Back in February, when Garfield High School Jazz Band director Clarence Acox was at the Lionel Hampton International Jazz Festival, bassist and festival director John Clayton casually mentioned to Acox as he was walking off the bandstand that he wanted Acox to do “some kind of Quincy thing at Port Townsend.”
“I didn’t hear from him for several months,” says Acox.”Then I heard I was leading the band.”
Eventually, Acox came to understand he was heading up a program with the Centrum All-Star Big Band at this year’s Jazz Port Townsend, which gets underway Thursday, July 25. The big band concert is Saturday afternoon.
Acox has had a ball putting together the program, gathering arrangements with help from Clayton and (trombonist) Dave Marriott.
“Quincy had a knack for creating beautiful melodies,” says Acox. “But he also had a knack for putting together great arrangements that were appealing to the audience and that were substantive enough that the musicians enjoyed playing them.”
Fans familiar with the sizzling 1960 Jones unit that included Seattle players Buddy Catlett (bass), Patti Bown (piano) and Floyd Standifer (trumpet) will be delighted to hear that among the charts on Acox’s agenda is “Birth of a Band,” which rips by a startling tempo. But Acox says “Dum Dum,” from the Count Basie album, “Li’l Ole Groovemaker” (which also featured Catlett), is “even faster.”
Here’s a video of Quincy’s band in Europe in 1960 playing “Birth of a Band,” with Buddy, Patti and Floyd.
When Jones was writing a lot for Basie, he used signature figures over and over again. One was the reverse of the usual dotted eighth and sixteenth note, with the short note hit first, hard, followed by a staccato eighth, which punched the line into the stratosphere.
Another was a descending six-note figure. The secret code among musicians for that phrase, says Acox, was a two-word expression that begins with “dirty.” In fact, a lot of popular jazz phrases developed in just this way, from street talk.
Oh, yeah,” agrees Acox. “The audience didn’t know what it meant, but the musicians did.”
Other popular Jones compositions on the big band bill include “Golden Boy,” written for an ill-fated Broadway musical starring Sammy Davis, Jr.; the beautiful “The Midnight Sun Never Sets”; “Stockholm Sweetnin’,” probably Jones’ best known jazz composition; and “Soul Bossa Nova,” which Jones claimed he wrote in 20 minutes and has since been used for the film “Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery.”
Trombonist Dan Marcus will be featured on a chart Quincy wrote for Al Grey, “I Needs To Be Bee’d With.” “Nasty Magnus,” written for a Los Angeles DJ, features bassist John Hamar, who no doubt will play the classic opening bass line, established as de rigueur by Catlett on the original recording.
But whoever’s playing, the musicians amassed by Acox, festival artistic director John Clayton and festival coordinator Greg Miller are sure to do the music justice — and more. The band features most of the Port Townsend workshop faculty, including baritone sax master Gary Smulyan, trumpeters Jiggs Whigham and Jay Thomas, pianist Randy Porter, guitarist Dan Balmer and, last but not least, drummer Jeff Hamilton.
The Jones show is just one of many on a strong 2013 lineup. Israeli-born reed player Anat Cohen — who has securely established herself in the jazz world with a rich and lively voice on clarinet and a passion for world rhythms — kicks off the action Thursday in a club appearance with trombonist Wycliffe Gordon and saxophonist Jeff Clayton. Cohen also headlines the Friday mainstage concert at McCurdy Pavilion. Other mainstage artists include vibraphonist Stefon Harris, vocalists Sachal Vasandani, René Marie and Cyrille Aimée and guitarist Anthony Wilson.
Jazz Port Townsend: Thursday-next Saturday, July 25-27, at McCurdy Pavilion, Fort Worden and at various Port Townsend clubs; club passes $25 per night; mainstage concerts $20-$49 (18 and under free), mainstage package $39-$89, all-festival pass $79-$135 (800-746-1982 or www.centrum.org).