Summer Jazz Festival, June 5

This week I had the opportunity to check out the Krannert Center for the Performing Summer Jazz Festival 2008. I saw the show on Thursday June 5, the second of three evening performances. Before the music even began, I knew I was in for something special. Krannert’s Colwell Playhouse was converted into a jazz lounge, with the lights on at twenty percent, and the performers chatting and making last minute plans. A rather large theatre was suddenly intimate, small, and soon to be filled with sound. Now ready and waiting for jazz, I discovered not only a fine tribute to their namesake and history by The Maynard Ferguson Big Bop Nouveau Alumni Band, but also a series of outstanding individual performances.
The show opened with the classic “Birdland,” featuring the first solo from trumpeter Walter White. Immediately White set the precedent that would describe most of his performance: high, short, and fast. I say those three words with nothing but respect, White’s staccato ear piercing note work was exciting and kept setting the pace for the band. Following “Birdland” the audience was graced with a Big Bop arrangement of “It Don’t Mean A Thing If It Ain’t Got That Swing,” which heralded the first solo by Denis DiBlasio. DiBlasio’s first solo was on baritone sax, and as soon as he began, his abilities were clear. Another solo by White in this piece showcased his ability to be primarily fluid, but emphasized important points in the music with quick snaps into more popping, screeching trumpet.
Much to my own joy, the band performed an original arrangement of DiBlasio’s “Surviving Soho.” DiBlasio regaled the audience with the story of this song’s creation, and the bands ability to joke around and evoke the mood of Maynard was striking. After leaving us all in chuckles, the band played the song devoted to this London area. This particular tune did an amazing job of demonstrating the band’s control. The horn harmonies were powerful but still somewhat soft and accessible to a less jazz-tuned ear. White included a portion of the Indiana Jones theme in his solo, which worked surprisingly well as a reference point throughout.
The next song, an arrangement of Duke Elington’s “In A Sentimental Mood,” was a real treat because it featured the lovely and talented jazz vocalist Lisanne Lyons. Lisanne’s voice was exceptionally beautiful, reminiscent of some earlier works of Diana Krall. Finishing the first half of the show was Garling’s original arrangement, “Milestones.” The most notable section of “Milestones” featured DiBlasio on flute. His flute solo converted the instrument; using hard breaths of air and unique lip arrangements, DiBlasio created sounds on the flute I’ve never heard – like a string instrument, the notes were short and had a deep reverberating tonality. The last moments of the song changed into a low throbbing sound, and the piano work by doctoral candidate Chris Reyman was exceptional on this particular song.
After intermission, the band played four more first rate pieces. “Besame Mucho” did a particularly good job of showing the entire band’s talent with a great beat and moderate tempo. “Darn the Dream,” opened the ballad section of the night. White’s trumpet work was much more fluid and airy in this section, a well received departure from his previous solos. At the most powerful moments, it sounded as if the trumpet was literally crying. A second ballad, “I’ll Be Around,” featured solos from Chip Mc Neill, although potentially wonderful, McNeill’s performance in this song was overshadowed by the fact that he desperately needed to release his spit valve.
The show concluded with McNeill’s arrangement, “I Want To Be Happy.” This song was extremely well suited to its title, causing me to be so filled with joy I could picture nothing but hoisting a puppy into the air in a field of daisies (or something similarly joyous). White paired with Tito Carrillo for some dueling trumpets, and DiBlasio did an amazing jazz scat. Notable in this and a number of other pieces was Garling’s accompaniment. His trombone was strong and audible at wonderful moments, without ever becoming overbearing.
Tonight’s performance from Big Bop Nouveau was fun, powerful, and unique. Though you can’t see it tomorrow, you can see many of these performers in the 14 member arrangement from Maynard’s Birdland Dream Band. This will feature many of Maynard’s more well known works, and if it’s anything like tonight’s show it will be well worth your time.

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