NEW YORK — The American Jazz Orchestra, an 18-piece ensemble dedicated to the live presentation of swing music that now survives mainly on records, presented a concert Wednesday evening at the Grand Hall of Cooper Union as part of the JVC Jazz Festival.
In a retrospective of the four previous concerts held since its formation last year under the guidance of critic Gary Giddins, the orchestra attempted to be all things to all people, switching its personality from Fletcher Henderson to Ellington to Lunceford to Basie, then from Claude Thornhill to Benny Goodman to Benny Carter.
No one group of musicians can relive all these lives without an occasional identity crisis, yet the various transitions moved almost seamlessly. The soloists tended to duplicate the spirit rather than the letter of the originals, though Dick Katz clearly had learned Ellington's "Sepia Panorama" chorus note for note.
Frank Wess, in addition to playing lead alto sax, was required to become Benny Carter on one tune and Willie Smith on another. Trumpeter Cootie Williams was variously reinvented by Virgil Jones and Marvin Stamm. Doc Cheatham, now 82, came out to sing the Trummy Young vocal on "Margie."