Sunday, November 23, 2008

A Truly Legendary Evening

I can't even begin to describe how cool last night was. (For the uninitiated, "last night" was the North Texas Jazz Legends celebration honoring my former professors Neil Slater and Jim Riggs, held at the UNT Coliseum in Denton.) The evening was much as you'd probably imagine it would be, what with four alumni bands playing and all. The amount of talent in the room, never mind onstage--there were quite a few people who attended but didn't play--was staggering, and it was great to see so many people I hadn't seen since my college days.

Here are a few random thoughts regarding the evening:
  • Everything ran smoothly and efficiently, with the various rehearsals, soundchecks, and so on starting exactly on time. It was almost like "Lab Band Madness: Special Enhanced Alumni Edition."

  • Needless to say, the alumni bands hardly needed any rehearsal at all; one of the alumni directors, who also teaches college, joked about how nice it was to just sit up there and wave his hands and not have to teach rhythms to anybody.

  • There were so many alumni involved that several bands did considerable substitution between their two tunes; the band in which I played had two distinct saxophone sections as well as some minor trombone swappage.

  • The "'70s and earlier" band featured a few names you might know: Tom "Bones" Malone and "Blue" Lou Marini (think The Blues Brothers, folks). Lou got some nice solo space on a three-way battle on "Groove Merchant."

  • The prepared video tributes to Riggs and Slater were both humorous (especially the early pictures of them) and informative; for example, I had no idea that former Ft. Worth Symphony conductor John Giordano used to be the saxophone professor at UNT, nor did I know that Slater mentored a young Bob Mintzer during his New York days.

  • It's one thing to play a tune that you played in college, but it's a completely different animal to look at the piece of music and see your own handwriting on the page (notating how many times a solo section was played, which instruments took solos, etc.) from all those years ago.

  • Many fancy affairs have coat-check or hat-check rooms, but last night was the first time I'd ever seen a "horn-check room" for people to leave their instruments (under the watchful eye of a security guard) when they weren't playing. It came in very handy for me, since my bari wouldn't have fit in the seats.

  • The current One O'Clock and Two O'Clock closed out the evening, and each group brought up its former director to be part of the action: Riggs soloed on one of the Two O'Clock tunes, and Slater conducted a brand-new composition of his with the One.

  • When I arrived at UNT as a freshman, I wasn't quite ready to study with a professor yet (and with 100+ saxophonists at the school, it's impossible for everyone to do so right away). So my first saxophone instructor was an outstanding doctoral student, and she exhibited the patience of a saint as I worked out some horn issues (long story short: I was told at orientation that there were plenty of school baritone saxes to be had, so I turned down the chance to buy a Mark VI from a friend [*kicks self now*]. It turns out that I was told wrong...) and prepared me to study under faculty from junior year onward. I got to see her last night for the first time in quite a few years; Dr. Jackie Lamar, this shout-out is for you...

  • I never played in the One O'Clock (and only in the Two for a very short time), so it was a thrill to be on stage with so many former members of that band.

  • As I said, I ran into quite a few of my former classmates, some of whom I hadn't seen in years. Two of them made my day when they said "You look exactly the same as you did in undergrad school." The fact that those statements were made by people who were balding and/or greying made it even better. (Thanks, Mom and Dad, for those blessed youthful genetics!)

  • After the music ended at 11 p.m. (some three-and-a-half hours after it started, the Coliseum floor was opened up for an "after-hang" which was still going on when I left at about 12:30 in the morning. It was really great to see everybody and to find out that everyone seemed to be doing well.
The last time UNT held a celebration like this was in '97 for the fiftieth anniversary of the establishment of the first jazz studies degree in the nation. My colleague and I had to miss that one because of a concert at our college that we couldn't reschedule, so we jumped at the chance to play in this one. A few of us were talking about it, and we realized that the next such celebration (not counting the one next May for soon-to-retire vocal jazz and arranging guru Paris Rutherford) will probably be for the 75th anniversary of the program, which is still fourteen years away. Someone joked that, at that event, people would be saying "Look at how old the '90s band looks!" Yikes...

And needless to say, I'll be buying the DVD of last night when it comes out.

UPDATE: The alumni interaction didn't stop when the Coliseum doors closed last night; check out this hilarious post from the UNT Jazz website: UNT jazz alumni network in action. (It also features one of the longest sentences I've ever read--and this from a guy with a Ph.D, no less.)


John Murphy said...

Thanks for the linkage. Long sentences can still be clear. Plus it's creative writing, not standard academic prose.
--guy with Ph.D.

Kev said...

Oh, that was the best part--despite the length of the sentence, it was extremely clear. And my own style of writing (as you no doubt know from reading this blog) often leans toward the "never use one word when five will do" school of thought, so to me, the long sentence was a feature, not a bug.

(And the Ph.D was only mentioned in that spirit--sort of a cross between "it must take a doctorate to create a sentence that long that still makes that much sense" and "I bet he doesn't get to do that in an academic journal.")