…If It Ain't Got That Swing
By buying this recording, you’re supporting an important cause, as profits will go to The Commission Project (TCP), a nonprofit organization founded by music educator Ned Corman to foster creativity through music education by commissioning original music and producing workshops and composer-in-residence programs in schools nationwide. Since 1994, TCP has benefited over 23,000 students by commissioning 112 composers to write more than 357 pieces for student ensembles. Swing ‘N Jazz, in its ninth year and coinciding with this release, is a three-day celebration of jazz education that includes concerts, free workshops, and a charity golf tournament.
Many jazz legends support TCP and participate in Swing ‘N Jazz, some of whom are documented here under the leadership of Fred Wesley (James Brown, Pee Wee Ellis, The JBs). The disc was recorded live in the studio immediately after SNJ XIII in June of 2004.
Adolescence has probably always been a difficult time of transition for most of us. But surely today, with all of the distractions and temptations beckoning to young people in this time of rapid change and uncertainty, adolescence must be more difficult than ever.
Time and again, it’s been shown that music provides a sense of purpose, a focus, for young people who might otherwise be adrift. Music helps them navigate those difficult years and arrive safely in port with a talent and an appreciation of music that serves them for the rest of their lives.
Yet music education is often the first casualty of curriculum reduction in times of tight school budgets. Enter The Commission Project (TCP).
The purpose of TCP is to foster creativity between students and professional musicians, primarily through the commissioning of original music. Resident composers work with students by making them a vital part of the creative process—often with direct, collaborative input from students themselves in the compositional process. Students, in turn, experience a sense of engagement, creativity, participation, and cooperation that gets them really involved in what becomes their music.
Here’s a teacher’s account of a program on the blues by a resident composer working with fourth graders in an inner-city school in Rochester, New York:
“Each of the students composed a blues based on personal experiences. They ranged from the simplest and most agonizing chores of a 10-year-old (cleaning, sweeping, washing dishes), the emotions of dealing with peers in fourth grade, eating certain foods (green beans), to the traumatic experience of the death of a younger sibling:
One evening my sister was sleeping,
One evening my sister was sleeping,
I soon found myself weeping.
She was just too young.
She was just too young.
Now the angels have sung.
The final concert brought excitement, nerves, and smiles to the performers (and teachers). Some of the performers were our most introverted and shy students; they belted out the tunes with the confidence and poise of real professionals. The proud faces and tears of joy from parents and teachers, and the smiles of the singing students, made this project well worth the time put into it.”
TCP was founded in 1994 in Rochester by Ned Corman, an imaginative music teacher and organizational genius. With a remarkably modest budget, TCP now serves between 2,000 and 3,000 students annually—not only in Rochester but also in twelve other cities as well.
The principal fund-raising event for TCP is an annual weekend of concerts, workshops, food, and golf known as “Swing ‘n Jazz.” Prominent jazz musicians (most of whom are also avid golfers) come to Rochester in early June to play and teach jazz and to participate in a benefit golf tournament. They all donate their time and talents because of their belief in TCP.
On Friday evening there’s a concert spotlighting a particular instrument. This year it was Trombonists’ Night Out: nine trombones with a rhythm section). On Saturday morning from 9 to 11, seven master classes are held concurrently by visiting musicians at various schools around the area. These workshops are free and open to all comers. (If you’re a trumpet or bass player, imagine having two hours with Marvin Stamm or Jay Leonhart). A Saturday-night concert involves everybody. On Sunday, for a contribution to TCP, you can play golf with Akira Tana, Jay Leonhart or any of the others—choose your favorite player. Then everybody’s together again for a final jam on Sunday evening.
In 2005, nine of the nearly forty musicians involved stayed in Rochester for a couple more days to make this recording in support of TCP.
Carl Atkins (saxophones) has been program director for the Thelonius Monk Institute and has taught jazz at the New England Conservatory. He recently toured with the Smithsonian Jazz Masterworks Orchestra and is currently on the faculty of the College of Liberal Arts at the Rochester Institute of Technology.
Keter Betts (bass) has been a legendary figure in jazz for six decades. Along with Stan Gets and Charlie Byrd, he was instrumental in popularizing the bossa nova. He was long associated with pianist Tommy Flanagan, with whom he accompanied Ella Fitzgerald for many years. Keter died shortly after making this recording. We miss him.
Mike Holober (piano) is professor of music at the City College of New York. A prolific composer and arranger, he has recorded several CDs of his own compositions, including the recent Thought Trains with the Gotham Jazz Orchestra, and Canyon with his quintet, both on Sons of Sound.
Jay Leonhart (bass, vocals) is an in-demand bass player in New York City who has made many recordings under his own direction and as a sideman with countless others. He is an insightful and witty writer of songs, many of which he has recorded, singing and accompanying himself on the bass.
Bob Sneider (guitar) teaches at the Eastman School of Music. He has recorded several CDs as leader of his own group, including the recent Interconnection with pianist Paul Hofmann on the Sons of Sound label.
Marvin Stamm (trumpet, flugelhorn) is a veteran of the bands of Stan Kenton, Woody Herman, Duke Pearson, and the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Orchestra. For over twenty years he has been a first-call studio musician in New York and has recently begun appearing with symphony orchestras in the U.S. and abroad.
Akira Tana (drums) is a graduate of Harvard (East Asian Studies) and the New England Conservatory (percussion). He has performed and recorded with many other leading jazz musicians and, as the co-leader with bassist Rufus Reid, has released five CDs by the TanaReid Quintet, and two as leader on Sons of Sound (Secret Agent Men and Moon Over The World).
Rich Thompson (drums) teaches percussion at the Eastman School of Music. He toured and recorded with the Count Basie Orchestra. He is a member of the Eastman Jazz Quartet as well as Trio East and he has recorded with both groups (Stop-Start by Trio East is on Sons of Sound).
Fred Wesley (trombone) is best known for his work as music director, arranger, trombonist, and primary composer for James Brown, George Clinton, and Bootsy Collins. An alumnus of the Basie band, he has several CDs recorded with his own groups. He served as music director for Swing ‘n Jazz 2005 as well as for this recording. He ran things firmly, but with a light touch. When Jay Leonhart was in the studio practicing the over-dub by which he sang an accompanying line to his own vocal, he had some trouble with a difficult, almost falsetto, portion, which he repeated several times. Finally, Wesley spoke to him from the control room via the intercom: “C’mon, Jay, let’s record it. You can practice it tomorrow.”
“Wicked Walk,” by Fred Wesley, harkens back to his funky days with James Brown.
“Missin’ RB Blues” is another tribute by Jay Leonhart to one of his great bass-playing predecessors. Some time ago Jay wrote and recorded “The Judge” to honor his mentor, Milt Hinton. This one is for Ray Brown.
“Par Three” is Bob Sneider’s sprightly waltz, which evokes the jazz/golf motif of the Swing ‘n Jazz weekend.
“Dream Catcher” is a haunting ballad by Akira Tana, the theme of which is impeccably stated by Carl Atkins and Marvin Stamm.
“Just Squeeze Me” by Duke Ellington and Lee Gaines was an absolute necessity once we got Keter Betts and Jay Leonhart together in the same studio.
“Emily,” written by Johnny’s Mandel and Mercer, demonstrates what a fine pianist Mike Holober has become; here he’s gracefully supported by Akira Tana and Keter Betts.
Johnny Green’s “Body and Soul” is played with restraint and unfailing good taste by Mike Holober and Marvin Stamm.
“Acirfa,” written by Carl Atkins, has an exotic, catchy theme with shifting time signatures. The title? Think “Airegin” and all will be clear.
“Eventually” is a rhythmic romp composed and arranged by Rich Thompson.
“It Don’t Mean A Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing)” is the final double-entendre referring to both jazz and golf. Can anything new be done with Duke Ellington’s and Irving Mills’ often-recorded warhorse? Most assuredly, when Mike Holober is the arranger.
“Head Start” – Remember that classic bass vamp by Keter Betts that introduced his recording of “Desafinado” with Stan Getz and Charlie Byrd? Keter here provides another classic opening vamp for his own tune, long a signature piece for the Swing ‘N Jazz weekend.
— Tom Hampson