Thursday, April 1, 2010

Jazz alive at Beavercreek High School

Saturday, 3-6-10, I attended a large segment of the Saturday weekend of jazz where so many junior high and high school jazz bands perform, along with occasional college bands/combos. It did not disappoint, though I unfortunately missed the one band that was on my must see list, The Lebanon High School Jazz Band under the direction of David Iannelli. They always do such a great job, caught the last few bars as I stood outside awaiting the doors to open when the song was finished. I did overhear one of the judges tell guest artist Tito Puente, Jr. that the band rotated three drummers and had some great vibes. Hated to miss it. C'est la vie.!

Next up was the Lakota East High School 2 O'clock Freshman Jazz Band under the direction of Todd Hartmann. This group had nine saxophones, kicking off with All The Things You Are followed by The Way You Look Tonight and finished with Hog-Squealin', Rip-Snortin', Belly-Achin Blues which was enthusiastically played, was a lot of fun to listen to and even had a baritone sax solo. The Lakota West High School 8 O'clock Jazz Band followed with an enjoyable sax soli on Well You Needn't, an ear catching muted trombone intro on Duke Ellington's Come Sunday[in a sort of Twilight Zone sort of moment, I happen to be listening to a version of Come Sunday by The Spirit of Life Ensemble, a CD I would highly recommend by the way.] The performance contained a couple of nice sax solos as well. The group finished up with a crowd pleasing funky RU Chicken. This band is under direction of Andrew Carr who always seems to put a great performance together. The final band before the first break of the day was the Kings High School Jazz Band under the direction of Joe Polen. This band had a mighty mite on drums but he was definitely a big band drummer. They kicked off with a very credible version of Moten Swing, followed by a Classics IV hit, Traces (arranged by Sammy Nestico) and finished with Joe Zawinul/Cannonball Adderly jazz classic Mercy, Mercy, Mercy [OK, this may be too much for readers to believe but in a continued Twilight Zone mode, Mercy, Mercy, Mercy follows Come Sunday on the Spirit of Life recording previously mentioned - the coincidence gave me goose bumps, but I swear it is true].

Let me interject right here that one of the really great things about this annual session is that judges listen to the bands as they perform, recording simultaneous feedback during the performance and then one of the judges takes a half hour right after the performance to provide the band with feedback. What a great learning experience. Three judges that I have heard play before and would go to see any one of them play a gig again was Tom Pompei, former Dayton Jazz Orchestra big band drummer, Bill Dixon, a great trumpet player and Hal Melia, a fantastic saxophonist and band director. Hats off to these folks.

The first band after break was The Lakota East High School 12 O'clock Freshman Jazz Band [discerning a trend here for band names within the Lakota system?] and with eleven saxophones the band played WAY beyond their chronological age on Go Ask Your Mother - wow! They continued with a really BIG sound by playing A Nightingale Sang in Berkley Square and finished with an energetic version of The Mask of the Chili Pepper. This final tune contained a perfect latin percussion/drum solo and even contained a baritone sax solo. Job very well done, under the direction of Todd Hartman. The next band was the Beavercreek High School Jazz Ensemble II with a really BIG sound as well. Stan Kenton would have been proud. The first song was A Hint of Mint by Lenny Niehaus followed by a Gordon Goodwin tune entitled The Jazz Police which contained a "Pink Panther-like" funky beat on high octane and also contained some very nice guitar work. The final number was Bye Bye Blackbird done very well but what was so unusual about it was that one trumpet player stood to the side and pretty much carried the entire song. What a great job. I tracked down a Beavercreek band director and learned that the soloist was Nick Shuman. Great job Nick!

The Lakota West High School 10 O'clock Jazz Band was up next, kicking off with Splanky, a Neil Hefti song with a Sammy Nestico arrangement. The piano player had some tasty licks and the female drummer was a definite big band drummer - I overheard one of the judges exclaim, "Whew!" at the conclusion of that song performance. The group followed that with a vocalist on Willow Weep for Me with a really nice and easy trombone solo very well done. They ended with Los Brujos De Cisano played latin funky with a Carlos Santana-like guitar solo, a tenor sax solo worth note and some excellent keyboard work. Andrew Carr at work again. The last group before lunch break was the Kings High School Jazz Band under the direction of Joe Polen. This band really swung! The were tight and swingin' on Secret Love, swingin' again with a memorable muted brass throughout on Shiny Stockings and finished with the ambitious Joe Zawinul tune, Birdland. This song was so well done with such a great big band sound that it brought the entire auditorium to its feet in appreciation. A rousing rendition that I think would have made the late Zawinul proud.

The Lancaster High School Swinging Gales kicked things off right after lunch with Take the "A" Train, followed by My One and Only, then the Norah Jones tune, Don't Know Why and they finished with 500 Miles High. Personally, I figured 500 Miles High might be too complex and intricate for a high school jazz band but the band pulled it off with some good vibes work, nice piano and a particularly pleasing drum ending. Good work. This band was under the direction of Bart Pickenpaugh. Next band was the Moeller High School Jazz Band under the direction of Bob Browning. It was a small big band and the director had to fill in for a missing sax player but they sounded good on All of Me, followed by Herbie Hancock's Canteloupe Island and finished strong with Louis Prima's Sing, Sing, Sing [maybe Benny Goodman made it famous but Louis Prima wrote it], with some excellent drum work.

The next band has been a band that tends to be an anticipated performance, the Lakota West Jazz Ensemble under the direction of Andrew Carr. They kicked off with a hard chargin' version of Thelonious Monk's Straight No Chaser with some excellent drum work. The next selection was Do Nothing Till You Hear From Me with a vocalist and then the band kicked into a higher gear with Teddy the Toad by Neil Hefti which had some noteworthy keyboard and trombone work. It wasn't until the final song choice though that the crowed got what they were expecting, the Stan Kenton composition entitled La Suerte de los Tonto (probably off his recording Cuban Fire) and all I can say is it was amazing. The band was 23 strong for the final number and included a french horn. I am pretty sure no high school jazz band could possibly sound that good but the performance was jaw dropping. I overheard one of the judges exclaim, "That may be the best high school jazz band I have ever heard!" He will get no argument from me. It brought the entire auditorium to their feet for only the second time of the day. It was incredible. I sure hope somebody was recording that. Frankly, I would not wanted to have been the band to follow such a performance but I have to hand it to the Troy High School Jazz Band as they stepped into the breach. The drummer on the first tune, Charlie Parkers's Now's the Time had absolutely perfect rhythm, the next drummer on the second tune, Herbie Hancock's Watermelon Man was driving the band as a big band drummer should. Switching back to the first drummer, the band played tight on the Harold Arlen tune It's Only a Paper Moon and with the second big band drummer in for the final number they closed out with Chick Corea's La Feista. The band was tight with notable trumpet, tenor sax and piano solos. Congratulations to all. The band is under direction of Katherine McIntosh (the only female director the entire day, for what that may be worth). Good job!

Unfortunately I missed the Beavercreek High School Jazz Ensemble, always enjoyable to listen to and biggest disappointment for me, other than missing the Lebanon High School Jazz Band, was not being able to catch the Central State Jazz Band under the direction of Hal Melia. I am sure it was a crowd pleaser. But all-in-all, a great day of jazz at Beavercreek High School. Keep up the good work.