by T.C. Coffer
The California Jazz Foundation has hosted its annual Give the Band a Hand fundraising Gala for six years now. The evening honors worthy recipients who exemplify the best of Los Angeles jazz while raising money for one of California’s foremost aid organizations—geared specifically to the state’s working jazz musicians.
Its posthumous Heritage Award, now in its third year, singles out a significant historic figure for recognition. On April 14 at the L.A. Hotel Downtown, that honor will be accepted by the family of Buddy Collette (1921-2010).
Saxophonist, clarinetist, flutist, composer, bandleader, teacher and advocate for fair-minded social policies, Collette was, in the words of one of his albums, a man of many parts.
A small number of musicians are held in equal high regard for their professionalism and versatility on several instruments. A few of those also distinguish themselves as jazz stylists. Fewer yet devote themselves to teaching hundreds of young players. And those who affect significant social changes at several different historic junctures can be counted on hands of one finger. Buddy checked off all the boxes.
William Marcel Collette was raised in Watts. His mother sang in the church choir, the Woodman Brothers--a few years older but professionals since grade school--were neighborhood heroes; Buddy prevailed upon a junior high friend to ditch his cello and pick up a bass. As teenagers, Collette and Charles Mingus would happily walk miles to hear guitarist Charlie Christian and bassist Jimmy Blanton on Central Avenue. Collette and Mingus would remain friends and soulmates until the latter’s death in 1979.
Buddy exhibited leadership early on. After formative experience in the bands of the Woodman Brothers, Cee Pee Johnson and Les Hite, Collette enlisted in the Navy, serving in San Francisco 1942-’45. While fellow L.A. alto saxophonist Marshall Royal directed the ‘A’ band of the base, Collette turned an odd assemblage of amateurs, second-rate players and non-musicians into a working dance band and a military band.
Back in L.A., Buddy resumed playing—with Lucky Thompson and Mingus (in an ill-starred collective they called Stars of Swing), the Treniers, Edgar Hayes, Louis Jordan, and the orchestras of Benny Carter and Gerald Wilson.
Benny Goodman inspired Collette’s clarinet work. On alto saxophone, he was profoundly influenced by Benny Carter, and the reedmen in the orchestras of Duke Ellington, Jimmie Lunceford and Count Basie. Buddy studied at the Los Angeles Conservatory, the California Academy of Music, and the American Operatic Laboratory. Like his friend Mingus, Collette studied privately with musical wizards Lloyd Reese and Merle Johnston.
While he worked with Gerald Wilson’s Orchestra, Buddy talked the leader into writing a feature for flute and the oboe. He had been playing flute since 1949 and Collette was one of the first to make a place for it in jazz.
The apartheid of two music unions—Local 47 for whites and Local 767 for blacks—bothered some members in both. Collette was a prime mover in a series of informal Sunday afternoon concerts with integrated ensembles at Humanist Hall. Buddy’s finely-honed flute playing impressed bandleader and contractor Jerry Fielding, who directed the orchestra for Groucho Marx’s radio show. In 1949, they broke a big racial barrier when Groucho told his listeners: “We have a new member of our orchestra. Buddy Collette, stand up and say hello!’ In the high-pressure, segregated Hollywood studio system of the 1950s, Buddy’s work on that show was revolutionary.
Bassist Red Callender told Stanley Dance in 1979, “It really caused an uproar. They called him (Fielding) a communist and everything, because the field was closed to black musicians.”
Buddy banded together in 1956 with guitarist Jim Hall, cellist Fred Katz, bassist Carson Smith and drummer Chico Hamilton. The Modern Jazz Quartet may have pioneered chamber jazz but the Chico Hamilton Quintet offered a quintessentially Californian take on it. Without a piano, the harmonic possibilities opened like the Western skies. Collette’s alto and flute, Katz’s cello, Hall’s spatial guitar, and Hamilton’s mallet-driven percussion was rich in instrumental color. Collette contributed the plaintive “Blue Sands,” a jazz hit.
The band’s importance and its full repercussions came home to Collette in the 1980s when members of the Art Ensemble of Chicago sought him out at a European festival. They thanked him for innovating spatial resonance, tonal diversity and the use of “little instruments” as an inspiration to them.
By the time he recorded the first album under his own name (Man of Many Parts, Contemporary) at the end of 1956, Buddy was playing with the Hamilton Quintet, Red Callender’s hard-swinging combo, and Lyle ‘Spud’ Murphy’s band--playing his twelve-tone compositions.
Along with Benny Carter, Gerald Wilson, Marl Young and Callender, Collette did the heavy lifting in the long fight to amalgamate the black and white musician unions. It was no accident that the personnel on Collette’s albums were always integrated.
The Hollywood blacklist snared many creative people. Some of them had been Communist Party U.S.A. members, actively working to undermine American democracy; some had done nothing more than sign petitions. Collette’s erstwhile benefactor Fielding saw his work in Hollywood evaporate. When the only work Fielding could get was arranging anonymously in Las Vegas, Buddy took up collections for him from L.A. musicians.
The more musically ambitious composers and arrangers in the Hollywood recording studios wrote charts that required reed players who were proficient on multiple instruments. Collette’s prowess on saxophones, flute and clarinet made him a very valuable player.
In 1973, Buddy joined with Callender, trumpeter Al Aarons, Viola, bassist Leroy Vinnegar and tenor saxophonist Grover Mitchell to form a cooperative record label, Legend. It was a brief haven for mature jazz musicians to make their own albums without the commercial pressures that bigger imprints forced on their contracted artists.
He had more work than most L.A. musicians; Collette had scored over 30 movies, industrial films and commercials. That didn’t mean, however, that he wasn’t socially conscious. It was no surprise when he appeared with Abbey Lincoln at a 1979 rally to defeat an unjust ballot measure. When racial clashes flared at the Latino-majority Hollenbeck Junior High, Buddy joined to play for students with pianist Eddie Cano, saxophonist Ruben Leon and others in a black and brown cooperative band.
Collette had the ability to see past the deficiencies of a developing player and recognize serious intent, which is all important. Bassist Richard Simon first encountered Collette through the short-lived Wind College--piloted by clarinetist John Carter, flute virtuoso James Newton, bassist Callender and reedman Charles Owens. “I took lessons from Red,” Simon relates, “and he sent me to the Clef Club gathering at the Quiet Cannon in Montebello. Buddy said, ‘You’re Red’s student. Let’s play...’ He was instantly supportive.”
Simon, who will lead the Jazz America student band at the CJF Gala, began playing with Collette and his veteran contemporaries. “I started to get calls to play with him,” Simon says, “working with pianist Gerry Wiggins, guitarist Al Viola and others. I was in over my head but Buddy treated me like the others.”
In the early 1990s, Councilwoman Jackie Goldberg heard of violence between Armenian and Latino students at Le Conte Junior High School, and she saw a need for music and jazz education. Not surprisingly, she phoned Buddy. He had already taught at Cal State L.A., but when Collette visited the campus and stepped into the auditorium it hit him: This is the exact spot where the Humanist Hall concerts were held. He enlisted his friends--pianist Gerry Wiggins, trumpeter Bobby Bryant, drummer Ndugu Chancler and others--to bring live music and music to junior high and high school students. The effort coalesced into JazzAmerica (now in its 24th year), which brings music instruction to schools on weekdays and Saturdays at the Music Center.
Collette told the L.A. Reader in 1994: “If they’re interested in playing music, we’re here to teach them. If a kid can’t afford an instrument, we’ll find a way to get him one.”
Buddy’s compassion wasn’t just for movements; it operated on the micro level as well. In 1994, Simon was involved in an automobile accident that left him with a broken patella. “Not too long into my convalescence,” Simon recalls, “Buddy called and said we had work. He picked me up in a Jeep, he carried by bass, my amp, and he helped me up a flight of stairs. I’ve had friends who weren’t as supportive.”
Part of Collette’s legacy is the template he set for younger musicians. When he heard about Eric Dolphy through the renowned teacher Lloyd Reese, he reached out with encouragement. L.A. was teeming with good jazz alto saxophonists in the 1950s but Dolphy also put prodigious effort into the flute. When Buddy vacated the Chico Hamilton Quintet, Dolphy succeeded him on Collette’s endorsement. Buddy was also instrumental in Dolphy relocating to New York in 1960.
In the 1970s, emerging flute virtuoso James Newton was profoundly interested in Dolphy’s use of extended techniques. Newton’s close association with Collette helped him fully understand the Dolphy legacy. The line of L.A. jazz flute innovators begins with Buddy, and on to Dolphy and Newton.
If he were still with us, there’s no doubt that Buddy would have taken an active role in the California Jazz Foundation. It provides financial aid and counseling, medical professionals that operate on a sliding scale basis, and material support. To date, the charitable 501 (c) 3 non-profit has administered to hundreds of struggling California jazz musicians throughout its twelve-year history.
In 2006, when CJF was founded, and until his passing, Buddy went out of his way to counsel its founder, Edythe Bronston. He made sure that everyone in his vicinity knew about CJF and its mandate to help California jazz musicians.
CJF has taken on the kind of fight that Collette relished—one that helps others in need. “When Buddy spoke of those early battles,” Simon clarifies, “he talked about them as if they were something he witnessed rather than spear-headed. He didn’t regard them as burdens; he looked at them as his duty.”
“Buddy transcended music; he was the conscience of the community. He showed what you could accomplish if you were genuine, and you held your ground, and you had the quiet determination to carry it through. Of course, he was such a fine player; without his virtuosity, he never would have had the authority to assume his leadership mantle. He wasn’t a pied piper but he held people in thrall with his playing.”
Buddy Collette was indeed a man of many parts. All of them were superlative.
Give the Band a Hand: Saturday, April 14, 6:00 P.M. at the L.A. Hotel Downtown, 333 S. Figueroa Street, Los Angeles. Info: www.californiajazzfoundation.org
This one of the biggest and best jazz events in U.S.A. and for its February programmed time is the last one being done by Joe Rothman and John McClure. However, the Sunset Jazz at Newport summer series will continue July 11th to September 19th. 2018. Joe Rothman and John McClure have done a magnificent job with all their presentations. Note: The Newport Beach Jazz Party for February, 2019 and beyond will be taken over by a Paul Lowden. Musical Director will be Ken Peplowski.
My wife and I attended the Saturday, February 17th Champagne Brunch and two afternoon pool concerts. The Champagne Brunch had two gorgeous segments. First, the Peak Experience with Mike Peak (b), Ron Kobayashi (p), Kendall Kay (d), Carl Saunders (tpt), Rickey Woodard (ts), Ann Patterson (as), and Andrea Miller (v). They started with a Clifford Brown tune, “Blues Walk.” Nice beginning.
They sounded very solid. The choruses following were horns, (Saunders, Woodard, Patterson) piano, (Kobayashi) and drums, (Kendall Kay). Mike Peak introduced vocalist Andrea Miller. She grooved with the band in a splendid song, “I Love Being Here with You.” Her delivery was excellent. The audience had already given several rounds appreciatively of applause, for solos and Miller’s beginning. Peak introduced the ensemble musicians who have been together several years making excellent jazz. A ballad medley, beautiful, came next: the famed “Polka Dots and Moonbeams” and “I Can’t Get Started” with nice solos from Patterson and Saunders. The next three tunes were dedicated from Mike Peak to his lovely wife, Lucy: “My One and Only Love,” “Lucy” performed by Kobayashi (by Mike to Lucy) and the great “At Last” sung by Andrea Miller, backed with the band, did a spectacular job! For their closing number they played an Eddie Harris&Les McCann instrumental, “Cold Duck,” with groovy solos from the entire ensemble and a standing ovation!
Second, NBJP’s second part of the Champagne Brunch gave us Part Three of a continued piano tribute to David L. Abell, who helped many pianists performing Jazz music in Los Angeles as well as musical events where pianos were concerned. Bill Cunliffe hosted this segment presenting eight well-known pianists, which included him as well. Performing were: Bill Cunliffe, Larry Fuller, Tamir Hendelman, Tom Ranier, Emmet Cohen, Ehud Asherie,Yuko Mabuchi and Dena DeRose. Cunliffe began with the beautiful “Emily,” by Johnny Mandel. Ehud Asherie was next and introduced by Bill Cunliffe. Together they performed a sparkling version of “My Hear Stood Still” by Richard Rodgers on two grand pianos on stage making an unusually rich sound. Tamir Hendelman played an improvised jazz waltz and then did another number for both pianos with Dena De Rose, the Benny Golson classic, “Whisper Not.” Moving into Larry Fuller’s solo donation he played, “Both Sides Now,” and then being joined by Emmet Cohen they gave us a fantastic rendition of Ellington’s “Caravan,” a thoroughly full filled version. He also performed a newer tune I hadn’t heard of “Contrary Motion,” an interesting piece. Yuko Mabuchi performed a medley of several well known tunes. Tom Ranier played a tune I did not get the title of. The end of this show brought a start with Cunliffe with Ranier playing Ellington’s “In a Mellow Tone” and all other six pianists taking turns on both pianos playing so all eight pianists could shine on this exceptional piece. The audience gave many rounds of well-deserved applause and another standing ovation.
Afternoon Pool Concerts:
The Scott Hamilton septet performed a brilliant concert outside by the pool and the weather was perfect with sun and all. His ensemble included Scott Hamilton (ts), Ken Peplowski (cl/ts), Dan Barrett(tpt/tb), Ehud Asherie (p), John Clayton (b), Joe La Barbera (d) and Chuck Redd, (vibes). Their first number was a newer tune for me, “Castle Rock,” a great audience opener. The entire septet all gave impressive and excellent solos. Tunes following were: “Mean to Me,” “Deed I Do,” with an excellent muted trombone solo from Barrett, a bossa tune, “A Day In the Life of a Fool,” and a Woody Herman number, “Apple Honey.” This septet all performed very cohesively. A very relaxed afternoon with a very responsive audience.
Bill Cunliffe’s Brazil with Carol Bach y Rita (v) and sextet, Harry Allen (ts), Kye Palmer (tpt/flg), Charlie Morillas (tb), Jerry Watts (b), Jimmy Branley (d), and John Chiodini (g). Pianist Cunliffe gave us a Kenny Barron composition, “Belem” with the ensemble, a gorgeous number and then followed it with Branislaw Kaper’s great “Invitation” done in medium samba. He introduced Carol Bach y Rita, who had the audience thoroughly entertained, with “Trust,” a slow funk bossa. The band members were all superb, backing her perfectly. Her other tunes were, Jobim’s “So Danso Samba”and : “Morning Coffee” by Bill Cantos. Carol Bach y Rita always dances between choruses and is very lively to the max. The audience gave her another standing ovation at the concert’s conclusion.
There were a number of other highlights over the four day festival Jazz Party: Tribute to Frank Capp Juggernaut directed by Butch Miles dedicated to Frankie, the Four Freshmen, Terry Gibbs Dream Band, Patrick Williams Big Band, CSULB Concert Band directed by Jeff Jarvis with special guest Butch Miles and Newport Beach Jazz Party All-Star Big Band directed by John Clayton.
See: www.sunsetjazzatnewport.com for a new concert list coming out in another month for Wednesday, July 11th thru Wednesday, Sept. 19th, 2018.Glenn A. Mitchell
This popular and dynamic group plays str aight-ahead jazz. Its audience consists of those discerning people who love and appreciate this music and recognize it as America's own indigenous art form and gift to the world.
Ron Kobayashi (Piano) is a performer, recording artist, independent record label owner and educator. Ron has performed with Mel Torme, Margaret Whiting, Peter Frampton, Kenny Burrell and other major artists. He has performed for President Bill Clinton in 1992 and has been the music director of the Hollywood Diversity Awards for many years. Ron is a faculty member at the Orange County High School of the Arts and Biola University.
Ann Patterson (Alto, Tenor, Baritone Saxophones & Flute) is a composer, arranger, recording artist and educator. She is a recipient of the prestigious Jazz Educator Award, presented by the Los Angeles Jazz Society. She has been the leader of the all female 17-piece big band, Maiden Voyage, for over 30 years. Ann has recorded and/or toured with many renowned artists such as Ray Charles, Etta James, Sheena Easton, Lou Rawles, Melissa Manchester, The Temptations and Neil Sedaka.
Rickey Woodard (Tenor Saxophone) is a Concord recording artist , composer and arranger. Rickey has performed, toured and recorded with The Clayton Hamilton Jazz Orchestra ; Diana Krall, Gladys Knight, Michael Buble, Paul Anka , Ray Charl es, BB, King, Horace Silver, Duke Ellington, Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald and many other major artists.
Carl Saunders (Trumpet) is the composer, recording artist, educator and leader of the Carl Saunders Be Bop Big Band. He has recorded and/or toured with Stan Kenton, John Williams , Ella Fitzgerald, Tony Bennett, Frank Sinatra, Paul Anka, Robert Goulet , Harry James, Si Zentner and many other major artists.
Dick Weller (Drums) is a composer, ar ranger, recording artist and educator . He has performed with Mike Stem, Bobby Lyle, Diane Schur, Sue Raney, Jack Sheldon, Bobby Shew, Tierney Sutton, Bob Sheppard, Bob Florence, Alfonso Johnson, Fred Hersch, Scott Colley and many other notable artists. He is an adjunct faculty member at California State Univer sity, Northridge.
Andrea Miller (Vocals) is a composer and recording artist. She has performed with Llew Matthews, Luther Hughes, Paul Kreibich, Mark Massey and many others. She has opened for Al Jarreau and performs at such notable venues as the Bayside Restaurant Newport Beach, Paris Hotel Las Vegas, Pelican Hill Newport Coast, Langham Hotel Pasadena, The Four Seasons, Regent Beverly Wilshire and the Knitting Factory. In addition to her own albums, Andrea has recorded with David Foster, Quincy Jones, Alan & Marilyn Bergman and as a session singer at Disney/Pixar, Paramount Pictures, NBC, ABC, EM!, Samsung, Warner Brothers and many othe rs.
Mike Peak (Bass & Leader) is a composer, arranger, record producer and educator. He is an advisory board member of the Vail Jazz Foundation and is the executive board member of the Orange County Musicians' Association, Local 7, AFM. He has performed with Joe Pass, John Chiodini, Llew Matthews, Gerald Clayton, Paul Kreibich, Dee Dee McNeil, Dick Weller, Sal Cracchiolo, Barbara Morrison, Yve Evans, Peggy Duquesne!, Carol Chaikin, Staci Rowles and many others. •
The Peak Experience Jazz Ensemble
Like so many folks who enjoyed all the music from the ‘70s I was aware of Joni Mitchell because I heard her on the radio, but I had never heard her perform in a concert. The ‘70s were an especially creative and lucky time for artists to create a fan following, to experiment with new sounds because there were so many genres to enjoy. Even though the Beatles and The Rolling Stones were very popular there was enough variety for everyone. The music scene was wide open.
Joni Mitchell followed her own path, writing and recording a lot of original and memorable tunes in her very distinctive voice. Kiki Ebsen is a singer with a wide range of experience as a musician and vocalist. The musicians who accompanied her on this evening were excellent: Grant Geissman-sitar & guitar, Terry Wollman-guitars, Steven Lawrence-bass and drummer Matt Starr. Ebsen used an electric keyboard in front of the audience.
The musicians dug right in with “Help Me,” as Ebsen captured the spirit of Mitchell’s unique voice. The band members were expressive and impressive. The room was full of fans and the y responded immediately with lots of applause. A great start by everyone on stage. Starr set a strong backing for “Just Like This Train” as Ebsen sang a pretty song that was new to me. Ebsen played a guitar on “Chelsea Morning” with a sweet, lilting voice. A very fine rendition, performed with care. “You Turn Me On Like A Radio” had a nice down home feel. The audience was quite pleased with the group and I was getting a fine education about Mitchell’s amazing talent as a songwriter.
“Case of You” is a purely delicious song that Ebsen sang beautifully. The three guitars backed her expertly. The song sounded sturdy and solidly impressive. Starr’s drumbeat was steady, insistent. Ebsen’s voice was haunting as she sang the poetic lyrics. The audience was applauding with gusto all evening. This is one of those songs that will be remembered with fondness. “Black Crow” gave Wollman some space to rip through the tune at a faster tempo. Geissman’s powered his guitar with a burst of energy that sounded angry yet enticing. Talk about making an instrument “cry uncle.”
“Twisted” is a jazz classic that is a favorite for many singers. Ebsen sang with a sassy attitude. It Starts out “My analyst told me…….” which can only lead to trouble. Ebsen nailed it! She went to a grand piano to sing a lovely “Michael from Mountains.” The audience responded to all the songs Ebsen sang and the terrific musicians with a lot of enthusiasm. Ebsen was so brilliant at the piano for “Blond in the Bleachers.” She expresses different textures with just a few notes. Greissman added remarkable embellishments to his solo which was dynamic and interesting. The group ended with a powerful close. Another WOW!
“Both Sides Now” is a gorgeous song when Mitchell wrote and it continues to be a stunning gift of profound words. “Big Yellow Taxi” has the famous refrain “Pave paradise, put in a parking lot.” “Raised on Robbery” was humorous, fast moving, crazy zesty. Ebsen sang it with a loud, excited voice.
It was a great evening of honoring Joni Mitchell’s amazing career. Kiki Ebsen and the excellent sidemen were terrific, purely terrific!