You have to hand it to the folks at Disneyland. Refusing to accept the myth that big-band jazz is moribund, they continue to assist in its survival. Typically, Saturday night three major stages were turned over to orchestral sounds, attracting a large and receptive crowd that spanned all the age groups.
At the Plaza Gardens, Buddy Rich unleashed his seven brass and five saxes in a series of pieces for which his own kinetic energy was, as always, the centripetal and unifying force. What the Rich band could use is a cohesive personality in its library; each number reflects the work of a different composer or arranger. This lack of identity is accentuated by the absence of spoken credits; such numbers as Horace Silver's "Sister Sadie" and a Mike Barone original, "Shawnee," went unannounced. Rich spoke only after "Walk on the Wild Side," a dramatic John La Barbera arrangement climaxed by the leader's dynamic demonstration of how to make a drum solo swing in 3/4 time.
The solo roster still includes Steve Marcus, the tenor dynamo who joined Rich in 1975; an impressively self-assured trombonist, Tom Garling, and Bob Dowlby, whose alto sax was accorded the prominence it deserved.
Over at Tomorrowland Terrace, Toshiko Akiyoshi and Lew Tabackin were involved in a unique reunion. Only three members of the New York band had come west: Frank Wess on lead alto and flute, Jay Anderson on bass and Jeff Hirshfield on drums. All the others were members of the award-winning ensemble the Tabackins led during their 1972-82 Los Angeles residency.
It was a special pleasure to hear once again the delicacy of Gary Foster's alto in "Elusive Dream," Bobby Shew's fluent trumpet and Bruce Fowler's eloquent trombone on "Strive for Jive," and other old friends.
Still, the central elements of Akiyoshi's success as a leader are her own vividly personal compositions and arrangements, and Tabackin's dual personality. It is hard to believe that the driving, intense tenor in "Chasing After Love" and the unsurpassed lyricism of the flute in the Asian-flavored "Kogun" are the product of the same artist. Tabackin is one of the few virtuosos in recent jazz history to have mastered two instruments in contrasting styles.
On the River Stage the Count Basie Orchestra, its sound so well monitored that every chart crossed the water with crystal clarity, went through its paces with the expertise that derives from familiarity and collective creativity. There was one number by Thad Jones, who recently quit as leader, and another by Frank Foster, who will replace him next week.
The interim conductor was Eric Dixon, who joined the sax section in 1962, but the announcements were made by the senior member, guitarist Freddie Green, now in his 50th year with the band. There have been few changes in personnel in the last year, but two relatively recent arrivals, Bob Ojeda and Melton Mustafa, showed their mettle in open and muted trumpet solos on an easygoing blues.
Tee Carson, who has manned the keyboard since Basie died, has in his solos just enough of the elliptical touch of the Count to provide a link, but without crossing the border into overt imitation.
Carmen Bradford, a self-assured vocalist, did her usual stint toward the end of a generally heartening set. With Frank Foster in front, no doubt reinforcing the band both as soloist and composer/arranger, the orchestra may soon move into a vital new phase of its indomitable life.