August 27, 2008

Jazz Workshop Band Passionate Everymen

By Chuck Berg

By Chuck Berg


The unique powers of big jazz band were on full display Sunday afternoon at the Ramada Hotel and Convention Center, where the Topeka Jazz Workshop Concert Series kicked off its 40th season by showcasing its own Topeka Jazz Workshop Band.

As the well-rehearsed 17-piece ensemble launched into a swinging version of Sammy Nistico's blues-tinged "Pressure Cooker," it was heartening to realize that these gifted musicians weren't full-time professionals but rather music educators, businessmen, and college students from across town.

In sharing their collective passion for the legacies of Basie, Ellington and Kenton, this band of "local heroes" underscored -- in their commitment to the music and to each other and to the community -- a poignant kind of civic engagement enriching all.

The band's guest artist, trumpet virtuoso Jay Sollenberger, might also be regarded as a local hero. Known throughout the jazz world as a lead trumpeter extraordinaire (the guy who hits the high notes!), the McPherson-raised Sollenberger, after stellar tenures with Stan Kenton, Buddy Rich and Woody Herman, settled in Kansas City where his powerful playing has inspired colleagues and audiences since 1980.

Greeting the crowd with a soaring version of Vincent Youmans' "Without a Song," Sollenberger's plangent sound and bop-colored improvisations won hearty applause. A lush ballad version of Johnny Mandel's "Close Enough for Love" and a shout-from-the-rafters "Secret Love" showed off other aspects of the trumpeter's rich persona.

The band's considerable attributes -- its overall precision, in- the-pocket rhythmic finesse, pliant phrasings, and expressive dynamics -- were likewise impressive. The musicians, of course, deserve huge credit. But so, too, do co-leaders Jerry Boster and Tom Hunt for having put the pieces together with such obviously loving care.

The band's outstanding efforts weren't lost on Sollenberger, who's played with the best. He also took note of several original compositions contributed by members of the band, such as tenor saxophonist Darrell Cox.

One of the afternoon's special treats was a chart from Chase, the high voltage band that first put Sollenberger on the map. Scored for five flugelhorns and quixotically called "Ode to a New England Jellyfish," it was a bossa nova with a North Atlantic twist.

When the final chords of "Midnight Run" settled at the end of the afternoon, the band and its wonderful guest were rewarded with a well-earned standing ovation.

It should be added that this auspicious opener was also an invitation for those who'd like more information on the Topeka Jazz Workshop's outstanding new season to contact Marcene Grimes at 379- 5169 or [email protected]

Chuck Berg is a professor at The University of Kansas. He can be reached at [email protected]

(c) 2008 Topeka Capital Journal. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All rights Reserved.