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Salient: Victoria University Students' Paper. Vol. 28, No. 3. 1965.

Mixed Reception For Jazz

page 6

Mixed Reception For Jazz

Jazz Band Leader presents plague to Mr. Kitts. Photo: John Bailey

Jazz Band Leader presents plague to Mr. Kitts.
Photo: John Bailey

Few big bands penetrate as far as New Zealand. The University of Denver jazz band was the first since the war, when Artie Shaw demonstrated how easy it was to be a Benny Goodman.

It was apparent that about half of those at the first Wellington concert of the Denver band had also attended the Artie Shaw performances, and had come prepared for softly swinging schmaltz or gumboot stomps like those featured by Shaw's "Navy Band" of 1943. They were partially disappointed, even though the tour director and conductor, Mr. Tasso Harris, had been a trombonist in the earlier band. The 1965 approach was educational and the repertoire drawn from all eras in jazz.

In trying to assess the merits of Mr. Harris's band it is difficult to decide which criteria to apply. Compared with any reputable professional jazz band, it has little to offer, but this is perhaps unfair. As a student band, it is outstanding; the section work precise on all but the most up-tempo numbers, and with a variety of solos, often interesting.

Since the band's function is primarily educational, it is similarly unfair to criticise its book because of the venerability of some of the items within. To illustrate stages in the development, of jazz the book includes various tunes, from "When the Saints Go, etc," to recent compositions by unimportant American jazz arrangers.

The two main soloists both played tenor sax. Mr. Sam Pisciotta sounded like a tone-deaf John Coltrane (if that is imaginable) of about 1957. He was approximately as fast but had fewer ideas. The other's approach was more eclectic—traces of both Lester Young and Getz were apparent, particularly in his intonation, yet his style remained distinctive and several of his solos were of a high order of creativity. Mr. Ray Ricker was perhaps the most immediately promising thing about the band.

Within the band were a Dixieland band and a "modern group." The Dixieland band crashed happily through "The Saints," usually for nonagerians and children, but here, everyone nodded their heads—some even clapped their hands. The modern group was notable for its more up-to-date changes, the facility at the two tenor players, and Mr. Edwin Holta, who had ideas but insufficient technique on the trombone to express them. He also played string bass, rather inaudibly.

The usual bass player, Mr. George Bailey, was also a modern dance exponent. He danced some contemporary USA dances (e.g., the Monkey) which were spasmodic, asexual, and sometimes actually grotesque. They would have appeared less amusing if it had not been for the lithe grace of Mr. Bailey's movements.

The Denver band's most important feature, one which could redeem all criticism against it, was that it was precise enough, and its tunes were suitable enough, to generate great excitement. This excitement, or swing, and the sheer volume and flavour of sound produced by a jazz band, have to be heard in performance to be truly appreciated.

An Exhortation

Thelonious Sphere Monk is coming. Monk has been described rather wittily as "the high priest of jazz," and descried somewhat witlessly as one who sees jazz as "an excuse to wear a different hat every night." Certainly his music is, for many, an acquired taste. To those who have acquired it, the concert is in the Town Hall on the evening of April 3. To those who have not, his music is well worth the small effort of familiarisation. Listen, in particular, for rhythms you have never heard before, for a lien-sounding chords, for strangely-named little melodies of a fragmentary and faintly demented nature, for the Monkish quirks of emphasis and rhythm, Thelonious Monk is one of the few living jazz geniuses. Do not allow the fact that genius is often unorthodox to dissuade you from attending a Monk concert.