Wednesday, January 3, 2018

University of North Texas Recently Released Big Band Jazz CDs

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

Recently, thanks to the generosity Ben Scholz of Scholz Productions, I have been the beneficiary of surfeit of riches in the form of five [5] CDs featuring various University of North Texas [UNT] big bands. Three of the five are multi-disc packages.

Their arrival brought back fond memories of Stan Kenton whose clinics and workshops on college campuses beginning in the 1960s played a huge role in establishing academia as a well-spring for the continuance of big band Jazz.

Fast-forward sixty or so years later and the October, 2017 edition of Downbeat was devoted almost entirely to Jazz study programs at university and colleges throughout the United States and growingly, through the World!

The arrival of all of these wonderful student big band CDs from the UNT under the direction of some of the best composer-arranger-educators also brought to mind a pilgrimage of sorts I made to Denton, TX about 10 years after Stan Kenton died in 1979.

Back-in-the-day, I had business clients in Fort Worth and after a series of meetings had concluded, I asked Leon Breeden, the director of the O’Clock Jazz Lab program, to come in from Denton and join me for lunch at the Petroleum Club on Main Street. We reminisced about Stan Kenton and his contributions to the Jazz program which at that time was called North Texas State.

He told me that in 1959, when he arrived at what was then North Texas State College, the school could already boast of having the oldest degree-granting “jazz” program in the nation. The trouble was, the boasts could only be whispered.

The program was founded a dozen years earlier by M. E. Hall, who had first taught a class in dance-band arranging at North Texas in 1942 as a graduate student there. Appointed to the faculty in 1947, Mr. Hall was charged with developing — quietly — a degree program in jazz.

It was a dangerous mission. In those years, upright citizens were inclined to think jazz disreputable, scarcely fit for nightclubs, much less for an institution of higher learning. For its own protection, the major Mr. Hall created was euphemistically called dance-band music.

After Leon replaced Mr. Hall in 1959, little by little, he brought jazz out of the closet and into the limelight.

Under his stewardship, the One O’Clock Lab Band performed at the White House with Stan Getz and Duke Ellington in 1967, toured worldwide and in 1970 appeared at the Montreux Jazz Festival in Switzerland.

As Mr. Breeden told United Press International in 1981: “I knew what we were doing in the program here in the beginning was good in spite of the fact that some were saying, ‘Aw, playing that jazz music’s going to destroy their tones, it’s going to ruin ’em, they’re going to become bad players, they’re going to become dope addicts.’ ”

Hundreds of skilled jazz musicians passed through the North Texas program during Leon’s tenure including Dee Barton, Marvin Stamm, Archie Wheeler and Tom Wirtel, all of whom went on the Kenton band,

Though many were already superb players by the time they passed through Leon’s hands, they were students first and foremost, a fact of which he rarely lost sight.

That fact was perhaps never more evident than one summer in the late 1970s,, when the One O’Clock Lab Band accompanied Ella Fitzgerald at the Spoleto Festival USA, in Charleston, S.C. Impressed, Ms. Fitzgerald asked if she could take the band on the road with her.

Leon respectfully declined. He could not countenance having his charges miss so much class time!

Benjamin at Scholz Productions and Jim Eigo at Jazz Promo services sent along the following media release which contains an overview of the Division of Jazz Studies, College of Music, UNT, est. 1980, as well as, a brief annotation of each of the new CDs.

“The University of North Texas Jazz Studies Program Celebrates its 70th anniversary with new album release and four compilations

The 2016-2017 academic year marks 70 years of jazz at the University of North Texas. The program began in the 1946-47 academic year. To honor this anniversary, the North Texas Jazz record label has released four special compilation albums in addition to Lab 2017, the 50th annual release by the One O'clock Lab Band, which began releasing albums annually in 1967.

These recordings demonstrate that students are at the heart of our program's mission. Each year we devote significant resources to documenting our students' best work and providing them with the experience of recording, mixing, and releasing a recording that meets the highest professional standards. Generations of students have launched their careers this way.

By marking this special year with a new release and four compilations, we reaffirm our commitment to our program's past and future. We honor our former faculty Neil Slater, Jim Riggs, and Jay Saunders, who devoted decades to mentoring multiple generations of students, many of whom went on to productive careers in every part of the music profession. We honor faculty member Richard DeRosa, a distinguished composer who has been a prolific creator and an inspiring teacher of our students in jazz composition since he joined the faculty in 2010. And we honor our new One O'clock Lab Band director, Alan Baylock, himself a UNT alumnus, as he prepares to guide the band in new creative directions in the years to come.

The paragraphs that follow describe each of the five new releases.

Lab 2017

This recording is a milestone that marks 70 years since the North Texas jazz program began in the 1946-47 academic year, 50 years since the yearly series of recordings by the seven-time Grammy-nominated One O'clock Lab Band began with Lab '67, the first time in 30 years that North Texas Jazz has released a recording on LP, and Alan Baylock's first year as director.
The album has been submitted in six categories for the 60th Annual Grammy Awards:

•     Best Large Jazz Ensemble Album
•     Best Engineered Album, Non-Classical
•     Best Album Packaging
•     Best Instrumental Composition
•     Best Arrangement, Instrumental or A Cappella
•     Best Improvised Jazz Solo

The ten diverse tracks include student originals, compositions by faculty members Alan Baylock and Rich DeRosa, arrangements of works by Harold Arlen, Chick Corea, and Duke Ellington, and a composition by Don Menza.

The packaging is distinguished by original artwork, plentiful photographs, and liner notes by Sean Jones and Stefon Harris. The album is released on CD, a high-quality vinyl double LP, and all major digital platforms.

Legacy—Neil Slater at North Texas

Legacy—Neil Slater at North Texas is a 4-CD boxed set contains the complete recordings of all compositions and arrangements by Grammy-nominated composer Neil Slater written for and recorded by the UNT One O'clock Lab Band, plus a Grammy-nominated tribute piece composed by Rich DeRosa, 38 tracks in all. A 168-page book is included as part of the boxed set, featuring hundreds of photos and notes by band members, colleagues and friends. This landmark historical compilation honors the legacy of Neil Slater, the longest-tenured director of the world-renown One O'clock Lab Band.

"This boxed set is the most significant and ambitious CD release in the history of the jazz program at North Texas, and that is saying a lot, considering the magnitude of the North Texas Jazz record catalog and the accolades the One O'clock Lab Band has earned over five decades of critically acclaimed recordings," said Craig Marshall, lab band manager and producer.

It includes the Grammy-nominated compositions "Neil," by Rich DeRosa, for whom Slater was a mentor, and "Values" a commissioned work Slater composed to celebrate UNT's 100th anniversary.

Legacy is currently submitted for Grammy consideration in the historical album category.

Perseverance: The Music of Rich DeRosa at North Texas

Perseverance: The Music of Rich DeRosa at North Texas honors the continuing legacy of Prof. DeRosa here in Denton. The CD is a compilation of DeRosa's compositions and arrangements that have been recorded by members of the One O'clock and Two O'clock Lab Bands and the UNT Concert Orchestra from 2011—2016. It includes the Grammy-nominated composition "Neil," and "Suite for an Anniversary," a commissioned work which was composed to celebrate UNT's 125th anniversary. Interestingly, Neil Slater earned a Grammy nomination for "Values," also a commissioned work which Slater composed to celebrate the UNT Centennial 25 years earlier. DeRosa's "Suite" is currently submitted for Grammy consideration in composition and arranging categories.

Video of Rich DeRosa speaking about "Suite for an Anniversary" and the concert performance of the suite:

Airstream Artistry: Jim Riggs' Best of the Two

This 3-CD set compiles 40 selections from 10 CDs recorded by the Two O'clock Lab Band under the direction of Jim Riggs, who taught saxophone at UNT for 35 years. Riggs’ consummate teaching and mentoring skills are reflected in former students who command professional respect worldwide, perform in elite U.S. military bands, teach in top-ranked colleges and universities and are represented among winners of the North American Saxophone Alliance Young Artist Competition, Thelonious Monk International Jazz Saxophone Competition and DownBeat Student Music Awards. Under Riggs' leadership, the UNT Two O'clock Lab Band was named recipient of DownBeat magazine's Annual Student Music Awards in 1994,1997, 2001, 2006 and 2008.

"Airstream artistry," "dart your air," "more point on the bass sound," "listen to the cymbal taps," and "transparency" are just a few of the many phrases or terms that were coined by Jim Riggs, one of the finest college jazz band directors...ever. These descriptive and sometimes cryptic gems are what defined the sound of the Two O'clock Lab Band for decades at the University of North Texas.

For most, the road to the One O'clock went through Riggs' band. There we were taught to strive for excellence by a leader with a curious, analytical, and persistent mind. Every nuance of the music was examined and scrutinized. He was known for walking around to the back of the band risers to adjust the sound of the bass amp or to comment on the timbre of the drummer's cymbals. He heard everything, had a clear picture of what the band should sound like, and expertly rehearsed the ensemble until the desired results were achieved.

Tim Ishii, Associate Chair, Music
Director of Jazz Studies and Saxophone, UT Arlington

Nice! Jay Saunders' Best of the Two

This 2-CD set compiles 18 tracks recorded by the Two O'clock Lab Band under the direction of Jay Saunders between 2008 and 2014. A veteran of the Stan Kenton Orchestra and a pillar of the Dallas scene for decades, Saunders taught lead trumpet and jazz history from 2000 to 2016. He also directed the One and Three O'clock Lab Bands.

Jay Saunders' gift as a director is to enable students to have fun playing at their absolute best. Drawing on a lifetime of listening, decades of experience as a top lead trumpet player, and infallible taste, he taught his bands to swing. His mentorship prepared his students to make a smooth transition to professional life because he expected a professional standard. Because he is as keenly attuned to the vibe and morale of the band as he is to the musical execution, his combination of infectious enthusiasm and musical mastery enables students to understand the link between feeling good and playing well. Jay's positive spirit shines through each one of these tracks.

"Jay Saunders is a great example of the consummate musician. He is a great first trumpet player, a remarkable leader of young people, and a deeply caring teacher. And yet, he has remained a very modest person. The respect and consideration he has shown to so many has come back to him in multiples from all who know him and with whom he has worked. He leads and has led by example."

—Marvin Stamm, New York City


Alan Baylock, Director, One O'clock Lab Band
Craig Marshall, Producer, Lab Band Manager
Phil Bulla, Producer & Recording Engineer
John Murphy, Chair, Division of Jazz Studies
Ben Scholz, radio promotion
Jim Eigo, publicist
Artist Page
Division of Jazz Studies
One O'clock Lab Band (has audio player with all Lab 2017 tracks)
CD Baby
Social media https://www.

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