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Sound Ideas #12 - Playing in Jazz Band
Welcome! Thanks for stopping by. Everyone who played in jazz bands during their high school and college years were learning the basics of musicianship.This hour will feature some of the music I experienced in junior high and high school jazz bands in the 1970s as well as that which was making the airwaves of KJAZ and KRE.
Artist Track Album
Richie Cole The Price is Right Alto Madness
Count Basie Hayburner Basie Straight Ahead
Al Jarreau Take Five Look to the Rainbow - Live in Europe
Stan Kenton Time for a Change Kenton '76
Paul Desmond Take Ten Skylark
Buddy Rich Birdland Class of '78
Toshiko Akiyoshi - Lew Tabackin Big Band Road Time Shuffle Road Time
Richie Cole New York Afternoon New York Afternoon

Everyone who played in jazz bands during their high school and college years were learning the basics of musicianship, e.g. remembering to bring your book of charts, spare reeds, pencils, etc.; where in the closet your clean pressed shirt could be found; and most importantly, how to properly misbehave while riding the bus to the next competition. At the same time, the charts in your book, and if you were lucky, the music played on your local jazz station became special memories ones that likely are as fresh today as they were then.

The 1970s were not that friendly to straight ahead jazz. The preponderance of fusion and essentially instrumental pop was evident as the major record labels wanted to sell discs, not necessarily preserve an art form. One brash exception to the commercial smoothing of jazz was the kid from Trenton, Richie Cole. Unapologetically bebop, Richie believed that there was still a place for very straight ahead jazz, and continued to pay homage to Charlie Parker despite a cultural backdrop of disco, funk, fusion, and other radio delivered audio. Just listen to what he created from a TV game show theme.

The catalog of a few big bands kept the high school through college level Jazz ensembles filled with material, not to mention providing solely needed income from publishing rights to keep the bands afloat. Count Basie's was one whose charts populated the book of most music students during the 1970s. I still remember playing Hayburner in eighth grade, and yes I played Count's part. Stan Kenton was one of the other bands whose arrangements students often found in their music folders. The Kenton '76 album was particularly popular in that many of the compositions were in less common time signatures, as with Time for a Change, which was written in 9/4 (metered as 2-2-3-2). The recording lacks any piano, yet when I played the chart in band, I was stunned to realize that the opening chord changes weren't just C major, but rather C pedal tones. Without Stan playing the piano, the chord changes had to be inferred from the horn parts. Yikes!

Al Jarreau and Paul Desmond made two new recordings in the 1970s of the classic Take Five and lesser known Take Ten. Each of these garnered considerable airplay in their day, even occasionally crossing over into "less than jazz focused" playlists. Again, the study of the defiant 5-beat time signatures were great for the student. Take Ten is metered as (5-5), i.e. Take Five times 2.

Fusion was king in the 1970s. Despite its controversial place in the jazz idiom, some tunes became celebrated even outside of the confines of the heavily electric cohort. Birdland was one such tune, and once covered by Buddy Rich, the chart became another in the music student's band book.

One of the best, if often overlooked, big bands of the 1970s was Toshiko Akiyoshi and Lew Tabackin Big Band. While hard swinging, the band had a big fat sound and a lot of creativity in composition and texture. Road Time Shuffle was another commonly found chart in the student book, in my case, freshman year in high school.

We close out with a seemingly uncharacteristic chart by Richie Cole. New York Afternoon could well have been made as smooth jazz pop crossover space filler. However, listening to this recording it is apparent that this is an easy going bossa nova but with all the soul and creative drive of a bebop execution. If only all "pop" music could achieve this level of creativity...

The experience of having shared the creative musical journey at a young age can impact someone in profound yet subtle ways that last a lifetime. It's unfortunate that so few today will ever experience the challenge, joy, and camaraderie of playing in a jazz band. Learning from past masters and rediscovering their stories while crafting something new and fresh is a rare treat, and something to be savored.