[JPL] A Long-Term Tenant Takes Top Billing ...VJO

r durfee rdurfee2003 at yahoo.com
Thu Feb 7 18:30:01 EST 2008

February 6, 2008
Music Review
A Long-Term Tenant Takes Top Billing 
It was business as usual on Monday night at the
Village Vanguard, and nobody was complaining. The
16-piece Vanguard Jazz Orchestra was playing
arrangements from its celebrated book, including a few
that made their debuts some 40 years ago. The sound of
the band filled the room, and the players exuded a
kind of crisp and spirited poise. 

Like a handful of other proud New York institutions —
maybe even a certain football franchise — the Vanguard
Jazz Orchestra has long approached its task without a
lot of fuss or pretension. This week is different, in
substance if not style. Expanding its Monday-night
residency to a full headlining engagement, the
orchestra is toasting its own legacy, which happens to
form a cornerstone of postwar big-band tradition. 

The group has been a fixture at the Vanguard for 42
years, almost to the day: its first booking was on
Feb. 7, 1966. And for its first dozen years or so, it
was known as the Thad Jones-Mel Lewis Orchestra, after
its founders: Thad Jones, a veteran trumpeter and
arranger, and Mel Lewis, an equally seasoned drummer.
(The band adopted its current name after the death of
Mr. Lewis in 1990.)

John Mosca, the orchestra’s director and lead
trombonist, was dry and efficient with his
between-song banter, and at times his commentary was

“As great a genius as Thad was as a musician,” he said
early in the first set, “that’s how bad he was as a
librarian.” His point was well taken: because a number
of the band’s old charts weren’t archived, they had to
be transcribed from records, in painstaking fashion.

Two fairly recent transcriptions turned up in the set,
shedding light on different sides of Mr. Jones’s
artistic temperament. “The Waltz You Swang for Me,”
from one of the Jones-Lewis band’s first albums, was
terse and smartly conceived, with a jaunty rhythmic
feel and a resourceful use of all the band’s sections.
By contrast, “Don’t You Worry ’Bout a Thing,” a
Latin-tinged arrangement of the Stevie Wonder song,
felt perfunctory and glib. Still, it accurately
represented Mr. Jones, who never shied away from a

The band also played two charts by Bob Brookmeyer, a
founding member of the Jones-Lewis band and one of its
most highly regarded alumni. His version of Fats
Waller’s “Willow Tree” featured sumptuous chord
voicings and a satisfying solo by the trumpeter Terell

Even better was Mr. Brookmeyer’s dissonant gloss on W.
C. Handy’s “St. Louis Blues,” in a clever and
canonical arrangement. (YouTube has terrific vintage
television footage of the band performing it, complete
with solos by Mr. Brookmeyer and Mr. Jones.) 

History isn’t the sole focus of the orchestra’s
engagement, which culminates in two nights of live
recording. Throughout the week, the repertory dial
will gradually turn toward more recent material, by
the likes of Jim McNeely and Bill Holman. 

And soon there will be a new custom: First Mondays,
featuring new music on the first Monday of the month.
It sounds like a great idea, and not just so that
there’s fodder for future versions of the band.

Performances continue through Monday at the Village
Vanguard, 178 Seventh Avenue South, at 11th Street,
West Village; (212) 255-4037, villagevanguard.com.


Roy Durfee
P.O. Box 40219
Albuquerque, New Mexico 87196-0219
rdurfee2003 at yahoo.com

Never miss a thing.  Make Yahoo your home page. 

More information about the jazzproglist mailing list