Tuesday, April 27, 2004

The Colorado Chronicles, Part I

(Dingus-sized post alert, for both this one and the next...)

THURSDAY: I'll start by taking up where I left off at the end of this post. After a quick shower, I headed off to the college, which is a reeeeally lonely place at four in the morning. I parked next to all the other big band people's cars and went out to the DART bus stop where I told the shuttle company I'd be waiting. Armed with a reading light that Halfling loaned me, I dug into a Sports Illustrated during the wait.

The driver was about ten minutes late, and he still had to pick up someone else at his house near Spring Valley and Abrams. Seeing as how it was already 5:00 (two hours before flight time), I started to get a bit nervous--unfoundedly so, as it turned out, since we got from Abrams/LBJ to the airport in fifteen minutes. I guess the freeway system really does work when nobody's on it...

Unlike my last flight experience, which was recounted here, everything went without a hitch. The food places and the newsstand were actually open before six. My flight left on time (maybe even early) and landed ten minutes ahead of schedule. This was important, because I was supposed to land at 7:55, and the Denver-to-Greeley shuttle departed at eight. If I missed that one, I'd have to hang at the airport for two more hours. I took the underground train to baggage claim, where my suitcase was rolling towards me on the carousel. I then stepped out to the appropriate traffic island to find that not only was the shuttle still there, but I was its only passenger! I was at the hotel by a little after nine, where my room was ready and I was able to take a beautiful two-hour nap (surely this is "positive payback" for all the miserable trips I've had recently).

In the afternoon, we departed for Boulder and the University of Colorado, where we were to have a combined rehearsal with their top jazz band (Kris is friends with their head director, which is how this all got set up). We played first, and whether it was due to people being tired from the bus trip, getting used to a rehearsal hall whose acoustics were the polar opposite of ours, or the fact that their band was sitting across the way staring into our souls, things didn't go as well as we'd planned. I was not happy with my own solo at all (Miles came up to me afterwards and asked if I had been in a different key), nor were other soloists with their own efforts. (At least I didn't nod off during the performance like a few people did.) I vowed to work some more on the mental game before Saturday; I had tried too hard to be "different," and what came out of my horn was definitely not me.

The campus, however, was beautiful; the architectural style of the buildings made the place look more like a resort than a school, and there was this huge mountain overlooking everything. To top it all off, it snowed for a bit while we were there. On the way back, I got some news from the home front; Halfling called to tell me that the gig with a subset of Combo PM had gone fine that afternoon. Despite Combo PM being a Dingus-sized combo, the only ones available were Halfling and the rhythm section. Everything worked out great, and the people in charge were quite impressed.

After coming back to Greeley and having dinner at a nice local Mexican place, we went to the first night's concert: Kurt Elling. I had seen him before with the TI Band last year and raved about it, but I had also heard that no Elling concert is complete without his piano player, Laurence Hobgood, and he and the trio (Rob Amster, bass, and Frank Parker, drums) lived up to the hype.

The concert started off with a mild hiccup when the clueless emcee introduced him as "Kurt Etling," but he handled it with class, saying that while "Mr. Etling" hadn't made it yet, he'd fill in for him for a while if that was OK. The program was heavy on new stuff from Man in the Air (which I've also discussed here), including "In the Winelight," "Resolution" (from Coltrane's A Love Supreme) and the title track, which was spun out to epic proportions. For the last tune of the concert, he did what I was hoping for: "Minuano." Even though I still wish he'd included the crazy middle section of the original Metheny tune (which would've sounded great with multitracked vocals), it's still a great rendition. He had to use the slightest bit of a backing track to break into harmony in those couple of places, but it worked; it had a rather mystical quality when those disembodied backup singers "appeared" out of nowhere. A great way to cap an awesome show.

(UPDATE: I forgot to mention this initially, but Kurt has occasionally been a blogger! He doesn't do this all the time, but he kept a journal of a couple of his tours and called the whole thing The Guerrilla Diaries. His writing is a lot like his lyrics, so it's a great read.)

FRIDAY: This was our day to take a side-trip; we did so to Estes Park, a charming little mountain town about fifty miles west of Greeley. Kris had a nice surprise when his wife took the day off and flew up to meet us; she called when we were maybe five minutes into the trip, so we had no problem with going back to get her. We started hitting the picturesque part of the area in Loveland, just west of I-25, and the road got more and more winding and mountainous as we got into Estes Park. We took about 10 seconds in the public library to get on the Net and see when the Rockies game started on Saturday, and I made one of the shortest posts in the history of this blog, for it was no time to be indoors.

We walked through the town for a while, looking for a mountain to climb, but they were pretty much all fenced off. We did get to come nearly face-to-face with a live elk, which was just hanging out on a street corner. Jazzy G got pictures of some of this stuff, so I'll add them eventually. We ended up at a place called Bob & Tony's Pizza, a funky old place where even the wall graffiti dated back to 1977, and had some righteous pie of the Italian variety. There was just enough snow on the ground to throw at people, so we did that (Anna was the most common target, along with Kris, naturally). I caught a righteous nap on the way back...

The concert o' the night was the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra (formerly Mel Lewis and the Jazz Orchestra and the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Jazz Orchestra before that). Opening for them was a new (as of this year) salsa combo from UNC. The group had as many as 14 people involved at different times (shades of Combo PM) and was a lot of fun to listen to. Then out came the Vanguard, opening up with the same "Mean What You Say" that I'd heard the Nine O'Clock do the other night (but this was more authentic, since several of these guys had actually played with Thad). Their repertoire was a mix of Thad charts and newer works from their current principal composer, pianist Jim McNeely. He wrote all the works on the CD they had released the last time I saw them ('97), and now they've commissioned him to do another one, which should be great--I really like his writing. The featured artist for the after-show, Rufus Reid, was holding down the bass chair as a special guest, which only whetted my appetite for things to come. Oh, and the concert closed with "Cherry Juice," which has one of the most unplayable sax soli's ever written. (I found out later that the second tenor player, who was a sub, was sightreading the part! He has my sympathies...)

It's amazing to think that this group grew out of a few gigs at the legendary Village Vanguard all the way back in 1966...and they still play there almost every Monday night! Many of the players in there (lead alto Dick Oatts, lead tenor Rich Perry, lead trombonist/spokesman John Mosca, lead trumpet Earl Gardner, bass trombonist Doug Purviance) date back to at least the Mel Lewis days, if not further. Longevity in big bands is not usually a current state of being, but these guys haven't lost a step. This is far from a "ghost band" in any way; they're very much alive and keeping the music moving forward. I need to fill in the gaps in my CD collection with everything they've done since '97.

But wait...the jazz wasn't over. Rufus Reid was playing in the lounge in our own hotel! The legendary bassist/educator was joined by some of the other festival clinicians: a tenor player named Don Aliquo, whom I'd never heard of before the festival but who impressed me a lot; pianist Dana Landry, the director of jazz studies at UNC; and drummer Jim White, a veteran of Maynard and the One O'Clock whom I knew from my UNT days. I'm pretty sure they hadn't played together before the festival, but they sounded like they'd been a working unit for years. I didn't stay for the second set that night, so as to rest up for the gig in the morning, but what I heard was really, really cool.

(to be continued in Part II)

Fun nature fact: Most wildlife is allowed to roam freely through the streets of Estes Park, which means that the elk we saw on a street corner was no big deal to the locals.

It's a beautiful day way-too-early morning in the neighborhood: The other guy who was riding my shuttle to DFW was introduced to me as "Mr. Raja." I guess that means that I was reliving my childhood by visiting Mr. Raja's neighborhood...
*dodges foil at next burrito night*

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