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Ellington Society Offers Panel on Musical; Taking a Chance on a Club in Bakersfield

The Southern California chapter of the Duke Ellington Society is presenting “Jump for Joy--Revisited,” a panel discussion--Friday at the Veterans Memorial Building in Culver City--about the Duke Ellington musical that played July-October, 1941, at the Mayan Theatre in downtown Los Angeles. The discussion will be augmented by recorded music and film footage of such numbers from the show as “I Got it Bad (and That Ain’t Good),” “Rocks in My Bed” and “Brown Skin Gal in a Calico Gown” that originally featured singers-actors Herb Jeffries, Ivie Anderson, Dorothy Dandridge and (Big) Joe Turner.

Among those scheduled to take part in the panel are Jeffries, Sid Kuller--a lyricist on the show who also wrote and directed many of the sketches--Henry Blankfort, production supervisor and Wonderful Smith, the musical’s featured monologist. “We’ll be trying to reconstruct the show, with the help of printed programs like Playbill, along with funny stories and reminiscences of what it was like to be in one of the first integrated stage productions,” says Steven Lasker, the Society’s program director.

The recorded material will include “obscure air checks that have never been released,” says Lasker, and two “Soundies” (black-and-white music videos of the ‘40s) film transcriptions of “I Got It Bad” and “Blee Blip,” provided by archivist Mark Cantor. Info: (213) 306-2742.

NEW JAZZ ROOM IN BUCK OWENS LAND: George Malone, owner of the Royale Palms in Bakersfield has decided to turn one room of his nightspot-card room into a weekend jazz club. Two weeks ago, he featured cornetist Bill Berry and Monterey-based fluegelhornist Jackie Coon. This Friday and Saturday, Bakersfield resident Mary Osborne, the noted guitarist who toured with Joe Venuti and recorded with Coleman Hawkins and Mercer Ellington, steps out with a combo that also features Berry and pianist George Gaffney.

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“When I worked there, (Malone) asked me to help book the room, which seats about 100 people--about the size of Donte’s--and has nice acoustics,” says Berry. Upcoming artists include Jack Sheldon and his Hollywood Heroes, an encore from Berry and the Abalone Stompers, a Dixie-ish outfit with Coon. Information: (805) 322-8019.

Though Bakersfield is probably better known as the home of country star Buck Owens than for its burgeoning jazz community, the city at the south end of the San Joaquin Valley does have its share of jazz fans. The Bakersfield Jazz Festival, held the last two years on weekends in April, has drawn about 2,000 fans each year to hear the likes of Dizzy Gillespie, the Yellowjackets and the Rippingtons. This year’s fest, April 29 at the Kern County Fairgrounds, is headlined by pianist David Benoit, guitarist John Scofield and Latin percussionist Pete Escovedo, along with several local bands. Information: Doug Davis at (805) 664-3093.

LOCKING HORNS: A jazz tradition will be revived Friday and Saturday at Alfonse’s in North Hollywood when tenor saxophonists Don Menza and Larry Covelli engage in a mock battle of the saxes. Dueling tenors, where hornmen trade phrases at typically furious tempos, is a concept that goes back to the ‘40s when then-Angelenos Wardell Gray and Dexter Gordon recorded “The Chase,” highlighted by a series of charged back-and-forth exchanges, for Ross Russell’s Dial Records. Other famous touring two-tenor combinations were Gene Ammons and Sonny Stitt, Eddie (Lockjaw) Davis and Johnny Griffin and Stitt and Red Holloway, while such duos as John Coltrane and Sonny Rollins, Clifford Jordan and John Gilmore, and Stitt and Paul Gonsalves made memorable recordings.

The teaming of Menza and Covelli, two Rollins-influenced, no-nonsense mainstream wailers, is a time-tested one that goes back to the early ‘60s, when they co-led groups in their native Buffalo, N.Y. “I’ve known Don since he was a teen-ager, and we’ve had a couple of bands,” says Covelli, who has been a soloist with the big bands of Woody Herman and Harry James. “One (group) was just two tenors, bass and drums, no piano, and another where we added (trumpeter) Sam Noto. That was fun.”

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Covelli indicated that the current pairing with Menza--best known as a member of Louie Bellson’s quartet and for his riveting recorded tenor solo on “Channel One Suite” with Buddy Rich’s Band--should be just as heated as past battles, perhaps even better. “This time, we’re going to get serious,” he cracks.

**** 1/2 The Red Mitchell-Harold Land quintet’s “Hear Ye!” (Atlantic) documents a vibrant fivesome that the bassist and tenorman led in the Southland in the early ‘60s. Spotlighting pianist Frank Strazzeri, trumpeter Carmell Jones and drummer Leon Petties, the band had a spark-filled, energized demeanor more typical of bands from the East Coast than the West Coast. The bright yet earthy “Somara” and the dashing, straightforward “Rosie’s Spirit” are just two of the solid tunes that have a recorded-yesterday freshness.

Recordings are graded on a five-star system. Five stars ( ***** ) means all but indispensable for your jazz library; one star ( * ) means forget it.


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