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Caltech Jazz Bands: The Variety Pack

Edward Blanco By

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The California Institute of Technology's Caltech Jazz Bands present their third album of largely big band music, offering selected charts by musicians and composers identified with the music from one end of the jazz spectrum to the other. The Variety Pack lives up to its title, with fourteen songs touching upon a variety of jazz styles from the songbooks of composers including Cole Porter, Duke Ellington, Sammy Cahn, Chick Corea, Thelonious Monk, Lester Young and Dizzy Gillespie. Under the direction of Professor William Bing, who has been at Caltech for thirty years, the music is performed by Caltech's three jazz ensembles: the Monday Jazz Band, the Caltech Jazztet and the prestigious nineteen-piece Thursday Jazz band.

The musicians comprising the three bands are drawn from students, faculty, alumni, Occidental College and the Caltech-administered Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), as well as the community. Trombone great Bill Watrous walked in on a recording session to see longtime friend and director William Bing, and wound up making a guest appearance with the Thursday Jazz Band, soloing on Freddie Green's loud and swinging "Down For Double."



The album opens with Elliot Deutsch's arrangement of Ellington's brisk "I Let A Song Go Out Of My Heart," on which Deutsch himself delivers a trumpet solo along with turns from saxophonists Steve Snyder on alto and Jim Van Deventer on tenor.



With perhaps the sweetest number on the recording, Snyder delivers a warm-toned performance on Roger Myers' brief but beautiful love ballad, "Ballad For Leah." The smallest of the three bands, the Caltech Jazztet, performs four pieces, including Porter's "You'd Be So Nice To Come Home To" and Monk's "In Walked Bud," on which Snyder again propels the music. The Monday Jazz Band appears on only three pieces but delivers impressive performances, especially on Corea's signature "Spain" and Young's immortal "Lester Leaps Out."

Though primarily an instrumental recording, there are several vocal pieces starting with alumnus trombonist George Becker, singing the lyrics to Sammy Cahn's brief "Please Be Kind," followed by student Dalina Thrift-Viveros, who sings a sensuous interpretation of the familiar "Makin' Whoopee," with brassy backup from the Thursday Jazz Band. Caltech alumnus Kjerstin Williams reaches quite well on Percy Mayfield's "Please Send Me Someone To Love," but maybe the best vocal performance comes from NASA's Patrick Olguin whose booming voice powers the exciting "Deed I Do Fred Rose and Walter Hirsch."

William Bing does a masterful job directing the three different ensembles through a repertoire that spans almost a century of music. Caltech's jazz bands are not altogether truly university bands in that they are not exclusively all-student groups, including graduates as well as faculty personnel. Still, perhaps this special makeup is the key that drives the music and makes The Variety Pack one of the better university-produced recordings around.


Track Listing: I Let A Song Go Out of My Heart; Ballad for Leah; You'd Be So Nice To Come Home To; In Walked Bud; Please Be Kind; Makin' Whoopee; Down for Double; Lazy Day; Deed I Do Fred Rose and Walter Hirsch; Please Send Me Someone To Love; There Is No Greater Love; A Night In Tunisia; Spain; Lester Leaps Out.

Personnel: Walter Bing: director; Monday Jazz Band (10, 13, 14): David Renshaw: alto saxophone; Jack Cochran: alto saxophone; Scott Basinger: tenor saxophone; Jon Ancona: tenor saxophone; Joshua Hutchins: trumpet; Nathan Donnellan: trumpet; Matthew K. Sprague: trumpet; Jordan Townsend: trumpet; Alexander Ferguson: trombone; Michael Kolodrubetz: trombone; Clark Snowdall: trombone; Kjerstin Williams: trombone, vocals (10); Alex Kwan: piano; Peter Haderlein: bass; Daniel Hurtado: bass; Daniel Chung: drums; Thursday Jazz Band (1, 2, 5-9): Steve Snyder: alto saxophone; Derek Chan: alto saxophone; James Van Deventer: tenor saxophone; Dalina Thrift-Viveros: tenor saxophone, vocals (6); Lauren Chu: baritone saxophone; Brenda Goforth: trumpet; John Brugman: trumpet; Les Deutsch: trumpet; Patrick Olguin: trumpet, vocals (9); George Becker: trombone, vocals (5); Jim Lewis: trombone; Rich Olson: trombone; Dave Ryan: trombone; Alexander Ferguson: bass trombone; Matt Whited: piano; Kevin Chen: bass; John Dundas III: bass; Michael Ferrara: drums; Laurence Yeung: guitar; Caltech Jazztet (3, 4, 11, 12): Steve Snyder: alto saxophone; Matt Whited: piano; Kevin Chen: bass; Michael Ferrara: drums; Laurence Yeung: guitar.

Title: The Variety Pack | Year Released: 2009 | Record Label: Self Produced

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