Jack Elliott, conductor and founder of what is now known as the American Jazz Philharmonic, must be the most tenacious maestro ever to sustain a project that has been around, off and on, since Paul Whiteman days, mainly the fusion of classical and jazz traditions, as typified in his concert Tuesday at USC's Bovard Hall.
The symphonic-to-jazz ratio varied widely, opening with a pleasant but slightly dated Patrick Williams work that even smacks at times of Stephen Foster. Far more successful was the premiere of John Clayton's "Open Me First," with its handsome brass blends, intelligent use of strings, and touches of jazz by trombonist George Bohanon.
Clayton then appeared in person to interpret Ray Brown's "Afterthoughts," a three-part work for which Brown contributed the melody lines but Dick Hazard and Eddie Karam fleshed them out with ingenious arrangements. Clayton's bass was brilliant but under-miked. A brief show-biz piece called "Snapshots," complete with hand claps, completed the first half. The creative level rose with Fred Karlin's "Reflections," another premiere, with the composer playing brittle, hard-edged but compelling trumpet, pianist Mike Melvoin surrounded by string sostenutos, and Tommy Newsome, hard to hear on tenor sax.
Tom Scott became the evening's solo hero, exuding power and passion on tenor sax in Bob Mintzer's "Then as Now."
Elliott is to be commended for refusing to give up. He lit the flame in '79 and won't let it die.