THE late, great composer and arranger Frank Foster cast a long shadow over the Muriel Richardson Auditorium stage Sunday as the Winnipeg Jazz Orchestra paid homage to the great music of the Count Basie Orchestra.
Foster's compositions and arrangements remain signature tunes of the Basie big band sound -- think Shiny Stockings -- and the WJO and trumpeter Derrick Gardner made them sound fresh in a great concert Sunday afternoon heavy on Foster's material.
Gardner, who played in the Basie orchestra from 1991 to 1996 and who considered Foster a mentor, was a natural choice as band conductor
Gardner, who played in the Basie orchestra from 1991 to 1996 and who considered Foster a mentor, was a natural choice as band conductor and hot, hot soloist for some of the best big band music on the books.
The tone was set with the opening number, The Heat's On, when Gardner, a jazz studies professor at the University of Manitoba, let loose with the first of many hot solos during the afternoon concert, the first of two shows performed Sunday.
Who, Me?, a Foster composition, was a classic big band chart with great solo work by Gardner with just the rhythm section and solo highlights by the likes of trombonist Brad Shigeta and pianist Will Bonness, one of Gardner's teaching colleagues.
The drum set played a big role throughout the concert and drummer Rob Siwik took a few tasty solos during the afternoon.
Singer Joanna Majoko was wonderful on four numbers, from ballad to blues to scatting. Her rendition of Young and Foolish illustrated what a great-sounding polished singer the jazz studies student is, and her heartfelt Bring on the Raindrops showed she knows the blues when she hears them.
Majoko nailed the Betty Carter tune, Tight, with very good scatting and showed her versatility on an updated Gardner arrangement of Willow Weep for Me.
Shiny Stockings, one of the best-known tunes in the Basie repertoire, was written by Foster in 1955, but the WJO used a version Foster updated decades later that was a showcase for the saxophone section and for pianist Bonness.
Gardner also gave a nod to Thad Jones, the trumpet-playing composer and arranger who also made a big mark on the Basie book, with Jones's Counterblocking, a composition that pushed the boundaries of the mainstream big band sound. Foster's Disapproachment, in a similar vein, was an obscure piece written for the pianist Duke Pearson that Gardner added to the WJO show.
Gardner's own piece, Blues a la Burgess, written for his trumpeter father, was a highlight with outstanding solos by Gardner, tenor saxophonist Jeff Cooper and drummer Siwik.