Jazz Reviews : A Festive Celebration at Sixth Annual Awards Concert
The Los Angeles Jazz Society celebrated its sixth annual Tribute and Awards Concert on Sunday evening with a festival-size concert at the Hyatt Regency Hotel.
The award winners, all of whom were present, were pianist Gerald Wiggins, jazz tribute award; critic and author Leonard Feather, lifetime achievement award; composer-pianist Clare Fischer, composer/arranger award; pianist Dick Grove, jazz educator award, and pianist Eric Reed, new talent award.
Wiggins and Reed also performed in the concert portions of a five-hour program, which was dominated less by music than by the socializing of an enthusiastic, but restless audience.
The opening quartet of tenor saxophonist Harold Land, pianist Frank Collet, bassist Monty Budwig and drummer John Guerin had the best part of the crowd’s attention. Land’s vigorous, hard-edged style was particularly appealing in a romping whirl through “The Night Has a Thousand Eyes.”
Vocalist Bill Henderson, joining the group for a few numbers, produced a beautifully modulated performance of a song--"It Never Entered My Mind"--that might have seemed outside the range of his usual style.
New talent award winner Reed, playing with valve trombonist Mike Fahn, bassist Larry Gee and drummer Jack Le Compte, demonstrated skills far beyond his 18 years, especially during a heated improvisation on “Stella by Starlight.”
Gerald Wiggins, at the other end of the age scale, performed with a focused intensity that Reed has yet to learn. The interaction between Wiggins and bassist Andy Simpkins on “Body and Soul” and “Love for Sale” was a superb example of chamber jazz at its best. The addition of drummer Kenny Dennis for a few numbers amplified the size of the music without lessening its excellence.
Composer-arranger award winner Clare Fischer, playing a between-sets solo piano medley, was almost completely overlooked by an audience intent upon its own interaction. They missed, among other things, a deliciously harmonized boogie blues.
The program’s closing ensemble--a quartet consisting of tenor saxophonist Bob Cooper, trumpeter-fluegelhornist Al Aarons, pianist Gildo Mahones and drummer Sherman Ferguson--spent too much time struggling through some written arrangements, at the expense of their otherwise first-rate soloing. The addition of vocalist O. C. Smith for a few numbers--including a colorful “Over the Rainbow"--returned the set to a more vigorous level.
The generally high quality of the music at the society’s award concert provided testimony to the real growth the organization has experienced in the last six years. But some consideration should be given, in future programs, to providing a setting that creates a better environment for the music which is, after all, the real purpose behind the society’s existence.