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ORANGE COUNTY CALENDAR | Jazz

Being Juggernaut Leader Just a Tip of Capp's Calling

March 08, 2000|BILL KOHLHAASE | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Thanks to a last-minute scheduling change, drummer Frank Capp should be fresher than he anticipated when his Juggernaut Big Band plays Sunday at promoter Kenny Allan's 11th annual Tribute to Count Basie at the Irvine Marriott.

As originally scheduled, Capp would have been just hours off a plane from Russia, where he was to produce an album for European pop star Anitat Tsoy, whom he calls "the Celine Dion of Russia." But that session was postponed, keeping Capp in the States.

Though he's best known as a hard-swinging drummer and bandleader, Capp wears many hats. At different times throughout his career, he's made ends meet between performances by working as a producer and musical contractor, staffing orchestras for everyone from composer-arranger Neal Hefti to Luciano Pavarotti.

Now, with a global reputation and his career going strong, the 68-year-old Capp hardly has time for himself.

"It must be the economy," he said from his Los Angeles home before running down a list of responsibilities.

It was while serving as a musical contractor for Hefti's band a quarter century ago that Capp first conceived the Juggernaut.

"I'd contracted a band for Neal's date at the old King Arthur Club in Canoga Park," he said. "And he disbanded the band before the engagement. They needed somebody to play and I got the idea to do a tribute to Neal Hefti. I had 25 arrangements he'd given me in the '50s, around the time the ['Atomic Mr. Basie'] recording came out, and I thought we could play those tunes."

But Hefti--the Nebraska-born composer-arranger who wrote the Basie standards "Cute," "Li'l Darlin' " and others as well as the theme for the '60s "Batman" TV series--was the modest type and didn't like the idea of a tribute to himself.

"So," Capp continued, "I got the idea to do a tribute band to Count Basie."

Capp called in friend, pianist and Basie arranger Nat Pierce. Pierce, who died in 1992, had contributed arrangements and the occasional composition ("New Basie Blues") to the Count's band since the '50s, and he was also the group's substitute pianist until Basie's death in 1984. With Pierce's arrangements and charts from other Basie arrangers, the Capp-Pierce Juggernaut was born.

The 15-piece ensemble, now known as the Frank Capp Juggernaut, is modeled after Basie's ensemble, Capp said, but isn't a Basie revival band.

" 'Basie-ish' is probably the best term," he explained. "Most of the Juggernaut's library is composed of the Count Basie arrangers--Neal Hefti, Sammy Nestico, Ernie Wilkins, Frank Foster--but a lot of the things are pieces Basie never recorded. Basie never wrote. His band was a showcase for arrangers and we carry on that tradition."

Capp has that in common with Basie.

"When I was with Stan Kenton as a teenager, I wrote a couple of charts and I wish I had stayed with it. But I concentrated my efforts on [playing] the drums. I wrote so slowly and my plate is always full."

Though the original Juggernaut had a number of Basie band members, few remain. Though never a member of the Basie organization, Capp once backed Basie for an appearance on Steve Allen's or Joey Bishop's talk show ("I don't remember which," Capp confessed).

"I took Chief--the musicians called him Chief--our first Juggernaut album when it came out and played it for him," Capp recalled. "He was all smiles, gave us the thumbs up and encouraged us."

The Juggernaut recorded its first album, with vocalist Ernie Andrews, in 1976. More recently, the Basie-minded Juggernaut has dedicated albums to arrangers Hefti (1995's "In a Hefti Bag") and Nestico (1997's "Play It Again Sam").

Later this month, Capp will appear with the Juggernaut and singer Andrews at the Annenberg Theatre in Palm Springs before he travels to Denver for a string of appearances. In April, the Juggernaut does a concert with Jack Jones at the McCallum Theatre in Palm Desert.

In May, Capp travels to a jazz festival in Bern, Switzerland. In the meantime, he is assembling the orchestra that will back Pavarotti, Placido Domingo and Jose Carreras, a.k.a. the Three Tenors, for their April 22 show at Las Vegas' Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino.

And somewhere along the way the drummer-bandleader-contractor-producer will be rescheduling that trip to Russia.

*

The 11th annual Tribute to Count Basie, with the Frank Capp Juggernaut and vocalist Tierney Sutton, is Sunday from 6-10 p.m. at the Irvine Marriott, 18000 Von Karman Ave. $25. (949) 553-9449.

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