Blue Skies, Smilin' at Me...
The early morning sky over Albuquerque is awash in brilliant colors this week as hundreds of gas-powered balloons of all shapes and sizes become airborne as a part of the thirty-fourth annual International Balloon Fiesta. With midday temperatures now in the seventies, autumn is in the air and gaining ground fast. Nothing to do with Jazz; simply a reminder that Albuquerque is a pretty nice place to live. Now let's get down to business.
Our first stop this month is Great Britain, site of BBC Radio 2's thirtieth annual Big Band Competition, in which senior section honors were earned this yearfor the sixth timeby John Ruddick Sr's remarkable Midland Youth Jazz Orchestra. MYJO has won the competition so often, in fact, that it is responsible for the rule that winning bands can't compete again for three years. So we should see MYJO atop the podium again in 2008. The senior section runner-up was the Leeds College of Music Big Band, directed by Al Wood. The Chethams School Big Band under director Goff Richards placed first in the junior section, with Ian Darrington's always in-the-hunt Wigan Youth Jazz Orchestra placing second for the fifth time (WYJO has won the competition four times). This year's jury (which listens to all the entries without knowing who they are) was comprised of Don Lusher, Henry Lowther, Mark Nightingale, Barry Forgie and John Patrick.
MYJO also won three individual prizes, with flugel Percy Pursglove earning Radio 2's Best Soloist honors, Andy Derrick capturing the Don Lusher trombone prize, and Natasha Buxton taking home the Kenny Clare drum prize for the second time (she also claimed it three years ago when MYJO last competed and won). Wigan's guitarist, Nick Kellie, was given the John Dankworth Award as most promising young musician. Another guitarist, Simon King of the Shrewsbury Big Band, earned the Musicians' Union Outstanding Musician Award for the second time, having won it two years ago as well. The Radio 2 Top Arranger prize went to Ray Chester of Sunderland for his arrangement of Hoagy Carmichael's "Skylark. Chester, a trombonist who received the Outstanding Musician Award three years ago, usually takes the featured solo on "Skylark but deferred this year to prize-winner Derrick.
At the All-Winners Concert, held at the CBSO Centre in Birmingham, the winning bands peformed, separately and together, with MYJO typically sharp on Rob McConnell's arrangements of "My Man Bill and "You Took Advantage of Me, while Chethams performed Mike Tomaro's "Retro Funk and Sammy Nestico's "Wind Machine. Derrick and Buxton were showcased in a show-stopping version of "Caravan, arranged by Tom Kubis. The Radio 2 competition was established in 1975 by Ray Harvey who has been organizing it ever since, as he did this year. It's a great idea, and my question is, why can't we have something like that here in the States?
Does IASJ Ring a Bell?
Perhaps not, as it's a European association that is the brainchild of an American musician, saxophonist Dave Liebman. IASJ, which stands for International Association of Schools of Jazz, was formed in 1989 by Liebman as a way of unifying an international community of music teachers and students. At its first meeting in Rottenburg, Germany, in 1989, representatives from ten countries including France, Spain, Switzerland, Ireland and Sweden showed up to help launch the organization.
The IASJ now has members on every continent, and representatives from more than fifty countries attend its annual meetings, the most recent of which was held in Krakow, Poland, in July. In an article by Andrew Greiner in the October issue of DownBeat magazine, Liebman says he sees the cross-cultural influence as the ultimate benefit of a widespread international network of Jazz education, which he says is the best way to preserve Jazz. With the International Association for Jazz Education (IAJE) also expanding its reach to welcome other countries (it has members from forty-five others besides the U.S.), Greiner observes that "the opportunities for students to learn while traveling is stronger than ever. Liebman says that thousands of American students are going to Europe to study Jazz standards because the foundation is solid and the expense is manageable. The trend, says Richard Dunscomb, the IAJE's international coordinator, "used to be for European students to come and study Jazz in the States. But now that they have their own schools and the programs are good, Europeans are staying home to learn. The IASJ is another good thing for Jazz, and Liebman deserves a hearty round of applause for giving birth to the idea.