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John Tumpak is a well-respected journalist specializing in big bands and jazz. He is a regular contributor to jazz publications. He is the author of When Swing Was the Thing, published in 2008 by Marquette University Press. The following article by Mr. Tumpak is reprinted with his permission. Photos (other than his portrait) were taken by him at the events he writes about.

ADVENTURES IN BIG BAND JAZZ

A TRIBUTE TO FRANK SINATRA

By John Tumpak

Ken Poston is a nationally-recognized jazz historian, concert producer, radio personality and founder and director of the Los Angeles Jazz Institute that houses and maintains one of the largest jazz archives in the world. He has been conducting jazz conferences since 1991, starting with his Stan Kenton “Back to Balboa” event in Newport Beach that featured original Kenton alumni. These symposiums have provided outstanding musical entertainment, stimulating panel discussions, and furthered the cause of academic jazz research. This Sinatra festival was no exception.

This year Ken Poston’s Los Angeles Jazz Institute presented “BIG BAND CONCEPTS: a Jazz Tribute to Frank Sinatra”, the latest in the Institute’s twenty-five years of outstanding jazz programs from October 29 through November 1, 2015 at the Sheraton Gateway Hotel near the Los Angeles International Airport. There was the usual international flavor with Sinatra devotees attending from Australia, Canada, England, and France. The four day festival that ran from early morning to late night included thirteen concerts, four film showings and seven presentations. Information about the event can be viewed at www.lajazzinstitute.org.

“Big Band Concepts” was a jazz celebration of Sinatra’s 100th Birthday year. The focus was centered on instrumental jazz interpretations of songs and albums associated with Sinatra. The festival encompassed three primary elements: concerts by active Sinatra arrangers and sidemen performing their own musical compositions, concerts featuring the original arrangements from from Sinatra’s jazz collaborations, and concerts highlighting new interpretations of the classic Sinatra Concept albums.

In addition to outstanding big band music and rare jazz films there are always special academically focused educational presentations about little-known aspects of jazz history. For example, on the first day musicologist and record producer Wayne Knight made a presentation titled “Billie Holiday and Frank Sinatra--A Centennial Tribute in Words and Music!” It was a sophisticated audio visual production featuring rare radio broadcasts, concerts, film soundtracks, and television performances coupled with his own historical commentary.

The next day, longtime Red Norvo enthusiast and personal friend of Ken Poston, along with bandleader Mike Berkowitz, presented a very well-received “The 1959 Australian Tour with Red Norvo.” Poston discussed the close relationship between Sinatra and Norvo supplemented by movie clips showing them performing together. He also talked about the Australian Tour’s genesis and how it was recorded and eventually released on CD in 1997.

In the spring of 1959 Sinatra performed concerts in Melbourne and Sydney with vibraphonist Norvo’s quintet and his pianist Bill Miller, his regular accompanist since 1951. Sinatra was a longtime admirer of Norvo who offered him an opportunity to work with him in 1939 when Norvo and his wife Mildred Bailey first saw Sinatra singing at the Rustic Cabin in Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey. Sinatra would have loved to sing with Norvo, but turned him down because he had just signed a contract with Harry James. According to Berkowitz the 1959 small group format gave Sinatra freedom to expand his jazz singing in a loose, more swinging style resulting in an explosive excitement that electrified the Australian audience. Sinatra clearly enjoyed singing with a small band. Many Sinatraphiles consider the Australian concert one of his best.

On the final day of the event, a Sunday Brunch featured two concerts of music taken from under-recognized Sinatra albums. First, the Bryant Byers Big Band played songs arranged by his father Billy Byers from the 1963 album titled “Count Basie Plays More Hits of the 50s and 60s.” All the album’s songs were associated with Sinatra and arranged by the senior Byers. Second, clarinetist Ken Peplowski led an all-star big band playing the original Billy May arrangements for the 1967 “Francis A. and Edward K.” album on Sinatra’s Reprise label. It was Sinatra’s only recording collaboration with Duke Ellington. These concerts are examples of the lesser known kind of material Poston frequently includes in his event programming to provide a well-rounded picture of his subject’s total body of work.

 Bryant Byers Big Band                      

 

Ken Peploski and the L. A. Jazz Orchestra.

The audience consisted of knowledgeable Sinatra fans who knew the details of his personal and professional life very well. Notwithstanding their sophistication about the subject of Sinatra, it was obvious by their enthusiasm that they were well pleased with the entertainment and information provided at the event. It was another Poston success that left his followers anticipating the next program scheduled for May 2016 that will focus on the great big band drummers. It is titled “Time Check: A Buddy Rich Alumni Reunion.”


Join the SDL Club

Consider this your personal invitation to become a member of the SDL Club. SDL stands for Swingin’ Down the Lane. It also stands for a dedicated effort to preserve one of America’s proudest art forms --- big band music.

A LITTLE BACKGROUND: For over 20 years I’ve hosted a weekly radio program spotlighting the big bands --- everyone from Goodman to Garber, Miller to Mancini and Ellington to Elgart. Each week I reach into our database of 100,000 song titles to select recordings that fit the theme of our program. We may play music to accompany an interview with a big band vocalist or leader. We may salute women in jazz or mark the 100th birth anniversary of big band pioneers.

Though we’re adding new stations all the time, many people who regularly visit our website don’t live in areas where they can receive our weekly broadcasts. If Swingin’ Down the Lane isn’t broadcast in your area, the SDL Club offers the opportunity to hear the program on a regular basis. On the other hand, if it is broadcast near you, we provide a chance to hear a program as many times as you wish.

CLUB BENEFITS.  As a member of the SDL Club, you will receive each month the CD of your choice from among programs broadcast during the previous month.  You’ll also be eligible to purchase additional programs for only $7.00, less than half the prices quoted in our Music Store..

MEMBERSHIP DUES.  Regular membership in the SDL Club is $75 a year. Imagine, each month you’ll receive a one-of-a-kind CD. Over the course of a year you’ll receive 12 CD’s valued at $180 – more than twice the amount of the dues!

We’ve also established an elite member category, which offers all 52 programs on CD for annual dues of $250. This category is limited to 12 people --- one for each month of the year. In recognition of their support, each Elite Member is designated on-air as program underwriter of the month. 

As a special introductory offer, a 3-month trial membership in the Club is available for only $25. If you elect to continue, we’ll extend your membership for an additional nine months for an additional payment of $50.

So join now, and become a member of a club dedicated to the glorification of big band music of yesterday and today. Show your interest by e-mailing me at swing@bigband-era.com.


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