"A Swingin' Affair" Outshines Its Name
Seventy-six year-old vibraphonist Emil Richards and the Hollywood All-Star Big Band were next up, and those who were too hungry to stay missed another in a series of first-class concerts. The band came out swingin' on Billy Byers' arrangement of "Come Fly with Me" (showcasing Christlieb's always-unpredictable tenor) and Sammy Nestico's "Blues Machine" (with a host of soloists including alto Lanny Morgan, trumpeter Jeff Bunnell, trombonists Morillas and Linda Small, tenor Doug Webb, pianist Mike Lang and Richards). Nestico composed "Free Flight" and "Freckle Face," sandwiched around "Blues for Sam" and Bunnell's "It's About Time." Quincy Jones' "Hard Sock," arranged by Nestico, cuddled in a cozy groove to complement burnished solos by Richards, Morgan, Morillas and Webb. On my note pad I'd scribbled "swings as hard as any band here." As if to prove the point, Richards and the ensemble brought down the curtain (and the house) with Bunnell's "Mr. Christlieb, I Presume," spotlighting you-know-who in another spectacular tour de force.
While the concert was under way, hotel staff were busy setting up a sandwich / soft drink table in the adjacent lobby to provide food and drink for those attending the Bud Shank Memorial Concert and Tribute. The event was late getting started, and things wouldn't get any better, as it is all but impossible to control the number of friends and colleagues who wish to pay their respects or the length of the musical selections they've chosen. After a written message from trombonist Herbie Harper and remarks by bassist and Lighthouse All-Stars founder Howard Rumsey (who at ninety-two sat through almost every concert), Shank's original rhythm section (pianist Claude Williamson, bassist Don Prell, drummer Chuck Flores) took center stage to play a medley of songs from Porgy and Bess, the ballad "Who Can I Turn To" and "Autumn Leaves." In-person remarks by guitarist Dennis Budimir and award-winning composer Johnny Mandel were sandwiched around a solo recital by pianist Clare Fischer (four extended variations on Jerome Kern's "Yesterdays").
Two-thirds of Shank's last working rhythm section (pianist Bill Mays, bassist Bob Magnusson) was joined onstage by Flores and alto Lanny Morgan for "Lester Leaps In" before Mays and Magnusson played Shank's "Evanescence" (written for pianist Bill Evans) and the samba "Carousels." Ken Poston read a letter from Bill Holman, who was vacationing in Europe, after which Mays, Magnusson and Flores were joined by Christlieb, trombonist Linda Small and baritone Bill Ramsay for Gabe Baltazar's clever composition, "Bop Suey" (announced as Ramsay's), whose tune is comprised of sixteen well-known bop phrases. Although the hour was growing late there was more to come, specifically from Dave Friesen (who I was told played electric cello). While Friesen waited for the proper amplification (which took more than five minutes), I stepped outside, returning shortly afterward for the soul-stirring finale, Shank's compositions "Wildflower" (written for his wife, Linda, who was present) and "Starduster," nicely performed by Webb on tenor, alto Fred Selden and the rhythm section.
Those partisans who weren't yet emotionally and physically drained took a short break, then returned to the Ballroom (it was almost ten o'clock) to hear the L.A. Jazz Orchestra's "Portrait of Frank Sinatra." And that it was. The ensemble opened with "All or Nothing at All" and followed with "I'll Never Smile Again," "Saturday Night," "South of the Border," "All of Me," "I've Got the World on a String," "In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning" and "Just One of Those Things." The charts were more danceable than deep, albeit with some trim solos by tenor Christlieb, pianist Mays, trumpeter Warren Luening and bass trombonist Bryant Byers ("Saturday Night"). The opening set ended at around 10:30, as did my day. Set 2 included "I've Got You Under My Skin," "You Make Me Feel So Young," "Come Fly with Me," "All the Way," "Nice n' Easy," "The Song is You" and "In the Still of the Night."
Sunday, May 24, 2009