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O.C. JAZZ REVIEWS : Fresh Readings Do Woody and Dizzy Proud : The four-day Herman festival in Newport Beach opens on a jubilant note with big-band sessions by Southland heavyweights.

September 25, 1993|LEONARD FEATHER | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

NEWPORT BEACH — "Early Autumn," the four-day celebration of the life and time of Woody Herman, opened on a jubilant note Thursday at the Hyatt Newporter hotel.

The event was patterned along lines similar to the Stan Kenton Tribute held at this same venue in 1991, with the same skillful producer Ken Poston. Because Herman, who began his bandleading career in 1936 and continued with few interruptions for half a century, with a policy geared to uncompromising jazz, this tribute promised to be even more successful.

Along with panel discussions and screenings of documentary films, which continue through Sunday, the program Thursday included two big-band sessions. An afternoon recital billed as "Shorty Rogers Big Band" presented an inspired Rogers, who played and worked for the so-called First Herman Herd in the mid-1940s, as well as the second Herd formed in 1947. Rogers' fluegelhorn was a little hesitant, but his side men were all Southland heavyweights, among them Lannie Morgan on alto sax and Lu Levy on piano.

The evening concert, titled "The First Herd," embodied everything that brought the band out of its simpler blues beginnings to quasi-be-bop greatness. This riff-happy unit relied often on "head" arrangements, one of which was composed here on the spot, with five trumpets devising rhythmic figures, the saxes recalling an old blues line, and a sensationally chaotic finale.

Ralph Burns, who went on from an early role as composer and pianist with Herman to an award-winning career as a movie screenwriter, led the band through such time-proof pieces as "Bijou," "Your Father's Mustache," "Apple Honey" and "Goosey Gander," all of which seemed freshly baked. No less important were the guest solos by trumpeters Pete and Conte Candoli, tenor saxophonist Flip Phillips and others.

Only two reactions were possible: "Those were great days for us--it's good to be reminded," or "I'm sorry I was too young to be there, but I'm happy to be here tonight."

* "Early Autumn, an All-Star Celebration of the Woody Herman Orchestra" continues through Sunday at the Hyatt Newporter, 1107 Jamboree Road, Newport Beach. Individual concerts, $7.50-$15. All-event pass, $225. (714) 729-1234, (310) 420-7480.

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