Yule Struttin', Albuquerque Style

Jack Bowers By

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The New Mexico Jazz Workshop held its annual holiday fund-raiser, "Yule Struttin,'" December 2 at the Albuquerque Museum of Art. About seven hundred people were there to enjoy a variety of food and drink, a silent auction, art exhibits, and entertainment by a number of groups including the Albuquerque Jazz Orchestra.

The AJO was preceded onstage by the Jazz Workshop's High School Honors Jazz Ensemble directed by Ed Ulman, until recently executive director of the NMJW and still actively involved in its education programs as well as playing trombone in the Jazz Orchestra. Latin jazz was represented by Tetragon, a sextet co-led by trumpeter Paul Gonzales and pianist Steve Figueroa, the blues by Chris Dracup and Tommy Elskes with guest percussionist Alex Moralez.

The Museum of Art has a fairly large room with a stage on which the larger ensembles performed. Unfortunately, the room doubled as a restaurant, which meant there was an endless line of hungry patrons queued up between the bands and those seated at the tables. You could hear 'em but you couldn't see 'em. The library's main reception area was given over to tables on which were placed items for the silent auction, much larger than last year's. Betty and I looked in on the bidding (including bids on the eleven classic big-band CDs I'd donated) and it was going quite well, with many bids above the suggested starting point.

There were two bars (the drinks weren't free, not even my Diet Coke and Betty's Sprite) separated by a long hallway, at the far end of which Tetragon was situated. Midway down the hall was a "dessert bar with assorted cookies and two large cakes especially made and decorated for the occasion. Those who wanted a break from the music and ambient noise were invited to visit any of the four art exhibits currently being presented: Biennial Southwest; Common Grounds: Art in New Mexico; Four Centuries: A History of Albuquerque; or Sordid and Sacred: The Beggars in Rembrandt's Etchings. Betty said the Biennial and Rembrant exhibits were especially worthwhile.

The AJO was in fine form, interspersing holiday themes ("Winter Wonderland, "Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas, Gordon Goodwin's "Yo Tanenbaum ) with straight-ahead jazz (Don Menza's "Groove Blues, Tom Garling's "You Got It, Willie Maiden's "A Little Minor Booze ) in the first set (Betty and I didn't stay for the second). The Honors Band played well too but I didn't note the selections. Too busy chowing down (the choices were Mexican and/or Italian).

As the NMJW netted roughly $35,000 from ticket sales alone, I presume the fund-raiser was a success. Next on the agenda: replacing Ulman as executive director. That should happen before the end of the year. Not a moment too soon either, as the annual Albuquerque Jazz Festival (with special guest, trombonist Andy Martin) is scheduled for mid-February.

Fond Farewells...

Jazz singer Anita O'Day, who rose to stardom in the '40s with orchestras led by Gene Krupa and Stan Kenton, and continued singing almost to the very end of her life, died of a heart attack October 23 in west Los Angeles. She was eighty-seven. After her stints with Krupa, made memorable by her best-selling duet with trumpeter Roy Eldridge, "Let Me Off Uptown, and Kenton, with whom she recorded another hit, "And Her Tears Flowed Like Wine, O'Day struck out on her own. She recorded the blockbuster album, Anita, for Norman Granz' fledgling Verve label, and became an international star via her appearance in 1958 in the documentary Jazz On A Summer Day, filmed at the Newport Jazz Festival. Her autobiography, High Times, Hard Times, published in 1981, spoke candidly about her decades-long addictions to drugs and alcohol (she had nearly died of a heroin overdose in 1969). A documentary film, Anita O'Day: The Life Of A Jazz Singer is to be released next year.

Bassist Walter Booker, who worked with such jazz icons as Stan Getz, Sonny Rollins, Donald Byrd, Ray Bryant, Sarah Vaughan, Art Farmer, Cannonball Adderley, Pharoah Sanders, Betty Carter and Thelonious Monk, died November 24 in New York City. The Texas-born Booker, who grew up in Washington, DC, was seventy-three.

And last but not least, Vic Hall, the voice of jazz in central Florida for nearly four decades on Tampa radio station WUSF-FM, died November 20 after a long illness. He was 81. From 1968-2005, the British-born Hall was host of the National Public Radio station's "Sound Of Jazz, which featured everything from big bands to bop, swing to West Coast cool, drawing on his enormous collection of 78s, LPs, open reel tapes and CDs. "And he was a volunteer the entire time, said Bob Seymour, WUSF's director of jazz programming. Hall simply loved jazz, something to which anyone reading this column can no doubt relate.

Looking Ahead...


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