Saturday, October 13, 2012

Day Two - 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 continued into it’s second day yesterday, Friday, October 10, 2012 under the auspices of the Los Angeles Jazz Institute and its Director, Ken Poston.

Gordon Sapsed, a regular attendee at LAJI events, continues his write-ups of each day’s proceedings and thanks to his generosity, the editorial staff at JazzProfiles is privileged to bring you his daily commentaries as noted below.

For more information on the Los Angeles Jazz Institute including ticket ordering for Groovin’ Hard, please visit

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

“Continuing the overall theme of 'The Big Band Renaissance in the 1970s' the day opened with film clips - mostly from TV shows. Represented were Buddy Rich - including a somewhat jokey interview in a very 1970's studio setting laid out as a club - lots of long hair, beards and moustaches, flares, tight dresses and such and the body-swaying dancing of the day.

Also 'of the day' were the sitar in Don Ellis' Orchestra, very odd time signatures and Kenton in a concert from the Dorchester in London playing ‘Space Odyssey Revisited’ ( a.k.a. 'Also Sprach Zarathustra'), in fancy uniforms.

LAJI events, for me, always turn up unlikely 'hit' sessions which almost justify the weekend ticket price for that single event ! One such was the hour-long 'Discussion' between Patrick Williams and Kirk Silsbee. This proved revealing and fascinating. I had not known of Patrick Williams early life as a child in
Missouri and NYC followed by Duke University, where he became an arranger while still in his teens and rapidly got interesting jobs in New York. His tales of those boom years there also revealed some of his own likes and dislikes ( e.g. Thad Jones - 'big band genius - I still don't understand how he achieved some of those marvelous things'). Later in the hour he talked of the behind the scenes activity in making Sinatra's Duets and his own Sinatraland album as well as talking about his NYC and LA Big Band music and film/TV scores. An interesting topic worth much more discussion was the notion, after writing music for a film or album, of 'casting' the musicians, much as a play or film might cast actors - to achieve something greater than the written work. (This discussion/interview attracted a full house of 200 plus). Some of his favorites are in the band tonight.

Kirk Silsbee, through diligent preparation, nudged the discussion in interesting directions.

The CSU Long Beach Jazz Concert Orchestra had been scheduled to play by the pool, but Californian terror on sighting a cloud drove the whole thing indoors, where they delivered a tremendously talented big band hour playing charts by Bob Mintzer, Alf Clausen (whose credits include 20 years of the Simpsons) and many others. John Fedchock, a long-standing (and tall-standing) friend of the band joined them to play some of his arrangements.

Then it was time for another flashback to the 70's - with the appearance, from
Chicago, of Richie Cole to lead his Alto Madness Orchestra through a 60 minute set. The flavor being Bebop who better to stand alongside him than Carl Saunders and also Doug Webb and trombonist Dave Ryan.

At the piano Lou Forestiere, bass Jim de Julio and
Dave Tull at the drums.

They played Bop standards as well as Richie Cole originals. Dave Tull was effective with the Western-styled 'Cowboy Story' and was rewarded by being allowed to sing his own ' I just Wanna Get Paid' - which may be the only vocal this whole weekend
(if you exclude the Kenton musicians in chorus for ‘MacArthur Park’!).

Eddie Jefferson's 'Last Time I Saw Janine' was offered without the lyric and the audience were awarded a unique premiere 'The LA Jazz Festival Blues'. Altogether a thoroughly enjoyable set which will surely deserves Richie an invitation back for a future event.

It is noticeable, by the way, that some of the biggest applause has been for the smaller bands in this big band event.

Then followed a panel discussion ' Remembering Louie Bellson', moderated again by Kirk Silsbee.

The panelists were Jeff Hamilton - who is taking Louie's role in a concert tomorrow and former members of the band or associates Bobby Shew, Ted Nash, Andy Mackintosh and Bill Yeager.

The universal view echoed an old adage ' the nicest guy in show business' - although several panelists cited exceptions that proved the rule! Interesting points were Louie's dislike of cymbals that didn't 'shimmer' - with Bobby inviting offers for a large collection of Louie's 'reject' cymbals, Bill revealing that, as Louie changed from sticks to brushes he always whispered 'Jo Jones' as the brushes hit the snare drum (only the trombonist sitting alongside ever heard that).

Somebody observed that Louie , like Buddy Rich and many other top drummers had a history as a tap dancer, and there was an observation that Louie always took breaths at the end of natural phrases in the music. Discussion could have gone on all night on Bobby's proposition that any music that can be completely described on a written chart is a polka (e.g.: ‘Beethoven's 4th) - whereas music that cannot be totally described on a chart is jazz..... These panel discussions are a lot of fun and VERY educational.

Last up for the afternoon was Bill Watrous, with his big band 'Manhattan Wildlife Refuge Revisited'.

This band, which Bill presents in a unique style alternating the music with totally unrelated jokes, serves principally, in my view, as a vehicle for Bill's own solos - although there are solos by other band members in every number. The charts are by current composer/arrangers, including Phil Kelly, Gordon Goodwin and others. Numbers played included Phil's ‘Sweet Georgia Brown’, ‘Limehouse Blues’ and ‘Zipcode 2008,’ mostly played at breakneck pace, although alternated with ballads such as 'Gentle Rain'. For my personal taste this was an exercise in perfect musicianship, with little lasting memory.

The evening event however will, for me, be long remembered and, I am sure, the same will apply to many of the nearly-full house. Ken Poston, afterwards, was not arguing with those who said 'That was the best concert you have EVER organized'.

Billed as " An Evening with Patrick Williams "Threshold Revisited and Aurora", it comprised a single set just a few minutes short of 2 hours.

The link with the 1970's theme of the Festival was the big band album "Threshold", released by Capitol in 1973, but put together on a shoestring budget using techniques like Buddy Childers as a multi-tracked trumpet section. Williams was, at that time, beginning to make his name in TV and films and the jazz album was an indulgence, but proved influential. It was, for many years, a 'collectors item' until it reappeared as Threshold Revisited on CD a few years ago when interest was building in Williams' new project for big band "Aurora", which saw daylight as an Artist Share project. 

For this concert the set-list consisted of eight songs from the 2008 album "
Aurora" and two from the 1970's album. Patrick Williams in introducing those items said "It is more than 30 years since I have heard those songs played and this time by a real live band.”

It must suffice in this short review to say that the concert was absolutely magical - an all-star big band playing original compositions with brilliant ensemble work and creative solos. The band's lineup had 4 trumpets ( led by Wayne Bergeron), with Bob Summers taking most of the solos, four trombones, particularly featuring Alex Iles and Bob McChesney, four French horns, five saxes - with most of the solos from Sal Lozano, Terry Harrington and Jeff Driskill. At the piano was
Alan Steinberg, Chuck Berghofer on bass and Peter Erskine at the drums. There was also Jim Fox on guitar and Brad Dutz with Mark Converse adding percussion. At least ten of the band members contributed solos.

Between songs, Patrick Williams talked about the music and also about his big band philosophy and where it fits in the history of big bands - from Fletcher Henderson and the 1930's through to today. After a standing ovation and continuous applause the band played an encore which was described as ' a medley of my hit' - the theme from 'The Streets of San Francisco'.

Many of those present then waited in line to buy CDs and have them autographed to memorialize the occasion.”

- Gordon Sapsed