Live Jazz: The Bob Mintzer Big Band at Vibrato

By Tony Gieske

From all the things I’d been hearing about the Bob Mintzer Big Band — a New York guy!  — a Yellowjacket! — I thought I should bring my mind-plugs to Vibrato Tuesday to keep my head from bursting.

The Bob Mintzer Big Band at Vibrato

But no! On first acquaintance, Mintzer turned out to have a gentle tenor saxophone voice and his charts were more like Claude Thornhill than Stan Kenton, not that there weren’t plenty of fortissimi. But the best of the charts — a slow blues that I think was called “Lester Swings Out” — did not include a lot of  intricate invention. Rather, it left plenty of room for the soloists.

Bob Mintzer and Keith Fiddmont

And they were awesome. Keith Fiddmont, who plays Charlie O’s regularly, was overflowing with intricate and irregular invention on his alto saxophone. But then so was another familiar Los Angeles bandstand figure, Bob Sheppard, on his rarely heard alto instrument.

I also liked the big band veteran Bruce Fowler, a Frank Zappa alumnus, on bass trombone, and the great bandleader and professor Dr.  John Daversa on trumpet, who started out twisted and got involuted.

Peter Erskine

The exceptionally versatile Peter Erskine played  drums with vigor and accuracy, dropping accents and guiding momentum as he read intently from the Mintzer score, and fellow Yellowjacket Russell Ferrante came out with some stone bebop when he soloed on piano.

Naturally, it was the individualism of the ad lib players that redeemed the industrialized writing from the pen of a writer who created a jazz version of Brian Wilson.

Welcome to L.A., Bob Mintzer.

Photos by Tony Gieske.  To read and see more of Tony’s essays and photos at his personal web site click HERE

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