Friday, May 31, 2013

Mulgrew Miller: “Living in the Shadows of Giants”


© -Steven Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.


“Don’t cross a bridge to get home or to work:” I guess the expression contains more than a hint of caution and admonition, especially if you’ve lived some time in the San Francisco Bay area and seen the nightmarish traffic back-ups a closed bridge can cause on the local, television news.

Thankfully, I never experienced such a delay in all the years I lived and worked in San Francisco,

But I sure caught a taste of what such an experience would be like as I was headed north back to the Oakland, CA airport to catch a return flight to my relocated home in southern California following some business appointments in the Silicon Valley.

A major accident on the Bay Bridge between San Francisco and Oakland had caused a traffic back-up so serious that it extended south on US 880 to about 10 miles below the airport.

The was no alternative and plenty of later flights so I just relaxed and turned on the FM-Jazz station while I waited things out in the rental car that was crawling along at death-defying speed of 3 MPH.

The radio broadcast that I tuned into was an interview with pianist Mulgrew Miller who was appearing through the upcoming weekend with his trio at Yoshi’s Jazz Club located on a portion of the waterfront which the City of Oakland had reclaimed from surplus shipping docks and refurbished into a lovely commercial-cum-residential area.

I knew of Mulgrew’s work through recordings he had made during his long association with drummer Tony Williams’ quintet in the 1980s and 1990s, but I had never heard him play in person.

He sounded very warm and cordial during the radio interview and I thought, “Well, at the rate things are going with the crawling traffic, maybe I’ll just book into a local hotel and catch one of Mulgrew’s sets at Yoshi’s.”

Of all the remarks Mulgrew made during the exchange with the interviewer, one stayed with me: “It’s tough to get any recognition as a Jazz musician today because we are living in the shadow of Giants.”

This is not verbatim, but earlier in his talk, Mulgrew had said that many of the pianists  during the bebop era, for example Al Haig, Joe Albany, Dodo Marmarosa, John Lewis, and even some pianists during the later hard bop era like Sonny Clark, Horace Silver and Walter Bishop, Jr., were not original stylists.

They basically played in the manner of Bud Powell and gained a certain measure of recognition and approval for being able to do so.

But musicians like himself, who continue in this bebop piano tradition and perhaps add some of the newer influences like Ahmad Jamal, McCoy Tyner or Keith Jarrett to their approach get little respect because we are not “… the next Bud Powell or Art Tatum or Bill Evans.”

“Why? Not all of us can be giants like Bud and Art or Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie. We are doing our part to keep the Jazz tradition alive and even move it forward a little, but we get little respect for what we do accomplish and put down for what we don’t.”


None of this was conveyed with animosity by Mulgrew, but you could certainly sense his disappointment and his displeasure.

The interview then trailed off and was replaced by the playing of one of Mulgrew’s recordings in its entirety.

By some miracle I was just pulling into the hired car parking lot when the interviewer returned so I did not get to hear the rest of Mulgrew’s talk.

The following year The Mulgrew Miller Trio Live at Yoshi’s was issued as a double CD on MaxJazz [[MXJ 212/208] and I picked up a copy along with the March 1, 2005 edition of Downbeat in which the following article about Mulgrew by Ted Panken appeared.

Mulgrew passed away on May 28, 2013 and the editorial staff at JazzProfiles thought it might be nice to remember him on these pages with a reprint of his Downbeat interview and the Nat Chinen obituary that was published in The New York Times.  

Copyright © Downbeat/Ted Panken/2005 Bell & Howell Information and Learning Company. All rights reserved.

Mulgrew Miller: No Apologies 

“Ironies abound in the world of Mulgrew Miller. On the one hand, the 49-year-old pianist is, as Eric Reed pointed out, "the most imitated pianist of the last 25 years." On the other, he finds it difficult to translate his exalted status into full-blown acceptance from the jazz business.

"It's a funny thing about my career," Miller said. "Promoters won't hire my band, but they'll book me as a sideman and make that the selling point of the gig. That boggles my mind."

Miller would seem to possess unsurpassed qualifications for leadership. As the 2004 trio release Live At Yoshi's (MaxJazz) makes evident, no pianist of Miller's generation brings such a wide stylistic palette to the table. A resolute modernist with an old-school attitude, he's assimilated the pentagonal contemporary canon of Bill Evans, McCoy Tyner, Herbie Hancock, Chick Corea and Keith Jarrett, as well as Woody Shaw's harmonic innovations, and created a fluid personal argot.

His concept draws on such piano-as-orchestra signposts as Art Tatum, Oscar Peterson, Ahmad Jamal and Erroll Garner, the "blowing piano" of Bud Powell, the disjunctive syncopations and voicings of Thelonious Monk, and the melodic ingenuity of gums like Hank Jones, Tommy Flanagan and Cedar Walton. With technique to burn, he finds ways to conjure beauty from pentatonics and odd intervals, infusing his lines with church and blues strains and propelling them with a joyous, incessant beat.


"I played with some of the greatest swinging people who ever played jazz, and I want to get the quality of feeling I heard with them," Miller said. "It's a sublime way to play music, and the most creative way to express myself. You can be both as intellectual and as soulful as you want, and the swing beat is powerful but subtle. I think you have to devote yourself to it exclusively to do it at that level."

Consequential apprenticeships with the Mercer Ellington Orchestra, Betty Carter, Johnny Griffin and Shaw launched Miller's career. A 1983-'86 stint with Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers put his name on the map, and he cemented his reputation during a long association with Tony Williams' great cuspof-the-'90s band, a sink-or-swim environment in which Miller thrived, playing, as pianist Anthony Wonsey recalls, "with fire but also the maturity of not rushing."

By the mid '80s, Miller was a fixture on
New York's saloon scene. Later, he sidemanned extensively with Bobby Hutcherson, Benny Golson, James Moody and Joe Lovano, and from 1987 to 1996 he recorded nine trio and ensemble albums for Landmark and RCANovus.

Not long after his 40th birthday, Miller resolved to eschew club dates and one-offs, and to focus on his own original music. There followed a six-year recording hiatus, as companies snapped up young artists with tenuous ties to the legacy of hardcore jazz.

"I won't call any names," Miller says, "but a lot of people do what a friend of mine calls 'interview music.' You do something that's obviously different, and you get the interviews and a certain amount of attention. Jazz is part progressive art and part folk art, and I've observed it to be heavily critiqued by people who attribute progressivity to music that lacks a folk element. When Charlie Parker developed his great conception, the folk element was the same as Lester Young and the blues shouters before him. Even when Ornette Coleman and John Coltrane played their conceptions, the folk element was intact. But now, people almost get applauded if they don't include that in their expression. If I reflected a heavy involvement in Arnold Schoenberg or some other ultra-modern composers, then I would be viewed differently than I am. Guys who do what I am doing are viewed as passé.

"A lot of today's musicians learn the rudiments of playing straight-ahead, think they've got it covered, become bored, and say, 'Let me try something else,'" Miller continued. "They develop a vision of expanding through different areas - reggae here, hip-hop there, blues here, soul there, classical music over here and being able to function at a certain level within all those styles. Rather than try to do a lot of things pretty good, I have a vision more of spiraling down to a core understanding of the essence of what music is."

This being said, Miller-who once wrote a lovely tune called "Farewell To Dogma" -continues to adhere to the principle that "there is no one way to play jazz piano and no one way that jazz is supposed to sound." He is not to be confused with the jazz police. His drummer, Karriem Riggins, has a second career as a hip-hop producer, and has at his fingertips a lexicon of up-to-the-second beats. When the urge strikes, bassist Derrick Hodge might deviate from a walking bass line to slap the bass Larry Graham style. It's an approach familiar to Miller, who grew up in
Greenwood, Miss., playing the music of James Brown, Aretha Franklin and Al Green in various Upper Delta cover bands.

"It still hits me where I live," he says. "It's Black music. That's my roots. When I go home, they all know me as the church organist from years ago, so it's nothing for me to walk up to the organ and fit right in. I once discussed my early involvement in music with Abdullah Ibrahim, and he described what I went through as a community-based experience. Before I became or wanted to become a jazz player, I played in church, in school plays, for dances and for cocktail parties. I was already improvising, and always on some level it was emotional or soul or whatever you want to call it. I was finding out how to connect with people through music.

"By now, I have played jazz twice as long as I played popular music, and although that style of playing is part of my basic musical being, I don't particularly feel that I need to express myself through it," he continued. "It's all blues. The folk element of the music doesn't change. The blues in 1995 and in 1925 is the same thing. The technology is different. But the chords are the same, the phrasing is the same, the language is the same-exact same. I grew up on that. It's a folk music. Folk music is not concerned with evolving."

For all his devotion to roots, Miller is adamant that expansion and evolution are key imperatives that drive his tonal personality. "I left my hometown to grow, and early on I intended to embrace as many styles and conceptions as I could," he said. "When I came to
New York I had my favorites, but there was a less celebrated, also brilliant tier of pianists who played the duo rooms, and I tried to hear all of those guys and learn from them. The sound of my bands changes as the musicians expand in their own right. I'm open, and all things are open to interpretation. I trust my musicians-their musicianship, insights, judgments and taste-and they tend to bring things off in whatever direction they want to go. In the best groups I played with, spontaneity certainly was a strong element."

Quiet and laid-back, determined to follow his muse, Miller may never attain mass consumption. But he remains sanguine.

"I have moments, but I don't allow myself to stay discouraged for long," he said. "I worked hard to maintain a certain mental and emotional equilibrium. It's mostly due to my faith. I don't put all my eggs in that basket of being a rich and famous jazz guy. That allows me a certain amount of freedom, because I don't have to play music for money. I play music because I love it. I play the music I love with people I want to play with. I have a long career behind me. I don't have to apologize to anybody for any decisions I make." -Ted Panken” 

Mulgrew Miller, Dynamic Jazz Pianist, Dies at 57

Copyright © The New York Times/Nate Chinen/May 29, 2013.

“Mulgrew Miller, a jazz pianist whose soulful erudition, clarity of touch and rhythmic aplomb made him a fixture in the postbop mainstream for more than 30 years, died on Wednesday in Allentown, Pa. He was 57.

The cause was a stroke, said his longtime manager, Mark Gurley. Mr. Miller had been hospitalized since Friday.

Mr. Miller developed his voice in the 1970s, combining the bright precision of bebop, as exemplified by Bud Powell and Oscar Peterson, with the clattering intrigue of modal jazz, especially as defined by McCoy Tyner. His balanced but assertive style was a model of fluency, lucidity and bounce, and it influenced more than a generation of younger pianists.

He was a widely respected bandleader, working either with a trio or with the group he called Wingspan, after the title of his second album. The blend of alto saxophone and vibraphone on that album, released on Landmark Records in 1987, appealed enough to Mr. Miller that he revived it in 2002 on “The Sequel” (MaxJazz), working in both cases with the vibraphonist Steve Nelson. Among Mr. Miller’s releases in the last decade were an impeccable solo piano album and four live albums featuring his dynamic trio.


Mr. Miller could seem physically imposing on the bandstand — he stood taller than six feet, with a sturdy build — but his temperament was warm and gentlemanly. He was a dedicated mentor: his bands over the last decade included musicians in their 20s, and since 2005 he had been the director of jazz studies at William Paterson University in New Jersey.

If his sideman credentials overshadowed his solo career, it wasn’t hard to see why: he played on hundreds of albums and worked in a series of celebrated bands. His most visible recent work had been with the bassist Ron Carter, whose chamberlike Golden Striker Trio featured Mr. Miller and the guitarist Russell Malone on equal footing; the group released a live album, “San Sebastian” (In+Out), this year.

Born in Greenwood, Miss., on Aug. 13, 1955, Mr. Miller grew up immersed in Delta blues and gospel music. After picking out hymns by ear at the family piano, he began taking lessons at age 8. He played the organ in church and worked in soul cover bands, but devoted himself to jazz after seeing Mr. Peterson on television, a moment he later described as pivotal.

At Memphis State University, he befriended two pianists, James Williams and Donald Brown, both of whom later preceded him in Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers. Mr. Miller spent several years with that band, just as he did with the trumpeter Woody Shaw, the singer Betty Carter and the Duke Ellington Orchestra, led by Ellington’s son, Mercer. Mr. Miller worked in an acclaimed quintet led by the drummer Tony Williams from the mid-1980s until shortly before Williams died in 1997.

Mr. Miller’s survivors include his wife, Tanya; his son, Darnell; his daughter, Leilani; and a grandson. He lived in Easton, Pa.

Though he harbored few resentments, Mr. Miller was clear about the limitations imposed on his career. “Jazz is part progressive art and part folk art,” he said in a 2005 interview with DownBeat magazine, differentiating his own unassuming style from the concept-laden, critically acclaimed fare that he described as “interview music.” He added, “Guys who do what I am doing are viewed as passé.”


But Mr. Miller worked with so many celebrated peers, like the alto saxophonist Kenny Garrett and the tenor saxophonist Joe Lovano, that his reputation among musicians was ironclad. And his legacy includes a formative imprint on some leading players of the next wave, including the drummer Karriem Riggins and the bassist Derrick Hodge, who were in one of his trios. The pianist Robert Glasper once recorded an original ballad called “One for ’Grew,” paying homage to a primary influence. On Monday, another prominent pianist, Geoffrey Keezer, attested on Twitter that seeing Mr. Miller one evening in 1986 was “what made me want to be a piano player professionally.”

In the performance from the At Yoshi’s 2004 double CD that forms the sound track for this video tribute to him, Mulgrew has cleverly adopted Comes Love to the arrangement Ahmad Jamal used on Poinciana from his At The Pershing Room Argo LP, one of the most successful Jazz recordings ever issued.

The insistent rhythm is formed by Karriem Riggins use of mallets on the drum set’s tom toms and the insistent accent played by the high hat on the 2nd and 4th beat of each measure.

On the original version, instead of the usual “clicking” sound made by stepping on the high hat’s cymbals to close them, Ahmad’s drummer, Vernel Fournier, played the high hat cymbals open [barely touching them together] creating more of a “chinging” sound to simulate finger cymbals.

You can hear this effect in a more pronounced manner as played by Karriem at 4:21 minutes of Mulgrew’s version.

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Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Ed Shaughnessy and The Joys of Jazz Drumming

© -Steven Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.


"The superb engine that drove the Tonight Show Band for thirty years ... with spirit and immense skill."

Doc Severinsen, Trumpeter & Director of The Tonight Show Band

In 1936, Irma Rombauer wrote a cook book entitled The Joy of Cooking [the book is so popular that it has never been out-of-print].

Over the years, I’ve never met anyone who enjoyed Jazz drumming more than Ed Shaughnessy. He could talk about it and demonstrate it for hours on end.

Once, while having lunch at the coffee shop on Vine Street just down from the offices of Musicians Union Local 47, I kidded Ed with the suggestion that, given his passion for Jazz drums, he should consider writing a book and call it The Joy of Jazz Drumming.

He laughed, pointed to my French fries and said: “Are you going to eat those?”

After we ate, we walked across the street to the Professional Drums Shop where Ed pretty much talked away the rest of the afternoon trading comments with the shop’s patrons on the subject of … wait for it … different sizes and shapes of drumsticks! In the process, I think Ed must have tried every drum stick in the store.

Watching him that afternoon at the Pro Drum Shop, you couldn’t keep the phrase - “Like a kid in a toy store” – from entering your mind.

Ed was fearless when it came to Jazz drumming. Nothing stopped him if he decided that there was something on the subject he wanted to know.  I remember him being all-over Louie Bellson – one of the nicest people ever to inhabit the Jazz world – about the technique involved in using two, bass drums. Louie finally turned to Ed and said in his gentle and considerate way: “Just do it.” So Ed did and became one of the few Jazz drummers to master the technique of using two, bass drums.

Edwin T. Shaughnessy was born 29 January 1929, in Jersey City, New Jersey. A self-taught drummer, Shaughnessy came to prominence, mainly in the New York area, in the late 1940’s working with George Shearing, Jack Teagarden, Georgie Auld and especially Charlie Ventura.

In the 1950’s he became more widely known owing to engagements with bands led by Benny Goodman and Tommy Dorsey and he also worked with Johnny Richards. In the 60s he was with Count Basie and also worked extensively in New York studios, securing a long-term engagement with The Tonight Show band.


When the show moved to “beautiful downtown Burbank, CA” and became The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, Ed decided to “relocate to The Left Coast.”

I lived in Burbank at the time and since the show taped at 5:00 PM PST, I would have dinner on occasion with Ed or meet him later for a drink at Donte’s, a popular Jazz club on Lankershim Blvd. in North Hollywood.

Although best known as a big band drummer, Shaughnessy's considerable skills spilled over into small group work with Gene Ammons, Roy Eldridge, Billie Holiday, Mundell Lowe, Teo Macero, Charles Mingus, Shirley Scott, Jack Sheldon, Horace Silver and many others.

For several years Shaughnessy was a member of the house band at Birdland and other New York clubs. In the early 1970’s he was doing similar work in Los Angeles and is credited with discovering Diana Schuur, whom he introduced at the 1976 Monterey Jazz Festival.

In addition to his work on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, Ed Shaughnessy has also played in an early incarnation of the "Sesame Street" orchestra along with percussionist Danny Epstein, reed player Wally Kane, and, on occasion, freelance guitarist Bucky Pizzarelli.

Ed Shaughnessy's consummate drumming skills enabled him to become a sought-after teacher, an activity which he pursued while simultaneously maintaining a busy recording and live performance schedule.

Last year[2012] Ed Shaughnessy published his long awaited book "Lucky Drummer - From NYC to Johnny Carson" with great personal stories from behind the scenes.

I still think he should have entitled it – The Joys of Drumming.

Ed passed away on May 24, 2013 and the editorial staff at JazzProfiles thought it might be nice to remember him on these pages with the following excerpt from Burt Korall’s Drummin’ Men The Heart Beat of Jazz: The Bebop Years [New York: Oxford University Press, 2002].

© -Burt Korall/Oxford University Press, copyright protected; all rights reserved.


“He was the most visible drummer in America during the years he spent on NBC-TV's Tonight Show in New York and Los Angeles. Thoroughly capable, Ed Shaughnessy handled all kinds of situations, including appearing in tandem with Buddy Rich—a challenging matter at best. This affable, ambitious musician, however, is far more than a generalist on the instrument.

From the outset, Shaughnessy, a poor kid from New Jersey, had a deep, abiding love for jazz and drums. He went to great lengths to learn and be a part of the music. He studied with Bill West, a drum teacher in New York, though very hard put to pay for lessons.

Shaughnessy played and practiced day and night. Vibraharpist Teddy Charles, a longtime mutual friend, said: "We all did that; it was the only way to make it."

As a teenager, Shaughnessy spent almost every evening and early morning in Manhattan clubs, hotel entertainment rooms, and ballrooms, listening to and watching drummers. Those who made a point of keeping youngsters out of places where small and big bands played learned to tolerate ‘the crazy kid from New Jersey.’ They allowed him to stay, as long as he remained out of the way.

Finally Big Sid Catlett, the legendary drummer, noticed him and, as was his wont, approached the youngster, talked to him, and suggested he sit in; Ben Webster (tenor) and John Simmons (bass)—jazz royalty in the 1940’s—were in the group. When asked, Shaughnessy nearly fainted from fear, but he did well. Catlett became his mentor. Catlett, Max Roach, Art Blakey, and Buddy Rich were influences, great sources of inspiration.

Love often is rewarded. Shaughnessy played with some bands— Bobby Byrne and Randy Brooks— worked with Jack Teagarden, sat in with Bud Powell on 5ind Street, playing Cherokee for twenty-five minutes at an absolutely hysterically fast tempo. Powell was quietly impressed, and word spread that a young white guy could really do it. George Shearing was in the audience that night and hired the young drummer on the spot.

Shaughnessy's hunger to play, his need to master the instrument and be able to play any kind of music — was apparent to everyone who met him. Bassist Phil Leshin remembers: ‘Eddie and I were kids together and hung out on the New York scene, always looking for some place to play. We used to go to Verland Studios, over a firehouse on 47th or 48th Street. A lot of the guys involved in modern jazz showed up at the sessions — Allen Eager, Al Cohn and Zoot Sims, pianists Harry Biss and Harvey Leonard, guitarist Charlie Byrd.’


Shaughnessy hooked up with the Charlie Ventura Bop for the People band in 1948 and became famous. Tenorist Ventura, Conte Candoli (trumpet), Bennie Green (trombone), Boots Mussulli (saxophone), Kenny O'Brien (bass), and pianist-singer Roy Kral and singer Jackie Cain, his wife, helped popularize modern jazz.

The Ventura group featured a provocative blend of the scat vocal unison style of Krai and Cain and the hip, accessible instrumental sound of the band. The players were good, and Shaughnessy took hold, playing well in a contemporary way. His facility, fire, and two-bass-drum set caught the attention of audiences and other drummers.

Shaughnessy was one of the first white drummers to deal with bebop in a strong and persuasive manner. His increasing ability and continuing intensity motivated Benny Goodman to hire him for a 1950 tour of Europe with a small band that included the influential trumpeter Roy Eldridge. Unlike most musicians, the drummer got on well with Goodman.

He replaced Buddy Rich in Tommy Dorsey's band and stayed for a while, building his reputation. He worked with Lucky Millinder's band in Harlem and for a short time with Ellington, sat in with Charlie Parker on several occasions, and got into experimental jazz with Charles Mingus, Teddy Charles, and Don Ellis. He was becoming an increasingly important New York jazz figure.

Shaughnessy began working on television in the 19508 on a daytime Steve Allen Show broadcast by CBS. One thing led to another. He did more studio and staff work. He recorded with Basie and played an increasing number of small and big band record dates featuring leading players and writers.

The drummer joined the Tonight Show in New York in 1964. He moved to Los Angeles with the program and remained with it until Johnny Carson called it a night.
He headed a big band and small group of his own in L.A., always attempting to stretch the envelope. Growth was very much on his mind.

Barry Ulanov got to the heart of it when we talked about the drummer: ‘Ed is one of the most accountable musicians I ever heard,’ the critic asserted. ‘You could depend on music coming out of the man. His hands are fast. His thinking is good. His ears are alive.’

Today, as in the past, Shaughnessy remains busy — teaching, touring with Doc Severinsen's band, studying, seeking new musical experiences.”

Here’s Ed with Buddy Rich with Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show band. There aren’t that many drummers who’d be left on their drum stools after “dueling” with the great Buddy Rich.

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Monday, May 27, 2013

Los Angeles Jazz Institute, Day Four, 5.26.2013 - “Swingin’ On A Riff: Big Band Masters of the 21st Century.”

© -Gordon Sapsed, copyright protected; all rights reserved.


The last Day of the current event opened with an hour-long film show, starting at 8.30, tracking the emergence of West Coast Jazz on film, with some rare clips. Ken Poston traced the music from Lester Young, Claude Thornhill, Gil Evans and Gerry Mulligan  with clips that also included Shorty Rogers, Marty Paich and others.

It was then time for the 'extra added attraction' - a new-style LAJI fundraiser event, lasting 3 & 3/4 hours, within the main event, offering brunch with the music (or not, if preferred) - "The Birth of the Cool and The Origins Of the West Coast Sound".

Composer/Arranger/ Bandleader Chris Walden then directed a 17-piece band re-creating Claude Thornhill's music complete with French horns and tuba and arrangements from Gil Evans and Gerry Mulligan, among others. As Chris said "This music could have been written 10 or 20 years ago, but dates from the 1940's ...

Charts played included Yardbird Suite, Anthropology, Donna Lee and Godchild as well as Thornhill icons such as Snowfall, Robbin's Nest and Rose of the Rio Grande

Hearing this music live was a different experience from the surviving recordings - one enthusiast told me that he felt "It did not feel as light as I normally expect to hear it". I thought that the clarity distinguishing individual instruments seemed notable, although , as ever for my taste, the LAJI sound mixing was generally too loud.


Chuck Findley was next up leading a 'Miles Davis' Nonet through the Birth of the Cool charts. Again the tuba ( Bill Reichenbach) and French horn (Stephanie O'Keefe) parts were notable - this time being full members of the band , with solo space. Matt Harris, from California State Northridge had been brought in to add his familiarity with this music - in the John Lewis piano role in this set and as director for the following set. Ira Nepus on trombone and Chuck Berghofer on bass were among those brought in just for this Nonet set.

'Miles Ahead - the classic Miles Davis plus 19 collaboration with Bill Evans' was the third event for this special morning and featured Bobby Shew in the Miles Davis role.
The originally - released album was a mix of spliced sections, over-dubbing and reworking, none of which was available for this live performance. However, the result was outstandingly good as has been almost everything during this four days. The caliber of musicianship has delighted even the musicians themselves  and congratulations between musicians and from their leaders has been frequent and well-deserved.

A characteristic of the weekend has been the emergence of a new generation of LA musicians  - some familiar, some less so, but playing with phenomenal technique and, I thought, more personal involvement than might have been the case is earlier times. 

Another observation for me was that, in earlier times, if I saw a new young face, I mentally 'wished him luck' when he was perhaps exposed by a solo opportunity.
This time round I found myself being relieved when a veteran musician pulled something off in the very challenging company of talented younger players and attracted nods or gasps from the youngsters!

The set-list for the Miles Ahead set was, essentially the album titles.

The hour long Composers Workshop, moderated by KJAZ's Helen Borgers, had Kim Richmond and Chris Walden participating, but lacked Bob Curnow who could not make the trip due to health issues.

The Workshop, I thought, was less interesting than the earlier ones, being bogged down in the perennial debate about the death of big band music ( strenuously denied) and audiences for Big Band music (less strenuously denied). There were some good words said about the overall impact of the work of Gordon Goodwin with younger people and its impact on the whole big band appreciation scene. Kim Richmond made some good points about the different skills evident among younger players and his own experience in dissolving and re-creating his own band.


Kim's 23-piece  Concert Jazz Orchestra then gave an hour plus concert, with much of the material drawn from his newly-released tribute to Stan Kenton "Artistry". This music really had the audience on their feet and cheering long before the end. It is billed as 'orchestral jazz' and Kim acknowledges the inspiration of the Kenton Neophonic as a source, but with his own writer's twist.

Re-writes of Artistry in Rhythm, Intermission Riff and even a almost unrecognisable Peanut Vendor were part of it, but 'Poetry', 'Zippidy Altered' and the wonderful Neal Hefti theme 'Virna' were outstanding, with each bringing something totally unique.
I thought this an outstanding set and thoroughly recommend the album. A highlight of this Festival.

Hubert Laws guests on the album but Alex Budman did an outstanding job live - as did other soloists.

We then had 3 and a half hour gap to the final set billed as 'Bob Curnow LA Big Band Reunion'.


In Bob Curnow's absence Bobby Shew directed the band, which played the Pat Metheny music Bob Curnow arranged a couple of years ago for an album recorded in LA with Bobby and several other band members as part of that recorded line-up. The music was also, on that previous occasion, presented at an LAJI event.

The set list was 11 items from the Metheny/ Curnow collection and included pieces from other  Metheny jazz outings such as an encounter with Chet Baker, entitled "Chet's Call". Especially notable was Bobby Shew's sole feature - a beautiful melody written by Pat Metheny and dedicated to his parents "Always and Forever".

As Bobby said, regarding the rest of the music, "I think Bob Curnow has some Wagnerian blood"  and certainly this LAJI event went out with a huge BANG as the FFF's dominated - with high trumpet lovers especially excited.

Jack Bowers, who was at this event will be offering a more considered review of it all in his Big Band feature on All That Jazz in the weeks to come.

I apologise for the necessary haste in compiling these notes off the top of my head between sets  and thank you for your comments off-line, encouraging me to continue.

The photos, with many many others are beginning to appear on my Gallery at www.gordonsapsed.com and will continue to do so when I get back to UK.

Gordon Sapsed



Sunday, May 26, 2013

Los Angeles Jazz Institute, Day Three, 5.25.2013 - “Swingin’ On A Riff: Big Band Masters of the 21st Century.”


© -Gordon Sapsed, copyright protected; all rights reserved.


“I must firstly apologise for my error yesterday in implying that the USC band had started their set late - whereas they were not even invited this year..... The honour of opening the Festival this time was with the Fullerton College Band - who turned up on time but minus their leader.

I'd have to say that Bruce Babad (their leader) has more than compensated since with his contributions to the Festival as well as joy he has brought me in the past with his playing. I was delighted to hear that he is planning to record a second Paul Desmond Tribute album later this year - no surprise really following the success of his earlier one.

Saturday morning's LAJI programme opened at 
11 am with a film show - this time focused on jazz related clips from the 1950's . With arranger/composers as the theme, the first film clips showed Kenton's band of that period playing 'I Feel Pretty' and 'Maria' - from the Ed Sullivan show. Interesting was a glimpse of young Carl Saunders wrestling with a mellophonium.

Later clips showed Andre Previn playing with Bobby Darin, a Nat Cole rendering of a song written by Pete Rugolo and footage from Johnny Mandel's score for 'I Want to Live' plus the jazz club scenes. Woody's band was represented in several clips including a rendering of Bill Holman's arrangement of "After You've Gone ".

In the Workshop discussion later in the day Bill Holman said how it took him about two weeks to complete that arrangement as relevant 'crazy ideas' emerged daily to incorporate in the score. He was relieved and delighted that Woody liked it and , in retrospect, he feels it was something special in his career. Woody said 'Thank you for sharing your thoughts with the band'.

The Workshop/ Panel discussion, moderated by Kirk Silsbee was, I thought, very effective, concentrating as it did on HOW arrangers work. The 'Panelists' were Bill Mathieu, Bill Holman and Lou Rovner - each very different in their musical style, how they trained and how they tackle their work.

Before the panel started we had a chance to hear Lou Rovner's work - which many of us had never heard before - although every member of his 10 piece "Small Big Band" was a familiar face to LAJI audiences.

His music was, for me and for many others, a total revelation and an absolute delight! As they say - well worth the price of admission if we had to go home now....
His music, in retrospect, is perhaps best heard when you know a little about him - but don't bother to go to record shops. His only recordings are on his website - but downloadable free. (I haven't tried it yet) . The website is www.LouRovnermusic.com.

He grew up in
Chicago, but left town at 17 and , among other things, spent a year at Berklee and also qualified to become a practising psychologist.

He claims to have no musical style of his own , but seeks to write things which are different to things he has written previously ... I can only say that every instrumentalist in the band plays a role in everything - often doubling. Each player gets features but none have a single role. The repertoire is totally mixed and this list gives you no idea how it sounds. Take, for example Neal Hefti's "L'il Darlin'". Lou decided to arrange that but use none of it and instead carry that mood into "It's Only a Paper Moon", or , strictly speaking, a series of short vignettes related to 'Paper Moon', with an overall mood of 'L'il Darlin'. - Still with me?

This really WAS a set where the musicians had fun, but maintained their competence whilst smiling and laughing.

Totally delightful music - with an impression that they made it all up as they went along - another of Lou's goals ...

The Lou Rovner set list was : Hi Fly, Body & Soul (at a fast tempo), Take Me Out To The Ballgame, 'It's Only a Paper Moon' - and 'Milestones'.

Interestingly, one theme of the Worksop/Panel discussion was 'writing so that it seems they are making it up'. All three panelists cited that as a worthwhile goal, although all three also found such a quality in some classical writing from Mozart and even Beethoven ...

All three also spoke of having in the past felt, on hearing something inspirational that 'I could write that' - but then, with pencil and paper in hand found that they couldn't!

Regarding personal style, Bill Mathieu told of years of studying other American composers, Europeans and even music from Eastern cultures, before realising - sometime after age 50 that he was writing stuff which was peculiarly his own. Bill Holman reported no such 'nirvana' or 'serendipity', but recalls , quite early in his career, being told that people could recognise his style.

Lou, as said above, seeks to 'not sound the same twice' ( despite having spent some years writing for shows and acts in Vegas).

Both Lou and Bill Holman spoke of a personal challenge, perhaps imagined, that they feel to keep their top-calibre players interested in coming to unpaid rehearsals !
Bill Holman also spoke of an almost unconscious goal, derived from his playing background to write things that are playable. Bill Mathieu said he tries to stay away from the piano as long as possible 'To not limit what I'm writing to the abilities I have as a pianist'. He recommends to students not to sit close to the piano. Instead 'you must get up to go and check things'.

A very worthwhile Workshop, I thought.


The afternoon closed with a romping set from Ton Kubis's Band - "excuse us rushing - some of these guys have real jobs tonight".

Several top LA players appeared for the first time this weekend in Tom's Band - Sal Lozano, Andy Martin,
Wayne `Bergeron and such. Within the Festival's theme of composer/arranger bandleaders it was a typical Kubis set - a lot of swing, a lot of energy, a lot of laughing and great music. Herman sold out of the band's new CD afterwards and 'could have sold 50 more copies'.

If the titles matter (or are even correct ) : "Uptown Blues", "Hey Georgia" ( a Georgia Brown variant), In a Mellow Tone, "Hi 5's ('- and a good chance of
Wayne ???), Alone Together, Some of these Days ( rendered for dancers in alternate styles), Triste (a feature for guitarist Mike Higgins), Bill Bailey Won't You Please Come Home.
Some audience members noted the band's upcoming monthly date in
Huntington Beach on Monday - they can't get enough of this band ... 

I'll bring you notes on the BIll Russo and Bill Holman concerts in a later post and some photos - it's a very full day here today with an 8.30 a.m. start .

Saturday evening brought 'The Music of Bill Russo' , with the 'Los Angeles Jazz Orchestra' ( an aggregation put together by LAJI), directed by Bill Mathieu. Bill had, in the Workshop discussion said how significant this concert was for him, bearing in mind his long association with Bill Russo, who had also been his tutor and mentor ('gaps in age get smaller as you get older').


The band once more introduced faces not seen earlier in this Festival - with the opening number 'Over The Rainbow' featuring one such, Eric Jorgensen on trombone. This was followed by Russo's arrangement of 'Autumn in New York' featuring Ron King and The former Frank Rosolino feature for the Kenton Orchestra  'Frank Speaking' , with George McMullen taking the solo part.

'Dusk' was followed by "Portrait of Conte Candoli", with Bob Summers in the Candoli role. There continued a mix of Russo compositions and arrangement for the Kenton Orchestra alternated with material issued under his own name in later years :
'I've Got You Under My Skin', Fascinating Rhythm', Sophisticated Lady' (featuring Bruce Babad on alto), and then something different. That was Bill Mathieu's own 'audition piece' for the Stan Kenton Library "Silhouette" - which had been played here a couple of years ago in Bill Mathieu's own concert but was chosen by Bill on this occasion to highlight his own dedication to the Russo arranging influence and style.

The remaining pieces were all Russo's work - 'You and the Night and the Music', Shadow Waltz ( a surprise for many) and perhaps the inevitable closer '23 degrees North 82 Degrees West'- which had bravely (and beautifully) been offered by the Fullerton College student band on the first morning, in Bob Curnow's Kenton Kollage.

For my personal taste Bill Russo's work, on this showing under Bill Mathieu's guidance, moved up in my estimation. I found it lighter and more 'swinging' than I remembered it. I think the presentation and success owed a lot to Bill Mathieu's fondness and care.


Top of the Bill for Saturday Night was Bill Holman's Band, which again brought new faces and revealed an absence of some faces formerly in that band. At one stage, in introducing the players Bill said "Yes - they really are old enough". - 

Age was not really the issue  - the audience were, I'm sure potentially more concerned about competence. But they needed to have no fears - the newcomers coped with everything in front of them perfectly and then added solos that were sometimes perhaps beyond the limits of their predecessors, both in technical skill and creativity.

As Kim Richmond said next day in the Workshop discussion -"There are really top class talented jazz players these days in every American City and here in LA about 20 for every top job on every instrument.”

Bill Holman's Band still had veterans like Billy Kerr, Bob Efford, Jack Redmond Carl Saunders , Ron Stout and Bob Summers but alongside them drummer Jake Reid, bassist Alex Frank and even piano player Christian Jacob were among new faces to many of the audience - at least in this band.

Some of the music was more familiar, but some also very new to the band book. They opened with 'No Joy in Mudville' - an opportunity for several newcomers to stretch out and then Woodrow, St Thomas and a feature for Carl Saunders 'Sweet Spot', "Zoot and Al" gave Doug Webb and Rickey Woodard a chance to extend themselves and Bruce Babad did a superb job with 'Lover Man". Bill Holman confessed to being fascinated by the notion of "Zamboni" ( as was Snoopy !) and used it to real workout the whole band - Bob Summers and Doug Webb excelling.
The encore was drawn from the Band's Thelonius Monk repertoire "Bemsha Swing".
My overall impression of the band this time was that it is a transition period with new players and new material 'bedding in'. Very enjoyable - but different and hinting at a lot to come ....


and so to tomorrow - our final day of this Festival.

Gordon Sapsed



Saturday, May 25, 2013

Buddy Rich and ANIMAL: The Legendary Drum Battle on The Muppet Show 1980

Los Angeles Jazz Institute, Day Two, 5.24.2013 - “Swingin’ On A Riff: Big Band Masters of the 21st Century.”

Visiting from Southampton, England, Gordon Sapsed continues his reporting on the Los Angeles Jazz Institute’s biannual, 4-day festival at the Los Angeles Airport Marriott Hotel. You can locate the full program for the Spring, 2013 Concerts by visiting www.lajazzinstitute.org/.

© -Gordon Sapsed, copyright protected; all rights reserved.


“The second day of the LA Jazz Institute's 'Swingin' on a Riff' events began with a Film show hour - "Central Avenue Breakdown".

As with the previous day's film show this attracted about 150 attendees ( my estimate) from the 200 plus that had attended the final session the previous day.

Comprising at least 20 separate clips the show principally had footage from the 1940's. Ken Poston, in his introduction said how Central Avenue was at that time a very lively area for jazz flavoured entertainment - although little was reported in the LA Times of the day. The jazz scene in the area had existed from the 1920's with performers such as the Original Dixieland Jazz Band, Jelly Roll Morton , Kid Ory and others. Later developments had the Nat 'King' Cole Trio, Duke Ellington's band, visits from Louis Armstrong and others and local black bands - as shown previously. For this show, footage was of these artists but from non-LA sources in some cases. Early 'Modern' jazz players shown included Hampton Hawes, Buddy Collette and Lucky Thompson. There was also film of jazz players performing with Johnny Otis and T-Bone Walker from early TV shows.

First band up in the main room was the UCLA Jazz Orchestra who, like their rivals the Fullerton Jazz Orchestra the day previously, lacked a leader when show-time came and didn't get started until 15 minutes later when Charley Harrison appeared to conduct them.

Their 36 minute set comprised Kim Richmond's arrangement of 'Lady Bird', 'Lion and The Lamb' , Bob Mintzer's arrangement of 'Dolphin Dance', A beatiful piano feature built around 'Young and Foolish', and a very-professionally performed arrangement of Bill Russo's 23 degrees North 82 degrees West from the Kenton band book.

Everything the band played seemed faultless, with effective tone shadings and confident playing throughout. The solos offered were mostly outstanding - again showing a great deal of rehearsal and effort as well as high technical ability. 


After lunch it was the turn of Steve Huffsteter's Big Band which included a further set of LA's finest - Kim Richmond , Doug Webb and Alex Budman among the saxes, Scott Whitfield and Jack Redmond among the trombones and Pete De Siena with Mark Lewis among the trumpets. Charlie Ferguson, a highly rated young star, was at the piano. 

Steve Huffsteter, as he explained in the later panel discussion, has been writing music since he was about 12 years old and his band book is mostly his own compositions plus some arrangements of standards.

He told how a conversation with Dizzy Gillespie about the inappropriate use of the E natural note in a G7 chord inspired him to write "Dizz-Ception" , a piece dependent on that chord usage as an exception to the rule! He is having difficulty with the title for another piece temporarily named 'Nostalgia' - a name he thinks inappropriate. 

Characterised by careful attention to detail and played with precision, Steve's work is that of a musical craftsman and was played by players happy to be part of it and enjoying the experience.

The whole flavour of this festival with bandleaders participating in presenting music which they have created and personally written down ( or typed) is very evident in the way it comes over. Steve's band was one such.

Other pieces played were 'Rizzle (?) - 'every big band has to have a Rhythm Changes chart - this one of the fast and furious variety and Steve's 'hit' "Night Walk" - which he said yielded over $40 in royalties .....

Alone Together was re-clad as "Joint Tenacy" - an opportunity for trumpet duetting with Mark Lewis and `Steve' - who acknowledges how difficult it is for trumpet soloists in a trumpet leader's band. In saying that he paid tribute to the recent Mike Vax tour, where Steve was a sideman.

A driving original 'Waltz and Battery' ended the set.

The 'Composers Workshop' Panel discussion involved the day's three leaders Steve, Gary Urwin and Alan Broadbent. The discussion was moderated by Ken Borgers. This hour was characterised by all three panelists being especially revelatory about their early musical influences and experiences. Gary Urwin told of his move from rock guitar to arranging and both Steve and Alan spoke of music from childhood out in the boon-docks to the later music scene in the centre of the action.


Gary Urwin, who, usefully, has a Law degree as well as his musical talents, has a 'business manager' (sitting in the front row) who helps him bring together the A-list talent for his big band, who took the stage late afternoon for an hour. With three albums already available and a fourth on the way the band can be heard on radio and recordings although they rarely appear live.

Featured soloists throughout the set were Pete Christlieb, Carl Saunders and pianist Christian Jacob, with Bill Watrous as a special guest - not playing in the trombone section.

Bill Watrous, prior to his contribution, took the unusual step of paying tribute to Charlie Loper, who WAS in the trombone section , saying ' Charlie may be embarrassed to hear this but I regard him as the greatest trombone player I have ever heard in my life'.

(Charlie, as predicted, was embarrassed while the band and audience applauded.)

Gary Urwin's charts, which mostly draw on The Great American Songbook or jazz standards, undoubtedly take a new approach, with ' a lot going on' and particular attention to the dynamics and multi-instrumental usage. He also draws widely for material (e.g. the Disney 'Beauty and the Beast') . Titles included My Foolish Heart, Joy Spring, Waltz for Debbie, and the bossa-nova Gentle Rain. An up-tempo, 'more PC', re-working of 'Girl Talk' as 'Women's Conversation' has apparently been an unexpected radio hit for the band. 

I also enjoyed Carl Saunders' original tribute to Bob Florence "Dear Mr. Florence" and the bebop closer 'Shaw 'nuff'.

As previously the composer-writer's presence to get tempos exact and offer a nudge here and a twist there made a difference, but even these A class players, familiar with the charts, had to sit forward in their seats most of the time .... 

The evening session brought two sets from "The Alan Broadbent Big Band' - an aggregation created for this Festival.

Alan opened by saying how he had not regularly written music for a big band since his days with Woody Herman in the late 1950's. He also said that his set of original compositions had grown at about 1 a year in the last 5 decades, but a dozen of them would feature tonight.

In recent times he had arranged his material for the Phil Norman Tentet and he had 'fattened up' those charts, and also added some charts originally written for Woody to build the two sets on offer.


The piano had been moved to centre stage to allow Alan to play as part of the band. For some numbers he played an unaccompanied intro - as he often does with his trio, whilst in others he had written parts within the score or occasional solos.

Based as he now is, on the East Coast, this was a coming-together for Alan with these players and new charts, although he had played with many of the players in earlier days. There was a lot of close attention, but also a lot of smiling and nodding and congratulation as the sets developed. They enjoyed being part of what felt like a very special occasion. 

Alan was clearly delighted with this opportunity to , as he said, 'present my work to these guys - to add their personal touches and then share the whole thing with you - the audience'. The audience response both in applause, those standing ovations and the discussions afterwards was, as I heard it, all very favourable and in some instances almost awestruck ...

An abundance of impressive solos from the band- notably Doug Webb and Jerry Pinter on tenors, Bruce Babad on alto, Scott Whitfield and Alan Kaplan on trombones and Carl Saunders and Jeff Bunnell on trumpets as well as Alan's long-time associate Putter Smith on bass and Bernie Dressel at the drums. The other band members also soloed occasionally and played crucial parts in the detailed arrangement. Alan Broadbent charts often have bebop running through them and his fondness for that genre is mixed with a lot of emotion, be it happiness, grandeur or simply 'landscape'
One original 'A long white cloud' actually took us on a boat across the South Pacific in that Maori-inspired vision - broad grandeur, yet jazz flair.

Other Broadbent tunes included Sweet' Pea ( for Billy Strayhorn), 'Love in Silent Amber ( an original for Woody's book), Chris Craft (combining half a dozen Bird themes), and Woody 'n Me ( again for Woody)

In the second set Glen Berger was the key soloist for 'Don't Ask Why' ( Alan's memorial for Irene Kral), and the whole band excelled in 'America The Beautiful' ( Alan said ' every arranger has had a go at that') .

The closer was 'Sonny Step' with 'Journey Home' as an encore, both former trio offerings enlarged for this Big Band opportunity.

Altogether a memorable day, with an attendance, including musicians and musical associates, much closer to a full house.”