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Music Review

Breezy Pops Staples From American Winds

September 25, 2000|DON HECKMAN

Despite the title, "From Ragtime to Our Time," the program by the American Winds Concert Band at the Hollywood Bowl Saturday night remained a lot more in the past than the present. Much of the evening, in fact, had the feeling of an old-fashioned summer night's band concert.

Of course, the American Winds are considerably more skilled than what one might have heard in a village square. And the music reached considerably beyond the familiar band fare of Sousa marches--although the rarely heard Sousa piece "Easter Monday on the White House Lawn" turned up, as did the obligatory fireworks accompaniment, "The Stars and Stripes Forever."

With a few exceptions, conductor Larry Curtis' program was dominated by easygoing pops concert staples: a jaunty rendering of Scott Joplin's "The Entertainer"; a medley of New Orleans jazz tunes titled "Dixieland Jam!"; an arrangement of "Strike Up the Band" that managed to include a set of seven or eight quotes from other Gershwin pieces; and a display of alto saxophone virtuosity by Leo Potts via a tribute to the master of exercise book technique, Rudy Wiedoft.

A performance of Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue" was a bit more intriguing, largely because it employed the "Jazz Band" orchestration (presumably by Ferde Grofe from the 1924 performance by Paul Whiteman's Orchestra). Even so, this rendering, with Jack Reidling at the piano, was largely lacking in panache; one suspects that when Gershwin was at the piano the piece had considerably more vitality.

Other interesting aspects of the evening included a lovely tribute to Ella Fitzgerald featuring the always dependable voice of Barbara Morrison. And Robert Russell Bennett's "Suite of Old American Dances" was compelling--attractive less for its content than for his marvelous orchestrating skills, his capacity to extract rich, orchestral timbres from wind ensemble instrumentation.

A tribute to Stan Kenton faltered, however, largely because Bill Liston's arrangements failed to capture the fiery aspects of the Kenton style. Fortunately, soon after, the climactic fireworks brought the evening to a pyrotechnic close.

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