Gold Medalists Abound at Big Band Olympics
Another day, another film, this one much earlier (9:30 a.m.), followed by the first of two "meet the bandleaders" panels, moderated by Ken Borgers and including Jacob, Davies, Ponomarev and Altman. After lunch came the weekend's anomaly: the Montreal Jazz Kidz, ranging in age from six to sixteen, presenting a program of well-known standards whose renditions ranged from passable to slipshod. Not putting them down, simply reporting the facts. I enjoyed the concert, as the Jazz Kidz, formed in 2008, radiated energy and enthusiasm and were obviously having fun. As for the musical content, it sounded like kids ages six to sixteen who had recently been introduced to music and jazz. No Wunderkinds here. The youngters hurried through their book of fifteen numbers, roughly half of which were vocals, opening with "C-Jam Blues" and ending with the crowd-pleasing "Mambo Italiano." Few people were in the audience when they began, fewer still when the last notes of "Mambo" were struck. The Kidz, I was told, also performed during Wednesday's "bonus" event aboard the Queen Mary in Long Beach, a dinner / concert salute to Ted Heath by Altman's superb band.
Speaking of Altman, his band was next onstage, quickly erasing the memory of what had come before it with an electrifying hour-long session that swung lustily from end to end behind impressive charts by Altman and dynamic blowing by all hands including the leader himself who opened with a searing manifesto on the Gershwin brothers' "Our Love Is Here to Stay." Altman usually raised the curtain, he said, with the through-written second number, appropriately named "The Opener." Deftly switching gears, Altman next paid tribute to the prolific writer of operettas, Rudolf Friml, with a charming version of "The Donkey Serenade" (memorably sung by Allan Jones in the Marx Brothers film A Night at the Opera). The operatic solos were by trumpeter Summers, trombonist Martin and alto Sal Lozano. The rest of the program was equally spellbinding, consisting of the ballad "Lester Left Town," the lyrical "Mambo Inn," Gigi Gryce's boppish "Minority," Clifford Brown's buoyant "Joy Spring," a couple of Altman originals ("A Foregone Conclusion," the laid-back Mulligan-style "West Coast Chatter") and his arrangement of the lovely Mack Gordon / Harry Warren ballad "I Wish I Knew" (played here at a pleasing medium-up tempo). Besides those already mentioned, the top-drawer soloists included tenors Lockart and Brian Scanlon, alto Danny House, baritone Bob Efford, trombonist Charlie Morillas and trumpeter Jeff Bunnell. The rhythm section, with drummer Adam Lacy sitting in for Gregg Field and ably supervising guitarist Mike Higgins, pianist Mike Lang and bassist Chuck Berghofer, was outstanding. Admirable as the concert was, Altman saved the even better news for later, disclosing that he'd soon be recording many of these same tunes on an upcoming album with his British big band.
There was one more concert before supper, this one a pleasant departure from the big-band format, an International Trumpet Summit spotlighting Shew and Ponomarev with a blue-chip rhythm section: pianist Rein de Graaff, bassist Chris Conner and drummer Kendall Kay. Needless to say, the front-liners were their usual expressive selves in a program that opened with the standards "There Is No Greater Love" and "But Not for Me" and included Duke Ellington's "In a Sentimental Mood," Brownie's "Joy Spring" and Thelonious Monk's "Rhythm-a-Ning." The duo were joined on "Joy Spring" by a third trumpeter, a young man from Yugoslavia (I believe) whose name I would not attempt to pronounce (or spell). He was efficient, but hardly in a class with Shew or Ponomarev.