Jazz Summit brings the bop to Prescott
Jazz - the inimitable improvisational music full of surprises - comes to town in full swing this weekend for the 12th annual Prescott Jazz Summit.
"We will keep some for a surprise," trombonist Scott Whitfield said of what he and his wife, vocalist Ginger Berglund, have in store for audiences. "It's virtually impossible to repeat any song over the weekend."
That's what jazz is all about, summit director Mike Vax says of the musical breed that enjoys "great freedom." "So much of what we play isn't written on a page of music. It's improvisation - that's what separates us from other forms of music. When we solo, that's coming off the top of our head."
Los Angeles musicians Whitfield and Berglund are just two of the performers - both local and out-of-towners - who are in the lineup for the summit, which begins at noon Friday with a free concert in the gazebo on the courthouse plaza. (See accompanying schedule for all summit events.)
Whitfield is "one of the top jazz trombone players in the world," Vax said. He is also a composer, arranger and vocalist and is known for his work with many contemporary big bands, including the Toshiko Akiyoshi Jazz Orchestra and the new edition of Johnny Griffin's Big Soul Band, in addition to leading his own ensemble, the Scott Whitfield Jazz Orchestras (East and West). He has appeared around the world sharing his expertise in trombone technique, improvisation, composition, arranging and jazz history.
Berglund's career path began as the cornerstone of her church's children's choir, and she has gone on to sing with Kenny Rankin, Bob Dorough and Dave Frishberg, as well as recording with Steve Allen and pianist Paul Smith.
Other notables who will take the stage during the summit include Carl Saunders, a "superior bop trumpeter and top jazz soloist" from Los Angeles; Bill Tole, a trombonist who has performed with music greats and is leader of the Jimmy Dorsey Orchestra; Dennis Rowland, once part of the Detroit jazz scene and a vocalist with the Count Basie Orchestra; Reggie Thomas, a faculty member of jazz at the Lincoln Center, director of jazz studies at Michigan State University and pianist with the Count Basie Orchestra; Rusty Higgins, a first call studio saxophonist for the past 34 years, recording for movies, television and jazz concerts all over the world; Renee Patrick who "will capture you with her powerful and emotionally charged voice"; and Jack Petersen of Prescott Valley, a master of the jazz guitar who has taught at some of the most prestigious music schools in the world.
Whitfield and Berglund first met at a jazz festival but didn't make music together until sometime later when she needed an arranger.
Berglund had grown up harmonizing in choruses. But, "in jazz there's not a lot of that going on," she said. So, when she and Whitfield met up, "it was so sweet to find that I could harmonize again."
Now, a reviewer has said the two "sing together like peaches and cream."
Whitfield wants to keep some of their music a surprise for Prescott Jazz Summit audiences, but the crowd can expect to hear melodies from the Great American Song Book and George Gershwin and Cole Porter tunes, among their vast repertoire.
And, they might do songs from a re-creation of the historic recording, "Bop for the People," reminiscent of tenor saxophonist and bandleader Charlie Ventura, who came to be known for "bop with the people" music.
Jazz musicians are not like painters and writers who can fix their mistakes, Vax said.
When a jazz musician is on stage, "it's instantaneous, so in the moment," he said. "It's gone. You'll never do it again."
Music in Vax's life "has always been there." He listened to music on the radio with his grandfather. His aunt bought him Louis Armstrong and Harry James records in the 1950s, which were his first jazz recordings.
When he started playing the trumpet, he said, "My mom had to force me to quit playing the horn to do my homework." He got "hooked" on his first Stan Kenton recording in 1956 and went on to realize a dream, playing lead and solo trumpet with Kenton's orchestra. He now leads the Stan Kenton Alumni Band.
Jazz is Vax's passion and the Prescott Jazz Summit that he directs "is dedicated to keeping jazz alive in Prescott," he said, by providing a venue for local musicians and bringing in others, as well. "You've got to do both," he said.