‘Vanguard Jazz Orchestra: Suite for Pops’
Sat. April 28, 8 pm
$18 - $30
UC Jazz Big Band
Every Monday night since February 1966 a stellar group of jazz musicians has played at the Village Vanguard in New York City.
This band was known for the first few decades of its lengthy career as the Thad Jones- Mel Lewis Big Band, but since the passing of its former leaders, it has used the simple name Vanguard Jazz Orchestra.
On Saturday night, they will invade Zellerbach Auditorium to perform Thad Jones' monumental composition “Suite for Pops” an homage to the father of jazz, Louis Armstrong, in celebration of his centennial.
This work is monumental not only in its length (well over an hour long), but because of the quality of the performers required to do it justice. The best session players in the Big Apple can swing the daylights out of any chart, but they really dig into the depths of this great work, exploring the many emotions which “Pops” evokes.
This is no cute compilation of top moments from Armstrong’s “Hot Five” arranged for big band.
Far from it. Thad Jones composed this Suite in honor of his mentor, the great pioneer of swing, but all the material is fresh, save the occasional citation of various sources, from Bird to Gershwin, who were also inspired by Satchmo.
The opening movement “Meetin’ Place” evokes the first fiery moments when session musicians play, shout, growl and spar together, reveling in the excitement of melodic cooperation and symbiosis.
The predominant Latin rhythm reminds us of the contribution from that genre to the modern corpus of jazz.
Short muscular solos abound to introduce the band members. The second movement “The Summary” is a sweet ballad that points to Armstrong’s generous heart and warm personality.
The Suite originally ended with “The Farewell,” but in the current version this movement forms a kind of melancholy reflection on mortality before moving on to more raucous tones of “Toledo by Candlelight” and the lush harmonies of “The Great One,” in which the band members testify how much Pops meant to each of them.
The Suite concludes with a pensive blues tune “Only for Now” leading to an invocation of a proper New Orleans funeral parade and wake called “A Good Time Was Had by All.”
Jones said, “The whole idea of the Suite was to have something tangible, a retrospective of a man I loved and revered. A good deal of effort, thought and love went into this. (Armstrong) made me happy, made my foot tap, my head nod, my fingers snap and my lips smile. And you know what? He was pure and honest. Just simply Louis.”
Even if this composition were not related to Armstrong, it would still be a great work performed by a brilliant band of sixteen of the best jazzmen around; but when the final movement concludes with a chorus of whoopin' and hollarin,’ Satchmo’s big toothy smile will be flashing down from heaven adding a special sweetness to the Suite.
Miko Sloper can be reached at email@example.com