Thursday, October 11, 2012

Groovin’ Hard with the Los Angeles Jazz Institute

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

In May and October of each year, the Los Angeles Jazz Institute [LAJI] presents a four-day Jazz Festival largely made-up of concerts, discussion panels and the showings of rare film footage.

Under the leadership of Ken Poston, its Director, the LAJI commemorates some aspect of Jazz by reaching into its vast repository of collections and using these materials to revisit iJazz history.

This year’s LAJI theme is: Groovin’ Hard: Celebrating the Big Band Renaissance.

Taking place at the Los Angeles Airport Marriott Hotel from October 10-14, 2012, “Groovin’ Hard celebrates the Big Band Renaissance that began in the mid-1960s with the emergence of the Thad Jones-Mel Lewis Orchestra, Buddy Rich and Don Ellis among others. Many of the young musicians who had benefited from Stan Kenton’s Jazz Education efforts were beginning to come of age and a whole new era of Big band Jazz was born. Groovin’ Hard gathers an incredible array of star soloists and arrangers who all played significant roles in the Big band Renaissance. …

Concert highlights include the Woody Herman Orchestra directed by Frank Tiberi, the Tonight Show Reunion Band, the Buddy Rich Alumni Band, the Louie Bellson Big Band Explosion Reunion, Richie Cole’s Alto Madness Orchestra, the Don Ellis Reunion Band, Bill Watrous Manhattan Wildlife Refuge Revisited, Tom Scott and The California Express, Chase Revisited, The Creative World of Stan Kenton, Patrick Williams Threshold Revisited, The Ernie Watts Quartet, MF Horn: The Maynard Ferguson Alumni Band, and Pete Christlieb and Linda Small: Tall and Small Band.

Also participating will be the following Jazz All-Stars: Alan Broadbent, Peter Erskine, Bobby Shew, Chick Findley, Bob Mintzer, Jeff Hamilton, Andy Mackintosh, Don Rader, Carl Saunders, Bruce Johnstone, Gary Anderson, Bob Summers, Nick Brignola, Grant Geissman, John Fedchock, Mike Vax, Eric Miyashiro and Ted Nash.”

An optional, bonus event at Groovin’ Hard took place last night, Wednesday, October 10, 2012, in honor of the 100th anniversary of the birth of clarinetist and big band leader, Woody Herman.

Gordon Sapsed, a regular attendee at LAJI events, generally does a write-up of each day’s proceedings and shares it with members of an internet chat group devoted to West Coast Jazz.

Thanks to Gordon’s generosity, the editorial staff at JazzProfiles will be able to bring you these daily commentaries on Groovin’ Hard: Celebrating the Big Band Renaissance.

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.

“The 'bonus day' for this LAJI event is a 'Woody Herman Centennial Celebration', which opened today (Wednesday October 10th 2012) with a 'Herdsmen' Panel of Bill Trujillo, Frank Tiberi, Alan Broadbent, Bruce Johnstone and Ron Stout and moderated by Woody Herman Biography author Bill Clancey.

About 150 attendees came along (not an exact count) to the panel and heard tales from various eras of the Herman Herds. Most of the far-back reminiscences came from the audience rather than the musicians, but Bill Trujillo was keen to correct any lack of awareness of the 50's era - which had been prejudiced by the recording ban having denied any lasting musical legacy. Tales that I made a note of included Alan Broadbent's tale of 'first time in Japan' when he ended in hospital after falling down a trap-door hole in the revolving stage. The Japanese doctor following an examination declared his condition 'just the blues'. There was some interesting philosophizing about what makes bands work - with Woody emerging in everybody's memory as 'the greatest leader' and Frank saying how bands are, inevitably ' a mesh of personalities', with Woody having a flair for mixing them and, essentially, letting them loose. Frank is, incidentally now a Professor at Berklee to his own amazement !

Then followed the Premiere of Graham Carter's (Jazzed media) new film "Woody Herman, Blue Flame, Portrait of a Jazz Legend". This film is a superbly constructed mix of footage from six decades of Woody Herman bands, interleaved with live interviews with people important in the Herman Legacy. It is in a similar style to the award-winning Kenton film from the same source and will surely win awards when released later this year. … Graham has done an amazing job bringing together archival footage and good quality TV footage, with his new material. Not to be missed. 

First music up was a collection of eight Herman alumni being given a chance to blow ahead of more formal performance later. Bobby Shew boasted how they had no rehearsal and were deciding what to play as they went through their hour. Broadbent, Johnstone and Trujillo were joined by Don Rader, Roger Neumann, Paul Kreibich and Kevin Axt, together and in several different smaller groups for a blowing session that included Green Dolphin Street (piano and two tenors), 'Alone Together' (a delightful two-trumpet feature) and Oleo - as a total group.

That session was followed by a 'reception' on the hotel patio, with a chance to meet and chat with musicians and friends.

The main live event of the day was two hour-long sets with a 16 piece alumni band and all those listed earlier added as guests.

The concerts were led by Frank Tiberi who, on this occasion, had former Herdsmen from five decades of 'Herdsmanship'. The format was to use a 16 piece band and add the guests for specific numbers. The 'core band' included Roger Neumann, Mike Brignola, John Fedchock, Mark Lewis and Ron Stout, who have appeared on several occasions with Herman alumni bands at LAJI plus Jerry Pinter and Rob Lockhart on saxes, Bob McChesney and Rich Bullock on trombones and Bobby Shew plus Jay Sollenberger and Jim Oatts on trumpets. Alan Broadbent was at the piano, with Kevin Axt on bass and driving the whole ensemble with incredible verve and enthusiasm - Jeff Hamilton.  Guests Bill Trujillo, Don Rader and Bruce Johnstone bobbed to and fro as required.

Sitting down front cheering the whole event on was veteran Arno Marsh, who was, unfortunately not well enough to play on this occasion but offered his support.

The repertoire for the evening included all the classic from 'Woodchoppers Ball' (rec. 1939) onwards to much favorites from decades later such as ‘Fanfare for the Common Man.’

Of course, that four brothers sound snuck in from time to time and Bruce Johnstone even sang one of Woody's vocal offerings 'I've Got News for You'.

It was also an opportunity to hear some of the less-often heard arrangements such as Bill Holman's 'After You've Gone', various Neal Hefti arrangements, several Ellington’s, Alan Broadbent's beautiful 'Sugar Loaf Mountain - with Alan conducting as well as playing piano.

I was struck by the breadth of instrumentation - a full flute section, bass clarinet, pocket trumpet, frequent use of flugelhorn, Latin percussion - and all in a Woody Herman environment.

Woody's preference for changing with the times was amply evident in these concerts as in Graham Carter's movie.

The highlight of the day for me was the laughing, smiling and sheer joy among the musicians, especially Jeff Hamilton and Alan Broadbent. …."