The IAJE Crosses the Border
First up that day was the University of Massachusetts Studio Orchestra with guest saxophonist Ernie Watts, a string section, oboes, English horns and even voices on Oliver Nelson’s “There’s a Yearnin’,” all splendidly conducted in the Bassett Theatre by Jeff Holmes (the band opened with another highlight, Mike Tomaro’s charming arrangement of Irving Berlin’s “Let’s Face the Music and Dance”). I really hated to miss out on the Thelma-Yellin Big Band from Israel at eleven, but the University of North Florida Jazz Ensemble was performing in Constitution Hall, and I simply couldn’t pass that up. UNF, conducted by Keith Javors and featuring (on “Angel Eyes”) guest saxophonist (and faculty member) Bunky Green, a past president of IAJE, was an appetizing prelude to the lunch hour, after which it was back to Constitution Hall what was billed as a tribute to the late Nick Brignola by the spectacular Keilwerth Saxophone Section led by alto Mike Smith and including soprano / tenor Dave Liebman, alto / tenor Don Braden, tenor Ernie Watts, baritone Gary Smulyan and a cookin’ rhythm section (Bill Mays, piano; Buster Williams, bass; Matt Wilson, drums).
The two o’clock hour on Friday and Saturday is set aside for visiting the Exhibit Hall, with performances resuming at three, on Friday by the aforementioned Florida Community College Jazz Ensemble with Vadala and Shew sitting in on “Beautiful Love,” “In a Sentimental Mood” and Clifford Brown’s “Daahoud.” Another memorable performance, unfortunately scheduled simultaneously with the Sammons Youth Jazz Orchestra from Cedar Hill, Texas, directed by Bart Marantz and featuring guest alto Mike Smith. The four o’clock hour was open, but at five I had the pleasure of meeting Jamie Begian from New York, one of the nicest young musicians we encountered all week. Unfortunately, much of the music his band plays is well off our radar screen, and even though we stayed until the end there wasn’t a lot to hold one’s interest.
Supper was followed by another highlight, the aforementioned concert at the Bassett Theatre by the Marian McPartland Trio (Don Thompson, bass; Barry Elmes, drums). Ms. McPartland, now in her eighth decade, blended wonderful keyboard artistry with incisive wit, and one can even forgive her for referring to Johnny Burke / Jimmy Van Heusen's "Like Someone in Love" as having been written by “Rodgers and Hammerstein or maybe Rodgers and Hart.” We’ve had those senior moments too. Friday evening’s concerts in Constitution Hall began with sets by the IAJE and NFAA (National Foundation for Advancement in the Arts) Clifford Brown / Stan Getz Fellowship recipients (Philip Dizak, trumpet; Joris Roelofs, alo sax; Mahesh Balasooriya, piano; Gabe Noel, bass; Zachary Harmon, drums) and vocalist Nnenna Freelon, accompanied by pianist Takana Miyamoto, guitarist Scott Sawyer, bassist Wayne Batchelor, drummer Woody Williams and percussionist Beverly Botsford. Arriving fashionably late, I found a seat before the presentation of the American Jazz Masters awards and awaited an appearance by trombonist Slide Hampton and the World of Trombones, scheduled for 9:45. No way that was going to happen. After the Jazz Masters awards were presented and the acceptance speeches made, Slide’s “Terrific Twelve” (a dozen of the world’s greatest Jazz trombonists, plus Slide himself and rhythm) took the stage, and were joined midway through the set by yet another trombone master, the great Bill Watrous. The ‘bones wrapped things up around 11:30 or so, erasing any chance of my attending the dance and party at the Fairmont sponsored by the African American Jazz Caucus, as the Dizzy Gillespie Alumni All-Star Band, also led by Hampton and featuring guest vocalist Nancy Wilson, was yet to come. I’m glad I stayed up late for that one, as the All-Stars and Ms. Wilson were in great form. In case there are any doubts about the “All-Star” designation, here’s the starting lineup. Judge for yourself. Slide Hampton, music director, trombone; Randy Brecker, Michael Philip Mossman, Lew Soloff, Greg Gisbert, Byron Stripling, trumpets; Frank Wess, Antonio Hart, alto sax; Jimmy Heath, James Moody, tenor sax; Gary Smulyan, baritone sax; Robin Eubanks, Jay Ashby, David Gibson, trombones; Douglas Purviance, bass trombone; Renee Rosnes, piano; John Lee, bass; Marty Ashby, guitar; Dennis Mackrel, drums; Duke Lee, percussion. Be honest; wouldn’t you stay up late to hear a band like that? (You can also hear most of them on a recently released album, Things to Come, recorded in concert at Pittsburgh’s Manchester Craftsmen’s Guild.)