After a palace revolution earlier this year that ousted Chuck Conklin, the founding artistic director of the Los Angeles Classic Jazz Festival, there was speculation about the new philosophy guiding the four-day event's musical makeup. The incoming director, trumpeter Bob Allen, plays in Chris Kelly's Black and White Jazz Band, and the rumors were of a shift back from mainstream toward a preponderance of traditional groups. But most of this year's contracts were already in place so that no dramatic change was apparent over the weekend.
There were new faces, like the fine, young fluegelhorn artist Wendell Brunious, one of an increased number of African American instrumentalists and groups at the festival, held at the L.A. Airport Marriott and Doubletree hotels.
While silver hair still predominates heavily in the audiences, there appeared to be a larger percentage of younger listeners than ever--a crucial item for the future of the festival and of mainstream jazz.
What is also apparent is that the diversity of the festival's offerings is crucial to its success. The traditional groups drew their loyal, T-shirt-wearing followers as always and the big bands attracted large crowds, who proved that the jitterbug still lives.
But there were large turnouts as well for the star instrumentalists playing in various combinations. Indeed, the year's individual stars seemed clearly to include pianist Dick Hyman, Bob Wilber on clarinet and soprano sax and cornetist Warren Vache, whose appearances in various ad-hoc groups (and, in Hyman's case, in a brilliant hourlong solo recital) drew standing-room-only attendance.
Vache's wide-ranging, contemplative and lyrically thrilling improvisations even survived the wind tunnel acoustics of an open-air ramp. Hyman is a virtuoso who has made his eclecticism a recognizable and unmatchable style.
Wilber's tribute to Sidney Bechet was a major Sunday night event, as was a session with drummer Frank Capp's Juggernaut band.
Attendance was evidently off slightly. Uncertainty over who might play could have been a factor. In the matter of diversity, the lesson for future festivals surely is: If it works, don't fix it.