Lionel Hampton International Jazz Festival
At this jazz festival doubling as a music education experience for young people, there are as many as a dozen events in every hour of the day. They are scattered across the University of Idaho campus and the town of Moscow. It is impossible to sample more than a smattering of them.
Example: At 3:00 p.m. on Friday, the schedule listed workshops by The Four Freshmen; Roberta Gambarini and Tamir Hendelman; the Estonian saxophonist Lembit Saarsalu with the Russians Leonid and Nik Vintskevich on piano and saxophone; a lecture by Penny M. von Eschen about Benny Goodman and Duke Ellington in the Soviet Union; and eight workshops for student vocal ensembles or soloists.
The current Four Freshmen are the latest in a line of successors to the original vocal quartet founded in 1947. I dropped in on their workshop to see whether I had an accurate impression from their recordings that they have more musicianship than previous editions of the Freshmen. I did not come away with a definitive answer. The hour contained more repartee than music. Bob Ferreira, Vince Johnson, Brian Eichenberger and Curtis Calderson, are raconteurs who have perfected a style of casual interactive standup comedy that was a big hit with the audience of mostly teenagers. Few of the students’ questions or the Freshmens’ answers dealt with issues of musical substance. For the most part, the group’s singing was standard Freshmen four-part harmony with Eichenberger’s lead on top. The songs we heard were from the vintage Freshmen repertoire or patterned on the classic style. Calderon’s cornet playing was impressive for his range and lyricism. Ferreira’s drumming, Johnson’s bass playing and Eichenberger’s guitar work did a functional job of support at the workshop and at their concert that night. Except for Calderon, they played no extensive instrumental solos. The group was entertaining, with more to offer than nostalgia, but I did not find an answer to my question about musical depth.
The evening concert filled the massive Kibbie Dome. It opened with a pre-show performance by the Sacramento pianist Jim Martinez in a group that featured vocalist Julia Dollison. In his notes for her CD Observatory, my artsjournal.com colleague Terry Teachout described Dollison’s voice as “warm, airy, dappled with summer sunshine, technically bulletproof from top to bottom.” I heard her for the first time at this festival. I can only agree enthusiastically with Terry. I look forward to hearing more of Ms. Dollison.
Next came a succession of student vocalists, winners in their divisions of the educational branch of the festival. It is wonderful that the festival arranges for its student participants to perform before large congregations. The experience is important in their development. Last night’s singers ranged from adequate to unfortunate. All but one indulged in scat singing. I am lobbying for passage of a federal law that public scatting by amateurs and professionals alike will be allowed only after ten years of extensive education culminating in a rigorous examination for a license to scat, with a fee of $500. Isn’t there challenge enough in learning to sing a lyric melodically, in tune, with appropriate interpretation, phrasing and feeling?
Next came the house band–Benny Green, Russell Malone, Christian McBride and Jeff Hamilton. They played “Have You Met Miss Jones?” with all of the qualities mentioned above, and swung like crazy. Still swinging, they accompanied, in order, the Russian tenor saxophonist Igor Butman, trombonist Bill Watrous and the Australian brass phenomenon James Morrison. Each seemed determined to exhaust every technical capability of his instrument and to leave no note unplayed, no space unfilled. Morrison, not content to break altitude and speed records on trumpet and trombone, added to his arsenal a borrowed euphonium. Following Morrison’s featured spot, Butman and Watrous came back on to join him and his euphonium in a rendition of Sonny Rollins’ “Tenor Madness” at warp speed. Butman led off the solos with a chorus that evoked Rollins. After that, came the deluge. In the immortal words of Louis Armstrong, “Chops was flyin’ everywhere.” The three technical monsters outdid themselves and one another, culminating with an exchange of four-bar phrases, then twos, ones and finally nones, improvising simultaneously with a ferocity that had the audience on its feet. Morrison was in danger of exploding his friend’s euphonium. Along the way, Green and Malone soloed, choosing contrast rather than competition. They did not damp down the swing, but introduced welcome breaths of air into the proceedings.
After intermission and before the Four Freshmen, Jeff Hamilton’s trio with pianist Tamir Hendelman and bassist Christoph Luty worked their intricate, propulsive magic. Hamilton is a drummer’s drummer, a musicians’ drummer, a peoples’ drummer and the all-purpose workhorse of this festival. Green is spelled occasionally by Hendelman, Monty Alexander, Kuni Mikami and other pianists, but Hamilton, Malone and McBride spend virtually of their waking hours playing in concerts and workshops, showing no visible or audible signs of exhaustion.
Hampton Festival, Day Two
Lionel Hampton International Jazz Festival
Bill Kirchner says
When you devise your licensing test for scat singers, be sure to include a comprehensive section on harmony. Most of the scat singers I’ve heard–no matter how good or bad–have at best only the most rudimentary grasp of harmony and tend to be strictly diatonic. A notable exception is Andy Bey, who (because he’s a harmonically sophisticated pianist) sings improvised lines that display the ears of a contemporary instrumentalist.