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Jazz Review

Honoring the West Coast's Vital Big-Band Tradition

October 09, 2000|DON HECKMAN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Big-band music has always been a lively part of the West Coast jazz scene. From such early local ensembles as the Les Hite and Eddie Barefield bands of the '20s and '30s to the visiting appearances of Duke Ellington and Count Basie and dozens of other groups, and the emergence of Gerald Wilson and Stan Kenton, among others, Southland jazz fans have had continuing opportunities to experience the excitement of big jazz band sounds.

"Way Out West," the Los Angeles Jazz Institute's four-day tribute to the past and the present of big jazz bands in the area, made a sweeping effort, from last Thursday through Sunday, to encompass all of it via an expansive program of concerts and panel discussions.

Friday was a perfect example, with programs by an ensemble led by arranger Pete Rugolo (performing his music for Stan Kenton), Bill Holman's Orchestra and Maynard Ferguson's mid-sized Big Bop Nouveau. In addition, there was an appearance by the current edition of the vocal group the Four Freshmen favorites of big-band jazz fans, as well as panel discussions featuring, among others, Holman, Ferguson, Rugolo, Jack Montrose, Bill Perkins, Chuck Flores and Pete and Conte Candoli.

The Rugolo-Kenton performance was grist for the nostalgia mill, with visits to classics--"Artistry in Rhythm," "Concerto to End All Concertos," "Minor Riff"--as well as such earlier items as "Southern Scandals." And Ferguson's youthful ensemble made a convincing case for the still-vital energies of big-band bop.

But it was Holman who best typified the creative spirit of big-band jazz on the West Coast. Irrepressibly original, his music--whether an old arrangement such as "The Man I Love" or a new rendering of "You Are My Sunshine"--was like no other, the expression of a brilliantly creative musical imagination.

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