Live Jazz: The Ron Jones Influence Big Band at Vitello’s

By Tony Gieske

Ron Jones

The world’s longest running publicity stunt did not command the attention of everyone in Hollywood Sunday night. Disdaining the Oscar festivities was a discriminating crowd that filled the Upstairs room at Vitello’s out in the Valley to hear the Ron Jones Jazz Influence big band.

Jones, a noted composer for off-beat television fare, led his organization of 22 studio savants, including a pair of French hornists, to reward the visitors with a program of familiar songs and heads that were staples when bebop was young. That would have been before many of the players took up the instruments with which they now make their not inconsiderable livings.

Clockwise from upper left: Chuck Berghofer, Bob McChesney, French horn player Jean Marinelli, Ron Jones, Jeff Bunnell, Bob Sheppard, Tim May

“The Way You Look Tonight,” in a gently swinging arrangement by Mike Tomaro (available online for $47.50, in case you run a big band), followed a gently swinging opener on “Bird of Paradise,” playing the spotlight here and there on the world’s greatest trumpet section.

These horns were limber muscle and flat abs all evening, a shout when called for that gave no pain but was music to the ear, and dry muted comments in support of other soloists. Charlie Davis, Chuck Findley, Gary Grant and Jeff Bunnell were the players. Findley soloed powerfully on an original ballad.

The Ron Jones brass section

The similarly adept trombones lent a rich color and deep power to the tuttis, underpinning the various sections when necessary, warming the top line when called for. Bob McChesney stepped out for a pretty little story about “Emily,” beginning with velvety balladic wooings and ending with bold staff-surmounting calisthenics.

The reeds were light and airy on such swiftly wandering numbers as Wayne Shorter’s “Yes and No” and loaded with vigor on the Latinate “St. Thomas,” which the Bill Holman arrangement made into a more delightful romp than many of those we’ve been hearing since the Eisenhower Administration.

Such delights rested all night on the Basie-like power of Chuck Berghofer, bass, Mike Lang, piano, Tim May, guitar and Steve Schaeffer, drums. The colors of May and vibraharpist Billy Holting reminded you of the old Woody Herman sound that Red Norvo and Billy Bauer contributed.

But that was a hotbed zone; tonight was a botanical garden.

Photos by Tony Gieske.

Read and see more of Tony Gieske’s jazz essays and photos at his personal web site


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