On Saturday evening, local jazz fans who made their way to the CSUMB World Theater were treated to a stellar performance by the Monterey Jazz Festival’s Next Generation Jazz Orchestra, a big band comprised of the very ‘best of the best’ high school-aged jazz musicians in the country. The concert was co-sponsored by the MJF and CSU Summer Arts as part of the latter’s series of July arts events.
Formerly known as the High School All Star Band, the name of the ensemble was changed in 2004 by this author in his role as the MJF’s Jazz Education Director (now Emeritus) who felt that the “Next Generation Jazz Orchestra” title served better to describe the high level of musicianship of the members of the band and the fact that they truly are the next generation of rising jazz stars. Former members of the ensemble include: pianists Benny Green and Patrice Rushen; saxophonists Joshua Redman, Gordon Goodwin, Donny McCaslin and Dave Koz; trombone great Andy Martin; famed drummers Justin Brown and Chad Wackerman; trumpeters Ambrose Akinmusire, Gilbert Castellanos and Jon Finlayson, and Grammy-winning bassist Larry Grenadier, among many others.
Directed for many years by jazz trumpeter and big band leader Bill Berry, the reins of the NGJO were handed over many years ago to Paul Contos who now serves as the MJF Jazz Education Director. Contos has a knack for selecting extremely challenging and ultra-modern music intermixed with some of the great standard big band charts of the past. On this occasion, the NGJO performed Scott Ninmer’s arrangement of If I Only Had Seven Giant Brains, a particularly difficult work that incorporates a well-known tune from The Wizard of Oz over the changes of John Coltrane’s Giant Steps and Miles Davis’ Seven Steps to Heaven. The piece featured an incredibly well-developed solo by baritone saxophonist Henry Soloman who hails from the Interlochen Arts Academy in Michigan. Other band members had a chance to shine in works such as Race to the Finish, which was written by Drew Zaremba for the famed North Texas University One O’Clock Lab Band, and Gerald Wilson’s arrangement of Perdido and I Got it Bad (And That Ain’t Good) by Duke Ellington.
Several years ago, the ensemble started featuring a vocal soloist which proved to be a highlight of many NGJO performances. This evening was no exception. Lizzi Trumbore of Rancho Bernardo High School in San Diego wowed the audience with her exceptional rendition of the Frank Sinatra favorite Too Close for Comfort, which she followed with an equally impressive performance of Benny Golson’s Whisper Not.
The evening ended with a rousing performance of Benny Carter’s iconic Vine Street Rumble from his Kansas City Suite made famous by the Count Basie Orchestra. At the conclusion of the performance the enthusiastic and appreciative audience was on its feet for a well-deserved standing ovation. I should point out that amazingly enough, this was the first performance for the 2014 version of the NGJO. The students met together for the first time two days earlier to prepare for this concert and their summer tour which also includes a performance at Yoshi’s Jazz Club in San Francisco, prior to a trip to Japan for numerous appearances in Tokyo, Nagoya, Tomisato, and Noto.
Photo by Cole Thompson