Jazz Jottings October 20164 minute read

Jim Cullum made the trip from San Antonio to New Orleans to pay tribute to his longtime late friend, Pete Fountain, in mid-August. According to a newspaper report, “When Fountain’s casket was rolled out to the waiting horse-drawn hearse, sounds and sensibilities collided beautifully. Not even the priests could resist clapping their hands and stepping in time to the sweet music.”

Continuing, “The procession began as Tim Laughlin’s lovely clarinet rendition of Fountain’s joyous signature tune, “Just a Closer Walk with Thee,” gave way to the inevitable cacophony of the second-line assembling outside. Dozens of musicians gathered to lead a festive procession through the French Quarter to the cemetery. Cullum was one of them.”

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Jim is quoted, saying, “I’d never been involved in someone’s procession that I knew and loved. I was honored.”

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More than 24,600 jazz lovers—including a sold-out Saturday audience—turned out for the 2016 Newport Jazz Festival at Fort Adams State Park overlooking Narragansett Bay in Rhode Island July 29-31. The audience included more than 3,400 students who took advantage of specially-discounted $20 tickets which the Festival has sold over the past three years to help build younger audiences.

This was the first festival under the musical direction of bassist Christian McBride, who took over for NJF founder George Wein. Among this year’s performers were Joey Alexander, Anat Cohen, the Hot Sardines, Rossano Sportiello and Terry Waldo. Founded in 1954 as the American Jazz Festival and held at the Newport Casino (today the home of the International Tennis Hall of Fame), it was billed as the first outdoor music festival of its kind devoted entirely to jazz.

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Hats off to the original rhythm section of the High Sierra Jazz Band, which has been together for the past 40 years. Still going strong are Bruce (piano) and Stan (banjo) Huddleston, Charlie Castro (drums) and Earl McKee (sousaphone and great vocals). Bruce, Charlie and Earl were also members of Jazzberry Jam, the Three Rivers, Calif.-based band that preceded High Sierra.

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The Herb Alpert Foundation has donated $10.1 million to Los Angeles Community College, which will provide free tuition and private lessons for the school’s music majors for years to come. Alpert’s donation is the largest gift to an arts-related program ever made to a California community college institution. LACC currently has 175 students majoring in music.

“Some kids are in situations where it’s a bit of a struggle just to get their mojo working,” Alpert said. “I love the idea that we can open the door to help students who are financially challenged to study at LACC.” He never attended LACC himself, but his brother David did. LACC has offered music courses since opening in 1929 and was the first college in the country to offer a jazz major, starting in the 1940s.

Commenting on the impact of Alpert’s gift, the executive director of the LACC Foundation stated, “Last year, approximately $40 billion was given to higher education in gifts, of which less than 2% went to community colleges.

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Juxtaposed that with the fact about 80% of the workforce has been educated at a community college. So the endowment from Herb Alpert’s generosity should accommodate 250 music majors getting a free education along with benefiting the rest of our 2,000 students who enroll in at least one music class.”

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The iconic Willie Nelson has certainly had an amazing career that has spanned six decades. He’s recorded more than 200 albums and is the creative genius behind such historic recordings as “Crazy,” “Red Headed Stranger,” and “Stardust.” In the last five years alone, he has delivered nine new albums (of which one resulted in a Grammy Award), released a Top 10 New York Times’ best-selling book, headlined Farm Aid twice (an event he co-founded in 1985), and received his 5th degree black belt in Gong Kwon Yu Sul.

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Liz Beiderbecke-Hart recalls the time her father (Richard) Bix Beiderbecke was a mystery guest on the To Tell the Truth TV program in the early ‘70s. He was introduced as a ‘fake’ Dracula expert. He got one vote from Kitty Carlisle. When finally introduced as ‘Bix Beiderbecke’, Nipsy Russell said, “I’ve got all your records!”

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Although most are primarily identified as “boogie woogie pianists,” names that have been added to the list of honky tonk piano players discussed in last month’s column include William Ezell, Big Joe Duskin (influenced by Fats Waller and Pete Johnson), Harry “the Hipster” Gibson, Meade Lux Lewis (known for “Honky Tonk Train Blues”), Ross Petot (considered the predominant active stride piano player in New England), Freddie Slack (remembered for “Cow Cow Boogie” with Ella Mae Morse) and Clarence “Pinetop” Smith (whose career was cut short when he was shot during a dancehall fight at the age of 24). Another name to consider is Albert Ammons who influenced countless pianists such as Errol Garner and Jerry Lee Lewis.

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According to Mike Greensill, the announcement of broadcaster Charles Osgood’s retirement from the weekly CBS News Sunday Morning brought to mind that Wesla Whitfield was a guest on the veteran broadcaster’s first program of the series back in 1994.

Also read: Wesla Whitfield: “Time to Leave the Room”

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A two-hour television special celebrating Tony Bennett’s 90th birthday will air on NBC-TV on December 20. The docu-musical program highlighting Tony’s life and career was taped in front of a live audience last month at Radio City Music Hall in New York City, the largest indoor theater in the world which has a seating capacity of 6,000.

Tickets for those who were fortunate enough to attend the three-hour taping session that featured some of the biggest names in music, acting and comedy went for up to $2,500 per person, plus an additional $750 to attend the post-taping reception. The dress code was described as “festive birthday attire.”

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A three-night presentation of Hot Jazz Age: From the First Jazz Recording to the Dawn of Swing (1917-1934) will take place Oct. 28-30 at Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Dizzy’s Club (Broadway & 60th Street) in collaboration with the New York Hot Jazz Festival. The bands scheduled to perform include Dan Levinson’s Roof Garden Jazz Band, with special guest vocalist Queen Esther; Vince Giordano & the Nighthawks, the Ghost Train Orchestra; Jon-Erik Kellso & the Mahogany Hall Pleasure Society Jazz Band; and saxophonist Patrick Bartley.

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Also Read: From the New York Hot Jazz Fest

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The Jazz Educators Network will hold its eighth annual conference in New Orleans Jan. 4-7, 2017.

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Harry Allen has put together a high-powered reed section reminiscent of the Four Brothers from Woody Herman’s 1947 “Second Herd” big band on a new Arbor Records CD: Candy Men. Joining Harry on tenor sax are Eric Alexander and Grant Stewart, while Gary Smulyan covers the lower ranges on baritone. Backing up the four reeds are Rossano Sportiello, piano; Joel Forbes, bass; and Kevin Kanner, drums.

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For those of us with a lot of time on our hands, the question came up as to the origin of the term “hipster.” One source credits the 1940 jazz clubs in Harlem, and specifically, a Bronx-born, Julliard-trained musician named Harry Raab who went by the stage name of Harry “the Hipster” Gibson. Raab was a singer-pianist whose most recognizable song—for better or worse—was “Who Put the Benzedrine in Mrs. Murphy’s Ovaltine.”

A Rutgers University jazz historian tells us the term was used to describe a person who considered himself as “hip and ahead of the curve.” The word is also thought to be a modernized version of “hepcat,” which had the same meaning in jazz circles. The venerable New York Times frequently uses the term to describe a class of people who moved into the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn “wearing white tank tops and clutching cans of Pabst Blue Ribbon beer.”

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Good Advice: “Life is short. Live it to the fullest. It has an expiration date.”

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