For once, there was truth in advertising.
The concert put on by the Willmore City Heritage Association at the Cesar Chavez Park Amphitheater the other night promised “Sizzling Summer Jazz.” And it sizzled.
Part of the Association’s Season of Live Arts and Music, or SLAM, the event was a collaboration with the Long Beach Symphony, which provided the musicians and production staff. Leading the group was Alex Iles, the symphony’s principal trombone.
It was an all-star assembly. In addition to Iles, the band featured Chris Eblé (a fixture of the Symphony POPS! and the Municipal Band) on trumpet and cornet, Brian Scanlon (another POPS! stalwart) on sax and clarinet, Tom Hynes on guitar and banjo, drummer Jamey Tate, bass player Trey Henry, and keyboardist Barbara Catlin-Bergeron (the wife of trumpeter Wayne Bergeron, who was there). The singer was Nicole Kubis, familiar to Muni Band fans and daughter of noted arranger Tom, who also was in attendance. That’s quite a lineup.
The band opened with a Kubis tune, “First One Home,” and then it was down to business. Henry got only one brief solo, but otherwise provided solid support for the rhythm section. All the rest were featured: Iles on “Basin Street Blues” and “Recorda Me;” Eblé on a number of tunes, including “St. Louis Blues;” Scanlon notably on “Up a Lazy River,” an old Hoagy Carmichael tune (because, as Iles helpfully noted in his role as witty emcee, there are no new Hoagy Carmichael tunes); Hynes on banjo with “Bye Bye Blues” and “Stuttin’ With Some Barbecue;” Catlin-Bergeron on Dave Brubeck’s cool “In Your Own Sweet Way;” and Tate on Count Basie’s aptly named “Cute.”
As you can see, it was a generous program, and the players were all first-class and in top form. The highlights might have been when Scanlon, Eblé, and Iles thrillingly combined to simulate a big band sound, as in Basie’s “Shiny Stockings.”
There was a vague historical logic to the proceedings, tied together by Iles often humorous narration. Most of the history was accurate, although he did say Jerome Kern’s “The Song is You” was by Harold Arlen, and invariably entertaining. We got a little ragtime, a little Dixieland, some Latin influence, Charlie Parker’s revamping of Fats Waller’s “Honeysuckle Rose,” and a mercifully brief exercise in free jazz.
Speaking of highlights, Kubis was also in top form. She did Duke Ellington’s “Don’t Get Around Much Anymore,” the aforementioned Kern, “Hallelujah, I Love Her So,” and closed with Stevie Wonder’s “Sir Duke.”
Representing the Long Beach Blues Society, Sean Lane opened with a set of largely original material. It was a really terrific evening, the only blemish being not enough people in the audience.
There is talk of this being an annual event. Let’s hope so.