Gold Medalists Abound at Big Band Olympics
Saturday, May 28
After the morning film (which included clips of such relatively obscure European big bands as those led by Boy Edgar and Gustav Brohm) and a "meet the bandleaders" panel with Leviev, Walden and Vig, another group of young musicians (two groups, actually) came onstage as part of the Los Angeles Jazz Society's ongoing Bill Green Mentorship Program. The ensembles, one nine members strong, the other eleven, comprised of students ages 16-18, were co-directed by Scott Whitfield and Roger Neumann. The smaller band was up first, opening with "Stompin' at the Savoy" and continuing with "Blue Monk," "Li'l Darlin'" and "Autumn Leaves" before making way for the larger group, which performed "You Stepped Out of a Dream," "Billie's Bounce," Clare Fischer's "Morning" and the standard "My Shining Hour." The ensembles were fairly together, the solos about what would be expected from high school kids ages 16-18.
Valery Ponomarev, the Russian trumpeter who first gained notice in this country as a member of the Jazz Messengers, led his big band later that afternoon in a program titled "Our Father Who Art Blakey," which, as the name suggests, consisted of music associated with the Messengers and re-scored for a large ensemble. The band had only one rehearsal, which accounts in part for some ragged passages along the way, along with the fact that these bop tunes don't lend themselves readily to a big-band format. Nevertheless, the hard-working ensemble did its best to brighten Bobby Timmons' "Moanin,'" the flag-waving "Web City," the venerable "Caravan," Clifford Jordan's "Jor-du," the sunny bossa "Pensativa" and Benny Golson's "Blues March." Ponomarev crafted some hip solos, as did trumpeters Shew and Saunders, altos Ann Patterson and Tom Peterson, pianist Jon Mayer and especially tenor saxophonist Charles Owens. High marks for diligence, slightly lower for content.
After another panel session featuring Toshiko Akiyoshi, Lew Tabackin and former members of their bandShew, Peterson, Gary Foster, Steve Huffsteter, Rich Cooper, Mike PriceHungarian vibraphonist Tommy Vig and his band made a positive first impression with "Rise and Shine," a fast-moving express based on Sigmund Romberg's "Softly as in a Morning Sunrise," on which Vig, trumpeter Bunnell and tenor Billy Kerr were the splendid soloists. As Vig's charts were extended with ample room for soloists to stretch, the band played only four numbers. The others were "In Memory of Monk," based on "'Round Midnight"; a riff on "Body and Soul" whose name sounded to me like "Buddy and Solito," and "In Memory of Dizzy," based on "A Night in Tunisia." As was true of every band, Vig presided over a number of engaging improvisers including saxophonists Kerr, Jeff Driskill and Keith Bishop; trumpeters Bunnell and Ron King; trombonists Bruce Otto and Charlie Morillas, pianist John Beasley and bassist Putter Smith (whose graceful duet with Vig on "Buddy" was among the highlights).