Saturday, February 23, 2008

Dan Aldag: Director's Notes for Jazz Orchestra

We're playing the complete "Kansas City Suite" by Benny Carter, written for and recorded by the Count Basie Orchestra in 1960. It is a ten-song suite celebrating the city that the original Count Basie Orchestra emerged from in 1936.

Kansas City in the 1920s and 1930s was still a bit of a wild west town,with the emphasis on "wild". The city was run by the corrupt Democraticmachine of Tom Pendergast, which allowed gambling and alcohol to flourish despite Prohibition. The town's many clubs featured musicians engaged inall-night (and on into the morning) jam sessions. Two of those clubs are celebrated in the Suite's "Paseo Promenade" and "Rompin' At The Reno."Both of those clubs and many others were in the 18th and Vine neighborhood, remembered in "Vine St. Rumble".

Kansas City was more thanjust all-night speakeasies, though. Some of its other features are evoked in the summer-fair joy of "Jackson County Jubilee", the church service reminiscence "Meetin' Time" and "Sunset Glow". Women, both in general andspecifically, are celebrated in "Miss Missouri", "The Wiggle Walk" and"Katy Do", the latter named in honor of Basie's wife Katherine, a former dancer who met Basie while working opposite his band at Kansas City's ClubHarlem.

KC's wide-open atmosphere allowed music to flourish, and many of jazz's greatest musicians came from or spent significant time in KansasCity during the 1920s and 1930s. This heritage is celebrated in "Blue Five Jive", named after one of Basie's early groups, "Count Basie's Blue Five."

The composer of "Kansas City Suite", Benny Carter, is one jazz's most significant, if undercelebrated figures. A seminal alto saxophonist, he also excelled on the trumpet and occasionally performed on tenor sax,clarinet, trombone and piano. He was one of the principal architects of the big band sound through his arrangements for the Fletcher Henderson Orchestra and McKinney's Cotton Pickers in the early 1930s, but wasn't around when that sound exploded in popularity a few years later, having emigrated to Europe, where he did much to spread jazz to England, France,Scandinavia and the Netherlands.

When he returned to the States, he provided important early professional opportunities for such modern jazz musicians as Dizzy Gillespie, Miles Davis, J.J. Johnson, Kenny Clarke andMax Roach. He spent close to thirty years as one of the major film and television composers and paved the way for other African-American composers in Hollywood, as well as helping to integrate the Los Angeles Musicians' Union. He remained a vital performer into his 90s and received the Kennedy Center Honor in 1996. He passed away in 2003 at the age of 96.

Performing the "Kansas City Suite" allows the Jazz Orchestra to feature anumber of soloists, including the entire trumpet section of Ari Davie,Tristan Kadish, Krystal Moore, Chisana White and Karolyn Wyneken,trombonists Melissa Gussin, Leah Jmaeff and Talon Nansel, saxophonists SkyMiller and Leo Echazabel and pianist Jeff Kroeger.

The HSU Jazz Orchestra is conducted by Dan Aldag, Assistant Professor of Music at HSU. He is also a performer as trombonist with classical orchestras and jazz ensembles, having played with Dizzy Gillespie, Joe Williams and the Manhattan Transfer, and as a soloist specializing in contemporary music for the trombone. His compositions for trombone and jazz band have been performed throughout the United States and Europe, and recorded on the Seabreeze Vista label.

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