestra under its new director, Jon Faddis; the Ryan Cohan Sextet, and the DePaul University Jazz Ensemble. A Saturday evening concert will include performances by the Intercollegiate All-Star Band with guest Steve Houghton, directed by Rob Parton and Scott Hall; the Orbert Davis Sextet, and the Jazz-String Quintet with saxophonist Jim Gailloreto. Also performing will be groups from the University of Northern Iowa, the University of Illinois, Roosevelt University, the University of Louisville, the University of Central Michigan, Capital University, the University of Akron, Elmhurst College, Cedarville University, and several area high schools. For information, www.colum.edu
Later this month (April 24), the Buselli-Wallarab Jazz Orchestra presents "Anything Goes: The Music of Cole Porter" at the Indiana History Center Theatre, 450 W. Ohio St. in Indianapolis. Performing with the orchestra, which has become well-known to Jazz fans through its two excellent CDs, Happenstance and Heart & Soul, will be vocalists Everett Greene and Cynthia Lane. For information, www.bwjo.org; for tickets, 317-464-5388.
And in May . . .
Jazz at Lincoln Center has announced the fifteen finalists in its tenth annual Essentially Ellington high-school Jazz band competition and festival, to be held May 14-15 in New York City. More than 6,000 newly transcribed Ellington scores, along with educational materials, were sent this year to more than a thousand high schools in the U.S. and Canada and to American schools in Brazil, Mexico and Switzerland. One hundred-eleven bands entered the competition by submitting a recording of three Ellington songs. Here are the names of the fifteen finalists: Agoura High School, Agoura Hills, CA; William H. Hall High School, West Hartford, CT; New World School of the Arts, Miami, FL; Champaign Central High School, Champaign, IL; Foxboro High School, Foxborough, MA; Medfield High School, Medfield, MA; Wellesley High School, Wellesley, MA; F.H. LaGuardia School of Music & the Performing Arts, NYC; Arts and Communications Magnet Academy, Beaverton, OR; Plano Senior High School, Plano, TX; Mountlake Terrace High School, Mountlake Terrace, WA; Garfield High School, Seattle, WA; Roosevelt High School, Seattle, WA; Shorewood High School, Shoreline, WA; Eau Claire Memorial High School, Eau Claire, WI. Judging the bands is a panel comprised of composer / conductor and Ellington authority David Berger; David Baker, director of the Smithsonian Jazz Masterworks Orchestra; author, composer and conductor Gunther Schuller; and Jazz at Lincoln Center's artistic director, Wynton Marsalis. Cash awards, which go toward enhancing the schools' Jazz programs, are $1,000 for first place, $750 for second place, and $500 for third place. Two bands each will receive $400 honorable mention awards, while the remaining bands receive $250 each. There are special awards for outstanding soloists and sections. J@LC also awards up to $10,000 in travel stipends to help bands travel to New York City. Tickets for the competition are free and available at the Jazz at Lincoln Center box office, Broadway at 60th St, from Center Charge (212-721-6500) or online at www.jalc.org, as are tickets for the concert and awards ceremony ($20 each) on May 15. For information, contact Scott Thompson (email@example.com) or Lindsay Brust (firstname.lastname@example.org).
In Closing, a Memo from the Trenches
I'm not often charmed by liner notes in fact, I seldom read them but had to share with you in part what trumpeter Dean Pratt has written as a preface to 16 Men & a Chick Singer Swingin' by the Pratt Brothers Big Band (co-led by Dean and his brother, drummer Michael Pratt), as I think he makes some weighty and incisive points. And I quote:
"In the past decade, big bands have definitely not made a comeback. Still, musicians who love to play this music, and fans such as you, who love to listen to it still exist. Though we may be few in number, we are, nevertheless, determined to keep this great tradition alive; to keep the Emperor clothed in purple and gold, not rags. It's just that we're surrounded by charlatans these days, poseurs, fakes totally naked 'Emperors and Empresses of Jazz' who are touted by one and all as 'the next Ella,' 'the next Frank,' 'the next Dizzy,' 'the next Miles,' when they should in fact be run out of town on the next available rail for impersonating Jazz musicians. They are anything but. Strangely enough, though, it's not these Jazz quacks themselves who are tooting their own out-of-tune horns. It's the big music business guys, the managers, the producers who are really to blame. You know who they are. Their names appear on every new, young, hot thing's new, dull CD. Yawwwwwwn.
"Not to go off on too lengthy a rant here, but the people running this business of ours have, for the most part, seemingly taken leave of their senses, and foremost among the five, hearing. They are really in the business of 'discovering' the next great, young, sexy, young, awesome, young . . . And, most importantly, young new talent. Like (not-so) wise men on camels, this self-ordained group of producers, record executives, marketing directors and, yes, even some disc jockeys and music critics, have been doing their best to obscure any real talent out here, those few brave souls singing and jamming in the wilderness who are trying their damnedest to keep alive the great legacy of our music. If there's a star in the East, these guys will miss it. The names Ellington, Basie, Miles, Ella, Sarah, Carmen and Billie are bandied about today by the tone-deaf wise guys to describe their mostly teen-aged discoveries. For the life of me, I don't have a clue as to what these folks' qualifications or musical expertise might be discoverers and discoveries alike but, in comparing Ellas to oranges, and apples to Ellingtons, they have all but obliterated the meaning of the legacy left us by honest-to-God legendary artists. For much of the listening public and, certainly, for the majority of record executives (who are either scared of losing their jobs or too young ever to have actually heard Billie Holiday or Count Basie), what constitutes good Jazz and good Jazz singing corresponds to whichever juvenile artist sold the most records in the last quarter.
"I have seen the new crop of Jazz Emperors and Empresses, and they have no clothes.
"Okay, I admit that taste in music is somewhat relative. What swings for one puts another to sleep. But what, in my opinion, is not relative, and never will be, is bad time, bad phrasing, bad tone and bad pitch. No amount of background strings and artful lighting is going to morph Tiny Tim into Miles Davis. Funny, most of us used to be able to hear the difference between the two, and weren't afraid to admit it. Well, enough for now. Meanwhile, my sincerest thanks go out to those few, brave, time-perfect and in-tune souls who, ignoring mainstream, heavily subsidized trends, continue to create the music we all used to love real music produced by the fully clothed Emperors and Empresses of Jazz. But hey, that's just my opinion. I could be wrong." Dean Pratt
Thanks, Dean, for the breath of fresh air. And that's it for now. Until next time, keep swingin'!
New and Noteworthy
1. Ralph Pyl's Sydney All-Star Big Band, Pyldriver (New Market Music)
2. Vaughn Wiester's Famous Jazz Orchestra, Herb's Book (FJO)
3. Joe Elefante Big Band, Vanity Fair (JEBB)
4. SWR Big Band / Rob McConnell, So Very Rob (Hanssler)
5. Dave Holland Big Band, Overtime (Dare2 Records)
6. North Texas One O'Clock Lab Band, Lab 2004 (UNT Jazz)
7. Lincoln Center Jazz Orchesta, A Love Supreme (Palmetto)
8. University of Northern Iowa, The Unlikely Event (Sea Breeze Vista)
9. Spokane Jazz Orchestra, It's About Time (SJO)
10. Cal State Los Angeles Jazz Ensemble, The Unlikely Event (CSLA)
11. Sherisse Rogers's Project Uprising, Sleight of Hand (no label)
12. Galen Jeter and Dallas' Original Jazz Orchestra, Big 30 (JazzMark)
13. Rodger Fox Big Band, A Rare Connection (T-Bone)
14. Winnipeg Jazz Orchestra, WJO (WJO)
15. Temple (TX) Jazz Orchestra, Live with Bill Watrous (TJO)