The IAJE Crosses the Border
After applauding the CJO I grabbed a couple of Subway sandwiches and headed for the “Kenton Hang,” where I was able to meet face-to-face a number of those with whom I’d been exchanging e-mails at the Kentonia online site. Former Kenton trumpeter Mike Vax is one of them, and another former Kenton stalwart, tenor saxophonist Bill Trujillo, who now lives in the Las Vegas, NV, area, also stopped by. I’d have stayed longer but had to wolf down the Subs and dash over to the Metro Centre to grab a place in line for the gala closing concert, featuring not one but three awesome big bands starting with a special “reunion” performance by Rob McConnell and the Boss Brass with guest trumpeter Ingrid Jensen, followed by the Hugh Fraser Big Band with guest Lorraine Desmarais and Montréal’s Vic Vogel Big Band with guest Jane Bunnett, with the entire concert broadcast live in Canada on CBC Radio 1 and CBC Radio 2, and in the U.S. by WGBO in Newark, NJ. By the time I arrived at the Centre (shortly after seven o’clock) the line was already out the door, but some friends and I managed to find decent seats in the spacious auditorium and prepared ourselves to enjoy the concert. As we said, the Boss Brass was first up, and to be honest, I’ve heard them play better on other occasions. Everyone was efficient, especially flugel Guido Basso, trombonist Alistair Kay and tenor Rick Wilkins (there’s no way they could be otherwise) but there was no perceptible spark, and Jensen’s solo on “Indiana / Groovin’ High” was, to put it as charitably as possible, uninspired.
By then I’d learned how to sneak backstage (one’s media credentials cut no ice with security guards), so after the Boss Brass hit their last note I hurried to the “green room” to see a couple of the guys I’d met before Rob, Guido, saxophonist P.J. Perry and to meet some of the others including Wilkins (who’s also one of my favorite arrangers). I wanted to say hello to Don Thompson, another of my heroes, but missed him. On the other hand, I had a wonderful conversation with Vic Vogel who, as it turns out, is a fellow Zoot Sims devotee. Alas, Vic and I talked through much of Hugh Fraser’s performance, which I later heard was topnotch. But one can’t do everything.
Another year, another cornucopia of indelible sights and sounds to press in one’s memory book. I’ll leave you with one of my fondest impressions.
On Thursday afternoon, Dave Liebman introduced me to bandleader Scott Gwinnell, whose debut album I’d reviewed last year. During the course of the conversation Scott said to me, “So tell me, Jack, did you have your own big band?”
Somewhat taken aback by the question, I said to him, “Scott, I’m not a musician.“
“You could have fooled me,” he said.
That alone was enough to have made this IAJE conference a memorable one for me. See you in New York!
Another Colossus is Gone
The world of big-band Jazz lost another of its giants last month when composer / arranger / educator / trombonist William Russo died in Chicago at age seventy-four. While perhaps best known for his groundbreaking compositions and arrangements for the Stan Kenton Orchestra in the early ’50s, Russo wrote music in a number of genres including classical (one of his works, “Titans,” was conducted at Carnegie Hall by Leonard Bernstein and the New York Philharmonic with Maynard Ferguson the featured trumpeter) and served from 1965 until his retirement last June as head of the contemporary music program at Chicago’s Columbia College. In recent years he had led the twenty-member Chicago Jazz Ensemble, which recorded two excellent CDs, the first (self-titled) for the Chase Music Group, the second ( Kenton a la Russo ) for Hallway Records. Included on that one are a number of Russo’s celebrated compositions and arrangements for Kenton including ”230 North, 820 West,” “Frank Speaking,” “Eager Beaver” and “Portrait of a Count.” “Frank Speaking” was written for trombonist Frank Rosolino, “Portrait of a Count” for trumpeter Conte Candoli. Russo conducted the Chicago Jazz Ensemble at Joe Siegel’s Jazz Showcase less than a week before his passing. Much of Russo’s finest music for Kenton can be heard on the 1952 album New Concepts of Artistry in Rhythm, and all of his arrangements for the orchestra are included in Mosaic’s excellent four-disc set, Stan Kenton: The Complete Capitol Recordings of the Holman and Russo Charts.
But the Legacy Lives On