"Modern Sounds," or: Running a Marathon in Full Body Armor
Next, it was back to the Marquis Ballroom for a labor of love as Joel Kaye directed the Johnny Richards Big Band in music from the album Something Else. Kaye, a long-time friend of Richards and champion of his music, had the band tuned up and ready to rumble, as was evident from the opening measures of the fast-paced "Band-Aide" (featuring crisp solos by tenor saxophonist Charles Owens, alto Billy Kerr and trumpeter Ron Stout). Two standards, the lovely "Long Ago and Far Away" (Jeff Bunnell, trumpet) and "For All We Know" (Owens, Stout), preceded Kerr's feature, the Latin "Burrito Borrachio," and the playful "Dimples" (Stout, Owens, Kerr, trumpeter Mike Bogart and the first solo by a talented young pianist, Mahesh Balasooryia, who was sitting in for Alan Steinberger). Owens was out front again on a number whose name sounded like "Adulon," Kerr, Owens and the trumpet section on "Turnabout" before the charming finale, "Waltz, Anyone?" Another first-class set.
There were two concerts yet to come before suppertime, preceded by Ken Poston's absorbing hour-long survey of Contemporary Records, the West Coast label founded in 1951 by Les Koenig and enhanced five years later by the addition of legendary sound engineer Roy DuNann who produced some of the most striking vinyl recordings to be found anywhere. Contemporary reached its zenith in the 1950s and '60s with spectacular albums by Sonny Rollins, Ornette Coleman, Art Pepper, Benny Golson, Shelly Manne, Hampton Hawes, Barney Kessel, Woody Shaw, Curtis Counce, Leroy Vinnegar and many others. In 1984, Contemporary was acquired by Fantasy Records.
Back in the ballroom, trumpeter Bobby Shew led an octet that performed music by Jack Montrose (including the classic Chet Baker / Clifford Brown arrangements) before joining forces with conductor Nathan Tanouye and the Las Vegas Jazz Connection to remember the music of pianist Russ Freeman. The Montrose charts, most of which are as well-known today as they were when written in the mid-50s, included "Tiny Capers," "Joy Spring," "Gone with the Wind," "Finders Keepers," "Daahoud" and "Goodbye." Besides Shew, the members of the octet (most of whom were given room to solo) included alto saxophonist Ann Patterson, tenor Tom Peterson, baritone Adam Schroeder, trombonist Jacques Voyemant, pianist Mahesh Balasooryia (subbing this time for Matt Harris), bassist Luis Guerra and drommer Paul Kreibich.
Tanouye, who is doing his best to keep the music of Freeman alive, brought his entire sixteen-member ensemble from Las Vegas for the occasion (I was told they car-pooled). The fact that this is a working band, not one that had to perform after only one or two brief rehearsals, was immediately apparent. The band was tight, with every section sharp and every member not only on the same page but tuned to the same wavelength. That's not meant to impugn any of the other groups, all of which were quite good; simply to note that working together on a regular basis and becoming familiar with the music can make a perceptible difference. As for that music, while Freeman is best known as an excellent pianist, he was also a talented composer and arranger, at least one of whose themes, "The Wind," has become a jazz standard that is played quite often today. The LVJC opened with the rapid-fire "Russ Job" and "Hugo Herway" (I think that's the name) before showcasing tenor saxophonist Marc Solis on "The Wind." "Band-Aide," "Summer Sketch" and "Happy Little Sunbeam" followed before Shew came onstage to solo on the closing numbers, "Piece for Russ" and "Made in Mexico" (again, I can't vouch for completely accurate names; that's what I heard from my seat in the back row).