Jazz Jottings • AZ Jazz Classic

A chilly weekend in early November did not keep an encouraging number of traditional jazz fans from attending the 32nd annual Arizona Classic Jazz Festival in Chandler. While not quite back to pre-Pandemic attendance, director Helen Daley reported that all the venues were full on Saturday, adding “it’s been a while since we could say that.”

With temperatures ranging from the low 40s to a high of 70, one visiting musician attired in summer shorts and a straw hat recalled performing at the 2020 festival when the temperature registered 99 degrees.

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Local bandleader Cheryl Thurston put an all-star lineup together for the Festival, with a front line of Marc Caparone, Dan Levinson, and Howard Miyata, and a rhythm section of Danny Coots, Katie Cavera, and Evan Dain. The indefatigable Coots was the drummer for all nine sets on Saturday. At the age of 65, he said that December 9th will be the ninth anniversary of his donating a kidney to superfan Danny Matson of Columbus, Wisconsin, who continues to enjoy good health at the age of 85.

A successful by-pass operation kept Pieter Meijer from being one of the featured artists at the Festival. Old friend Igor Glenn was on hand Sunday, sans the Jazz Cowboys, but with his banjo at the ever-ready to sit in with any willing band. Pat Bergeson again demonstrated his virtuosity on the harmonica. Still the songbird for Denver’s Queen City Jazz Band, Wende Harston says she is now living “a normal quiet life” and that her companion parrot is 31 years old.

Wolverine leader John Clark assured the audience that his Boston-based band is not a pep band for the University of Michigan football team, but is named for the Wolverine Orchestra, one of the most successful Midwest territory bands from the 1920s that at one point had Bix Beiderbecke among its members. Paolo Alderighi celebrated his 42nd birthday on November 5.

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Rob Wright, leader of the Wildcat band from Tucson, has retired as a financial advisor and is in the process of forming a folk group à la the New Christy Minstrels. Overhead in the musicians’ hospitality room: “Did Ish Kabibble (real name Merwyn Bogue, who was in the Kay Kyser Orchestra and sported a bowl-shaped haircut) play an instrument?” Answer: “He played the cornet and for a time was also the business manager for the band.”

Wildcat Jazz Band – Ray Templin (p), Evan Dain (bs), Rob Wright (bj), Arthur Vint (dr), Rob Boone (tb), Rick Peron (tp), Marco Rosano (cl)

Not one to rest on her laurels, director Daley has booked the 33rd annual festival for November 2-5 at the Crowne Plaza Phoenix-Chandler Golf Resort, with essentially the same lineup of musicians set to perform. A new addition will be the Brass Nickel JB, comprised of familiar personnel from the old Wooden Nickel band: Bonnie Otto, Otis Morning, Bob Williams, Alan Parks, and Rick Canfield.

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Bria Skonberg reports “it’s been a wacky couple of months pulling together ambitious projects.” She just launched her Patreon page where her creativity is powered and supported by membership and where she can take requests for musical interludes, educational content and zoom sessions. She commented “it’s a great way to stay present.”

She was featured for three nights at the Smoke Jazz Club in Harlem playing the music of Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker. She created and conducted a four-week course titled “Sisters in Brass” at Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Swing University. Her research discovered nearly 100 female jazz trumpet players from the early 1900s to the present.

Bria will be going to New Orleans to record her next CD which will include drummer Heril Riley and local musicians. She will be back in her hometown of Chilliwack, British Columbia, for a holiday show on December 23rd before heading off on a jazz cruise in January. During the Spring months, she will be in four cities—Houston, Phoenix, Orlando and Indianapolis—presenting songs by Cole Porter, backed by the local symphony orchestra.

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Just when all seemed lost, the 1811 Kid Ory Historic House got a second chance. The museum at a historic LaPlace plantation commemorates two significant events that occurred on its grounds: the start of the 1811 German Coast slave uprising, the largest such revolt in American history, and the birth of pioneering jazz trombonist Edward “Kid” Ory.

After less than two years in operation, the museum closed October 1, 2022. At the time, founder John McCusker cited financial pressures in the wake of Hurricane Ida as a factor. But publicity generated by the impending closure inspired various individuals and institutions to offer assistance, and the 1811 Kid Ory Historic House announced its reopening under a new business model.

The museum, founded as a limited liability corporation, will move forward as a nonprofit under the governance of the newly-formed Bonnet Carre Historical Center. It is open Wednesdays through Sundays from 10 am to 3 pm.

Switching to a nonprofit model “makes more robust grant funding and donations available,” said McCusker, who is the managing director. The museum’s new benefactors include Greenfield Louisiana, the corporation that wants to build a $400 million grain export facility on the west bank of the Mississippi River in nearby Wallace, Louisiana.

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While the Kid Ory House has survived for the time being, many landmarks that are part of the city’s jazz history have been destroyed or collapsed due to age or weather. Louis Armstrong’s so-called “second home” with the Karnofsky family was destroyed by the winds from Hurricane Ida. Perseverance Hall in the Seventh Ward, one of the few surviving venues from the early days of jazz, collapsed from age and neglect. Armstrong’s childhood home on Jane Alley was demolished to put up a court and police complex. Congo Square, arguably the birthplace of African-American music in the New World, was turned into a park named for a Confederate general.

The historic home of Buddy Bolden has been in bad shape for decades and has been fined for violations of the Minimum Property Maintenance Code. Considered by many to be the first jazz musician who had the vision to grasp the potential of ragtime, the bent notes of the blues, the impassioned inflections of African-American church music, and the instruments of brass bands, Bolden and his home may soon become another distant memory of the city’s historic past.

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Trumpeter Mike Vax’s 80th birthday was the occasion for a special concert held at The Nash, a performing arts center in downtown Phoenix, Arizona. Mike now leads the Stan Kenton Legacy Orchestra, which was born from the continuing interest in Stan Kenton’s style, music and legacy. Based on donations and support from fans, music educators, students and the general public, the orchestra performs numerous times a year and annually takes a tour through a section of the United States. The 2023 tour is on the drawing board, and Mike is seeking bookings in the Midwest and wherever else there is interest in having the band perform and conduct clinics for students.

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During his concert in Cilavegna, Italy), Rossano Sportiello received the Melvin Jones Fellowship Award for dedicated humanitarian services from the Sant’Anna Lions Club.

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A photograph on Facebook showed Allan Vaché’s wife Vanessa playing clarinet with the US Air Force Dixie Express. She was an Air Force band member for 12 years, stationed in New Hampshire, Georgia, and Germany.

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A fire in late October in the attic of the 18th century building that houses Blues Alley, the nation’s oldest-continuing jazz supper club, temporarily closed the historic club located in the Georgetown neighborhood of Washington, DC. A musician was about to take the stage when the smell of smoke became evident, and the building was evacuated. Opened in 1965, Blues Valley has hosted such greats as Ella Fitzgerald, Earl “Fatha” Hines, Charlie Byrd, Dizzy Gillespie, and Teddy Wilson.

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My article on the retirement of the Natural Gas Jazz Band which ran in the October issue has been reprinted in the Just for Swing Gazette published in Leipzig, Germany.

Lew Shaw started writing about music as the publicist for the famous Berkshire Music Barn in the 1960s. He joined the West Coast Rag in 1989 and has been a guiding light to this paper through the two name changes since then as we grew to become The Syncopated Times.  47 of his profiles of today's top musicians are collected in Jazz Beat: Notes on Classic Jazz. Volume two, Jazz Beat Encore: More Notes on Classic Jazz contains 43 more! Lew taps his extensive network of connections and friends throughout the traditional jazz world to bring us his Jazz Jottings column every month.

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