Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Day Four - Groovin’ Hard with the Los Angeles Jazz Institute

© -Steven Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

The four-day Groovin’ Hard: Celebrating the Big Band Renaissance event under the auspices of the Los Angeles Jazz Institute and its Director, Ken Poston, concluded on, Sunday, October 12, 2012

Gordon Sapsed, a regular attendee at LAJI events, developed this overview of  the final day’s events and, with continued thanks to him for his generosity, the editorial staff at JazzProfiles is privileged to bring you the last of his daily annotations as noted below.

The illustrations we have been using to populate these features are drawn from the event brochure as designed by Kurt Reichenbach.

You can locate more information on the Los Angeles Jazz Institute including their future concerts by visiting www.lajazzinstitute.org

© -Gordon Sapsed.  Used with the author’s permission; copyright protected; all rights reserved.

“The final Day of "Groovin' Hard', the LA Jazz Institute's October 2012 Festival opened as usual with a film show. However this time the show drew on the HUGE Library, recently established, of some 4,500 editions of the 'Tonight' Show, with Johnny Carson, thousands of guests and the Tonight Show Band, both in its New York days and in its 'West Coast' days - some of which were in the 'New York' era.

Early clips showed a young Clark Terry, with Doc Severinson simply a member of the trumpet section and a young 'Snooky'. Later clips showed a young Pete Christlieb, guesting with the band on a California trip, and guests such as Benny Goodman and John McLaughlin from early shows. Johnny Carson demonstrated how he was always a Big Band enthusiast and a great supporter of the musicians in their roles outside the show - and even 'drums', with brushes on the bottom of a pail, in a sequence with Benny Goodman. Later film clips had features with full band numbers for Snooky Young and Bill Perkins.

That hour-long film show set the scene for the Sunday morning 'Brunch session - at banqueting tables in the main room with a reconstruction of the Tonight Show Band led, on this occasion by Chuck Findley. Players included John Bambridge - who played lead alto, wrote arrangements and appeared on the screen when the band was shown live, as well as in later years, when the band was not shown live but only heard (with, as John said, a disappointing drop in income), Ernie Watts, plus Gene Cipriano , Doug Webb and Lee Callet on saxes. John Fedchock, Alan Kaplan and Kenny Shroyer on trombones and a trumpet section of Bobby Shew, Lee Thornburg, Kyle Palmer and Carl Saunders - with Chuck Findley playing the Doc's parts. Bob Bain, a key figure on guitar in the band, especially in live improvised moments, was still there on this occasion. At the piano Rich Eames, Chuck Berghofer on bass and Jeff Hamilton standing in for Ed Shaughnessy on drums. Most of the 'irregulars' had depped in the band during its long tenure in LA, although Bobby Shew said 'they never called me'.

'Tonight Show Live' stories abounded - just as they did later in the Panel. Jeff Hamilton told a very long tale of depping, having to play behind a screen and being signaled by Doc to play louder - and louder and so on.

Tipped off in a break, he changed to heavier sticks and beat hell out of the kit in the second half. Doc, as it ended, said "which of you a A**holes tipped off the drummer that I'm losing my hearing?"

I, as someone from England who never, in all those years, saw the Tonight Show band live on TV, loved the refreshing take on standards that made up most the book apparently. With charts by Bill Holman, Mike Barone, Bill Potts , John Bambridge and so many others it was a delight. There are at least two CD albums by the band easily to be found and charts played, on the day, with some from those albums included 'A Train', Bill Holman's 'April in Paris' and 'Honeysuckle Rose', Body & Soul (a wonderful Ernie Watts feature), Poor Butterfly, Just Friends, and, of course, the Theme.

In the Panel Session that followed Chuck Findley challenged the audience to remember the theme - many could. He then challenged them to recall the Theme of the current Jay Leno version of the show - none could ! The panel session included five former players plus the Tonight Show archivist, himself also a bandleader, Don Freeman, with the Show's producer Jeff Carson (?). Too many stories to share but some also appear in a book "Backstage at the Tonight Show" from Don , available on Amazon.

Back in the main room Ernie Watts then led his own quartet of David Witham, Bruce Letts and Bob Leatherbarrow through a 60 minute set of music , much of which is on their 'Oasis' album. I especially enjoyed an evocative version of Round Midnight, but others included classics like Shaw Nuff and 'Five Steps' and Ernie's originals such as 'Oasis' - which made your mouth feel dry and you could almost taste the dates ....

And so to what Jim Oatts called 'The misfit section of the weekend'. The recipe was simple - take 4 top class high note trumpeters (with Herman, Buddy Rich or Kenton background and preferably a Berklee education), add an extra-high note specialist leader (originally Bill Chase), an organ for sax section and other 'width and fill' then a rock guitar a rock bassist and a rock drummer. On some tracks add a rock vocalist. Arrangements can draw on any genre, be it classical jazz, rock fusion or 'outer space'. The band's name was 'Chase', which the leader said was convenient for him. They made three albums. 

This LAJI afternoon was the fifth, or so, reunion for members of the three different bands which Bill Chase assembled before his tragic plane crash about 35 years ago. The former band members played musical chairs throughout and the couple of fast-learner 'deps' were grateful for the hour's rehearsal.

The one hour set and the one hour panel discussion which preceded it taught me a lot about Chase's music and philosophy and showed a very visible unity between the members of the band in their music and their relationships. A group ( perhaps 30 people) had come into the Festival especially to support Chase and it was something that Ken Poston had wanted to do for some time. This 70's Theme gave Ken Poston the opportunity to include them. My view is that they were no more or less 'legitimate' in a 4 day '1970's' jazz program than, say, Don Ellis, and had a lot to offer with their originality and commitment. 

Ace high-note trumpet specialist Eric Miyashiro had flown in overnight from
Japan to be a guest with "Chase" and also to direct what he described as his "25th Maynard Ferguson Tribute Concert.”

Eric said 'I regret that tributes are necessary and dearly wish Maynard was still with us, but feel honored to be able to play with and present again - his music and his musicians'.

Most of the Ferguson alumni had been playing during the weekend in other bands - of which they were also alumni, and for this set Brandon Fields ( sax) , Nick Lane (tmb) Serafin Aguilar, Kevin Richardson and Pete de Siena joined the band, with Rich Eames at the (electric) piano, Kevin Axt at the (electric) bass and at the (acoustic) drum kit - living up to a huge audience expectation and huge applause - Peter Erskine.

Eric Miyashiro made a big point of choosing items from the book which featured band members, although himself playing two or three of Maynard's best known features. He also brought up 'the greatest trumpet player in the world,’ (in this case Bobby Shew). Bobby modestly told of the joy he feels as 'his pupils develop and go by' recalling times with Eric in Buddy Rich's band - he then went on to justify that extreme title with a memorable version of 'Just Friends' (and real blood from that split lip as it opened up again).

Other notables for me were Bob Summers on 'Fox Hunt' and Eric himself recalling 'Maria' which attracted a standing ovation. Titles played included Winter Games, Knee Deep in ?, Dance To Your Heart, Birdland (not the same chart as Buddy Rich) and MacArthur Park (not the same chart as Kenton). Nick Lane and Bruce Johnstone had a lot of fun with 'Superbone Meets The Bad Man'. The band, after two standing ovations, played an encore to close the whole event "Go Fly Now" (?)

I'll have to ponder some overall remembrances but my major thought is that we enjoyed this event even more than we expected and are already signed up for next May. …

I'll hope to have some of my 300 photos up on www.gordonsapsed.com in the nest few days.

Gordon Sapsed