Strike Up the (Unsung) Bands
22. The Dave McMurdo Jazz Orchestra. Now that Rob McConnell's peerless Boss Brass are no longer active, fellow valve trombonist Dave McMurdo heads Canada's most seasoned and steady ensemble. The DMJO has recorded several multiple-disc sets, most recently the double-CD Nimmons 'n' More in 2007. Two years earlier, the band released a three-CD set, Portraits, also devoted to the music of composer/arranger/clarinetist Phil Nimmons. Two other two-CD sets (Just for Now, Fire & Song complement a trio of singles, The Dave McMurdo Jazz Orchestra, Live at the Montreal Bistro and Different Paths. The personnel (including several Boss Brass members or alumni) is topflight, the music enticing, and, come to think of it, the DMJO probably deserves a higher ranking than No. 20. Maybe next time...
And there you have it, twenty big bands that may be even more unseen and undervalued than most bands these days but are nonetheless worthy of notice and consideration. As these are all professional groups, we are appending as a "bonus" the names of fifteen impressive university/youth ensembles that deserve no less than honorable mention.
1. National Youth Jazz Orchestra, UK (I have twenty CDs by this consistently amazing ensemble whose upper age limit is 25); 2. DePaul University, Chicago; 3. McGill University, Montreal; 4. University of North Texas, Denton (pick a band, any band); 5. University of Cincinnati; 6. University of Northern Iowa; 7. Midland Youth Jazz Orchestra, UK; 8. University of North Florida, Jacksonville; 9. Mt. Hood (OR) Jazz Ensemble; 10. Wigan Youth Jazz Orchestra, UK; 11. Texas Christian University; 12. University of Northern Colorado; 13. University of Wisconsin/Eau Claire; 14. Howard University, Washington, DC; 15. University of Toronto. One can't go wrong with any of them.
Bobby Shew Honored
On Saturday, November 21, 2009 I was at the KiMo Theatre in Albuquerque to witness trumpeter Bobby Shew's induction into the New Mexico Music Hall of Fame. Until a few weeks before that, when I received an invitation from Shew, I had no idea that such an organization existednor did he. Apparently, the Hall, one of New Mexico's best-kept secrets, has established a foundation and museum in nearby Rio Rancho. This was the seventh annual event, and Shew, a native of Albuquerque, was one of four inductees: three individuals and one group. The others were pop or Latin artists.
Bobby Shew was something of a child prodigy, having started playing guitar at age eight before switching to the trumpet two years later. By age 13 he was playing dances and other events around town, and by 15 was leading his own group, playing as many as six nights a week while in high school. After graduation, Shew spent three years playing lead and jazz trumpet for the NORAD multi-service band, then joined the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra where he played alongside trumpet legend Charlie Shavers. He later accepted an offer to join Woody Herman = 7596's Herd, which led to gigs with singer Della Reese and drummer Buddy Rich's outstanding late 1960s band. Afterward, Shew moved to Las Vegas, backing headline performers in nightclubs, then to Los Angeles where he played with a host of renowned artists including Art Pepper, Bud Shank and Horace Silver, and in big bands led by Bill Holman, Louie Bellson, Toshiko Akiyoshi, Oliver Nelson, Bill Berry, Benny Goodman, Terry Gibbs, Maynard Ferguson, Don Menza, Neal Hefti, Bob Florence and the Frank Capp/Nat Pierce Juggernaut. He also led his own smaller groups, and in 1983 his album Heavy Company earned a Grammy Award as Best Jazz Album of the Year.
A busy studio musician, Shew's trumpet has been heard on such popular TV shows as Hawaii 5-0, Streets of San Francisco, the Bob Newhart Show, Mary Tyler Moore, Happy Days, Laverne and Shirley, Eight Is Enough and many others, as well as in such films as Grease I and II, Rocky I and II, The Muppet Movie, The Drivers and Taxi. In his "spare time," Shew conducts clinics and master classes all over the world, teaches students one-on-one, writes educational articles in various trade magazines, and serves on the Board of Directors of the International Trumpet Guild. Enough, one would surmise, to warrant his entry into the New Mexico Music Hall of Fame. Oh, and I almost forgot...since returning "home" from California in 2006, Shew has served as director of the Albuquerque Jazz Orchestra. And just think, as a young man he really wanted to be an architect!
The LAJI Is Moving