Recently finished one of my favorite days of each year, The Weekend of Jazz High School Jazz Band Day at Beavercreek High School as part of their annual Weekend of Jazz. I do not see how there could possibly be a better high school jazz day in the whole United States. Doug McCullough and his minions just simply work miracles. Congratulations!! Seems like there are trends at each of these I attend and this year there were more female band members who also soloed, pretty much every band had a guitar player – some had two, the bari-sax was prominent this year and last but most certainly not least, there was clearly a revival of the clarinet this year. Hurray!
First up for the day was Kings Junior High School Jazz Band under the direction of Joe Polen. I have come to expect good things from Joe Polen over the years and this year was no exception but I do have a confession to make. I was unfortunately late upon arrival and missed their first selection, Lullaby of Birdland completely, and was only permitted to listen to their second selection, Bye Bye Blackbird from outside the concert hall doors. But their final presentation was Listen Here, an Eddie Harris composition with which I was not familiar which included a nice bari-sax solo, an interesting trade-off between tenor sax and alto sax and an accomplished guitar solo. And for my money, the keyboard work stood out throughout the entire song. Good job. Names included in the solo column were Adam Nunez, Sam Purkiss, Ethan Cain, Zach Groome and Gyasi Richardson but somebody other than me will have to match those names to the instruments played.
Next up was the Kettering Fairmont Jazz Ensemble II under the direction of Dayton Jazz Orchestra veteran and saxophonist extraordinaire, Dan Nicora. First up was A Minor Case of the Blues which had excellent big band volume [I mention this because not all high school big bands do] and there was a female double bass, female trombone solo, the piano & drums kept things going throughout [female drummer] and there was a particularly nice vibes solo. Next the band performed Milestones. This song seemed to be played with greater confidence and included a nice vibes solo, another female trombone solo and a notable French Horn solo; there had also been a switch to a male drummer and male electric bass. Then finally the band played 25 or 6 to 4, for all you Chicago fans out there [believe when they had this hit they were actually called the Chicago Transit Authority before being legally forced to change their name by the actual Chicago Transit Authority]. There was yet another drummer switch, which resulted in a great drum solo to finish out the song. The band displayed excellent ensemble work and mixed it up to include lots of solos including another French Horn solo, another vibes solo and just a good rendition overall. This band had two guitarists.
The third band of the day was the Lakota West Jazz Ensemble under the direction of Todd Hartman, who always brings bands that seem accomplished beyond their chronological years. The streak continued. He also had a piano player that got a last minute call due to illness, had no practice with the band so sight read all three selections, pretty impressive. The band kicked things off with a female vocalist, Julie Street, singing On The Street Where You Live. The song included a nice female tenor sax solo (I think by Juli Mickle). Next up was The Nearness of You which included a melodic and coherent tenor sax solo by Josh Costello and the double bass player continued to catch my ear with some fine bass work (provided by bass players Bennett Mylius and Jacob Davidson). Finally, the band played Moon Over Cuba, a Juan Tizol tune (probably more famously known for his compositions Caravan & Perdido with the Duke Ellington Band-he was also a valve trombone player) and I am happy to say that this song included two clarinetists and, as you might guess, a trombone solo (by Matt Boudin). This band also included two guitarists.
The next band displayed a big band sound throughout all three of their selections, the Xenia High School Jazz Band under the direction of Greg Sell. I later had an opportunity to speak with Greg Sell and learned that he is retired Air Force Band and as I have stated in other places, there are no bad musicians in the Air Force Band, certainly not the jazz band musicians. I know several personally and they are all fantastic. Plus Greg Sell continues a string of excellent band directors at Xenia starting some years ago with Ray Foster, including John Harner (who used to play lead trumpet for Stan Kenton and still plays with the Dayton Jazz Orchestra) and now Greg Sell. Wow, how do they do it? They kicked off their portion of the day with a pop song made popular by The Ides of March, Vehicle and with no pun intended, it was an excellent big band vehicle with a great big band sound. There was also a nice trombone solo by Adam McCoy. Next was Moonlight Serenade which featured Sean Smolinski on clarinet. It is nice to see the clarinet working its way back into big bands. The third selection was Birdland, a song which lends itself to being an ideal big band tune, and the Xenia High School Jazz Band knocked one out of the ballpark with this one. Great job! At a venue which normally entails three songs per band, Xenia played two more songs. The band did quite the noteworthy rendition of Shiny Stockings with a nice crisp trumpet solo by Luke Williams and then finished out their five song set with Herbie Hancock’s Cameleon. Brendan Orchard had a nice guitar solo and Andrew Blake played a nice bass trombone solo but the bari-sax helped carry the song, apologies for not getting the bari-sax players name.
The 5th band of the morning was Kettering Fairmont Jazz Ensemble I under the direction of Dan Nicora (accolades previously presented). The band played some adventurous choices of music beginning with Such Sweet Thunder, (a song I was only recently introduced to at the 2012 Miami Valley Band Camp by Scott Belk’s band camp group, the title track from a twelve part suite based upon the work of William Shakespeare) which has a very distinct sound which grabs your ear from the git go. Andy Kremer played a nice trumpet solo and James Johnson played a nice trombone solo also. Next up was Manteca which included numerous solos but another trombone solo and a Carlos Santanaesque guitar solo. The band did a great job on the final choice, Haitian Fight Song by Charles Mingus. The song kicked off with a spot on double bass intro by Sam Barton and Andy Kremer added another trumpet solo. There was also a nice alto sax solo and another nice guitar solo.
Up next was the Magsig Jazz Ensemble from Centerville under the direction of Tom Pompei. As usual, he brought a whole host of young eager jazz musicians. First up was a tune entitled Hefti’s Hideout [a tribute to Neal Hefti, who some say is simply one of the greatest jazz tune writers of our time. Neal wrote such great jazz charts as Li'l Darlin', The Kid From Red Bank (for Count Basie) and movie and television themes, like The Odd Couple and Batman] The band accomplished some nice ensemble work and the muted brass effects were particularly noteworthy. Next up was Nat Adderley’s Work Song which was a bit of a different arrangement with a trumpet solo by Max Miller and an alto sax solo by Collin Cutler. The Sesame Street Theme came next and was probably the best overall cohesive big band effort, nice job. This was followed by what Director Pompei called a contrast with Sesame Street, Frankenstein, written and made popular by The Edgar Winter group some years ago. This performance contained a guitar solo by Sam Huber and a bari-sax solo by Kyle Wenk and it had a great big band finish.
The 7th band of the day/morning was the Miami East High School Jazz Band from Casstown, Ohio under the direction of Jeffrey Smith. The band played some very nice nuances on their first selection, Stolen Moments, in which the drummer did a particularly nice job on the brushes and there was a nice bari-sax solo by Blake Garrett. Interestingly enough, this band also chose Such Sweet Thunder (the Duke Ellington tune based upon Shakespeare’s works previously noted) as one of their selections. There was a switch to a female drummer and solos included a trumpet solo and a valve trombone solo, soloists listed were Josh Niswonger and Brendan Speck. The final song was Blue Madness which was definitely up tempo and a nice big band selection which ended with a great big band finish.
The last band of my morning attendance before I forced time for some lunch was another Todd Hartman band, Lakota Eastside Jazz Ensemble. This group of students sounded like a working big band. Their first lengthy selection was a tune entitled Swangalang, a Bob Mintzer composition [Saxophonist Bob Mintzer is a twenty year member of the Grammy award winning Yellowjackets who also leads a Grammy winning Big Band, travels with his own Quartet, and plays with numerous bands globally. ] This selection gave band members lots of solo room and included a nice trombone solo, a sax soli, a tenor sax solo then a tempo change with a trumpet solo. There was also a rousing trombone duet tradeoff. Lots going on and very professionally played. Next up was a Thad Jones ballad, To You which included some very nice brush work on the drums and a fine trombone solo by Jacob Stegeman with some nice keyboard work too. The third and final selection was with vocalist Lauren Murphy on Can’t Help Lovin’ Dat Man, she had some strong vocals with a great big band backup.
One of the facets of attending the Beavercreek Weekend of Jazz High School Jazz Day is that even if you are not in the auditorium to hear the bands live, you have access to those performances on a big screen TV out in the lunch room. How can you beat that? The Miamisburg Jazz Lab Band played their first two selections as I watched on the big TV screen. Unfortunately I could not hear the names of the songs the band played but when I did get in for the third selection I realized that the names of the songs were not announced at all and that the program indication of TBA for “Music, Composer (C), Arranger (A)” did not apply in this case and unfortunately I did not recognize the pieces played. I will say that the final song was an up tempo, pink panther theme-like tune with some great piano playing throughout. The names of the band members was at least listed.
Then came the home grown sound of the Beavercreek High School Jazz Ensemble 2 under the direction of Michael Bisig. This band stood out with band section related color coded ties and kicked things off with a lively tune entitled Libertango. Seemingly always trying something a little different (noted in years past), the song actually started off with the trumpet section down front to kick off the song followed by solos on trumpet, trombone, soprano sax, trumpet, trombone, trumpet, trombone, drums, percussion (actually a trade-off back and forth with drums and percussion) and then the entire band for a big band finish, nicely done! Next up was Bad Ol’ Blues which began as a slow tempo tune for the entire band and then picked up tempo for the piano solo followed by another string of solos, seemingly by all those band members that did not solo on the first song, which even included a clarinet solo, Bravo for member participation. The piano solo by Matt Ferree was of particular note. The final selection was introduced as a tune entitled Spud, to which a small voice behind me announced, “Spud? I like spuds!!” As good as the two previous songs had been, Spud contained the best drum solo of the three, thank you Steven Otto (and Taylor Goeman on auxiliary percussion), and also contained a vibes solo, bass solo and a big band drum finish.
The Centerville Jazz Ensemble 3 under the direction of Bill Burns was the next band of the day. Bill Burns is also an active member of The Dayton Jazz Orchestra and one of the best darn bari-sax players in the area. This band had a VERY big band sound. Three songs were listed but four songs were played and the first one up was Watermelon Man – let me say here that this song was not officially introduced (come on Bill, you are always good about announcing your songs wherever you play) but it sounded a lot like Watermelon Man by Herbie Hancock to me. Please, somebody correct me if I am wrong. It was a bit of a different arrangement with many solos and enjoyable trade-offs between the bass trombone and the bari-sax (hey, did I mention that Bill Burns is a bari-sax man?) The next selection was a nice big band arrangement entitled Ballad for David Gibbins. This was followed by Count Basie’s Jumpin’ at the Woodside which included some electric bass playing of note and a nice big band finish. The final tune was by the favorite sax player of Bill Burns, Roland Kirk, entitled A Sackful of Soul. Bill also announced that Roland Kirk is from Columbus, Ohio. The band did a nice job on this final number which contained another nice electric bass solo.
The twelfth band of the day was another Todd Hartman group, Lakota East 2 O’Clock Jazz Band who kicked things off with Harlem Airshaft. Interestingly enough, this was another tune with which I was not familiar until the 2012 Miami Valley Summer Band Camp and I believe it too was introduced to me by a band directed by Scott Belk – Director of Music at the College Conservatory of Music in Cincinnati, another Duke Ellington composition. For this song they brought trumpet player Nick Dobrozsi down front for a solo along with Mary Casto on clarinet. Once again, let’s hear it for the clarinet. Next selection included Meredith Cutler on vocals singing The Girl from Ipanema (actually I believe she sang the boy from Ipanema). She was backed very well by the big band and to her imminent credit, she sang the second half of the song in Portuguese. Then finally the band played Greetings and Salutations by Thad Jones (clearly Todd Hartman likes Thad Jones but then what is not to like, eh? AND from such a talented family, Thad Jones on trumpet, Elvin Jones on drums & Hank Jones on piano). This song included great ensemble work by both the trombone section and the saxophones followed by a trumpet solo, alto sax solo, trombone solo, guitar solo, trumpet solo and excellent drum work throughout. The guitar solo was particularly of note.
Centerville Jazz Ensemble 2 under the direction of Mike Voytek was the next band. They kicked off their set with what some Dayton area jazz fans call The Jazz Central theme song, Cold Duck Time, a memorable Eddie Harris composition. Originally a combo piece, this worked surprisingly well for a big band. The band played with a definite big band sound and included 2 tenor sax solos. The drums were notable throughout. Next was a Sammy Nestico tune entitled Smack Dab in the Middle which had a big band sound from the very first note plus contained a 9 sax soli. [ Nestico is a prolific composer, best know for his work with the Basie Band and The U.S. Air Force Band, for which an award has been named, for a competition calling for unpublished works for jazz ensemble. ] The final selection was the Joe Zawinul jazz classic, Mercy, Mercy, Mercy, three songs, three notable composers. This final song contained an alto sax battle between Curtis Magee and Jon Evans with very nice drums throughout.
Joe Polen returned to the stage with the Kings High School Jazz Band which kicked off their appearance with the Miles Davis tune Solar. The band was understated but still managed a big band sound. Up next was Sugar Blues, recorded by Chive McCoy in the 30s and for something completely different, Tom Lehn came down front and played 30s style muted trumpet. Quite effective and interesting. There was also a nice sax soli. The last tune was a Freddie Hubbard tune entitled Sky Dive. We heard from Andrew “Taco” Smith on flugle horn and I would also note that there was a female drummer who definitely helped make the song work as well as it did.
The fifteenth band of the day was the Centerville Jazz Ensemble 1 under the direction of Josh Baker. The first selection was Dizzy Gillespie’s A Night In Tunisia with a nice bare-sax kick off and I might add, a very big band sound. The song also included a trumpet solo, right down front and some nice trombone and tenor sax solo work. The drums fit the song quite well and there was a big band finish. Listed soloists were Alex Kruzel, Emma Shibley & Covey Emmert. Next up was a bit of a surprise, the third vocalist of the day, Meredith Eckle, sang a very emotional version of Gershwin’s The Man I Love. I might go so far as to say it was a riveting rendition. The song was made even that much more effective with a beautiful trumpet solo by Katie Buttram. Then a very big band sound on the Paul Desmond/Dave Brubeck classic, Take Five. Greg Knapp played the part of Paul Desmond on alto sax. This may have been the big band song of the day. The band concluded with another Gillespie classic, Salt Peanuts. When the song was introduced, the small voice behind me once again was heard to Salt Peanuts!? The song was played in the true “staccato” style of the song with another alto sax solo from Greg Knapp (this time apparently playing the part of Charlie Parker) and the band ended with a rousing chorus, Salt Peanuts, Salt Peanuts! [As the story goes, Dizzy took his developing bop sound to the West Coast and there were complaints about no lyrics, to which his response was to add the now infamous, Salt Peanuts, Salt Peanuts!]
Next up was what might be called a surprise entry, a jazz combo. Listed as under the direction of Todd Hartman, Todd Hartman actually sat behind me during the performance. It was a group of ten Lakota High School students who played their own head arrangements of three existing jazz tunes. The band consisted of percussion, trombone, 2 tenor sax, 2 alto sax, trumpet, piano, drums, bass & guitar. This was clearly the most interesting part of the day. Their first selection was Nat Adderley’s Work Song and there was plenty of room for solos. They sounded like a working combo and if they are not getting out there to play in clubs, they should get out there. Next up was Summertime with Curtis Holtgrefe and Jack Lambert switching to clarinets. Yes I said clarinets and played very well. There was also an excellent piano solo. The final selection was a Roy Hargrove tune entitled Starsbourg St. Denis and the performance of this tune put me in mind of bands like Chase, Chicago and The Jazz Messengers in the presentation and the trumpet solo was particularly noteworthy, but truthfully, all three selections were very well done.
The Miamisburg Star City Jazz Band was the next band under the direction of Stephen Aylward. None of the chosen pieces of the band were listed in the program and none of them were introduced during the performance but if my jazz ear was working properly, the first one was Now’s the Time and the last one was Stevie Wonders’ Higher Ground (OK , that wasn’t really a jazz ear) and I did not recognize the one in the middle. Now’s the Time included a female trumpet solo, followed by solos on tenor sax, trombone, bari-sax, guitar and trumpet. There was some nice ensemble work as well with a big band finish. The second song did contain a noteworthy guitar solo. Higher Ground lent itself quite well to a big band interpretation and it was a good big band performance with a big band finish.
Up next was the Troy High School Jazz Band under the direction of Katherine McIntosh. Katherine not only stands out as the only female jazz band director but she always seems to do a good job with her musicians. This year she also played piano on the first selection, Chicago. It was a nice big band selection and an understated big band sound was accomplished. Next up was Bye Bye Blackbird with Scott Grigsby doing a nice solo on trumpet. The intro to the next tune made me sit up and listen, I thought I was playing Birth of the Cool and Miles Davis had just kicked off Boplicity. I mean wow! What a great job! Michael Starcher soloed on bari-sax and Anthony Duvault on trumpet. The final selection was I Get a Kick out of You which had some good punctuations and another notable trumpet solo by Anthony Duvault but what really helped make the performance was the drummer, Jack Alexander, was spot on throughout. Nice job.
The final band of The Weekend of Jazz High School Band day is always Beavercreek High School jazz 1 under the direction of Doug McCullough, the Master Mind of The Weekend of Jazz. Some might refer to this band as the red tie band. The first selection was Sammy Nestico’s The Heat’s On (see Centerville Jazz Ensemble 2 for more on Sammy Nestico) which was a nice big band interpretation. Listed soloists were Matthew Brenner and Jarrod Manguiat. Critical Mass was performed next which was an interesting funk flavored piece with a noteworthy alto sax solo and a nice bari-sax solo. It was certainly a great big band piece. The third song in a four song set was Back Burner which was introduced as a shuffle tune and it contained some nice ensemble work. The song also included a noteworthy trumpet and trombone solo. The listed soloists were Jarrod Manguiat, Emily Hoskins, Morgan Slone & Matt Dexter. The final selection of the day was the Ray Noble classic, Cherokee. A good big band ending to a good big band day.