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How a jazz festival should be staged: stars, planning, a sense of history

By Amy Duncan / March 31, 1981


With all the jazz festivals around, the Boston Globe Jazz Festival could be just another string of concerts. But imaginative planning and careful selection of talent has made it a fine example of such an event. After ten years, it is settling into its shoes and has become a regular part of the jazz scene.

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This year included one special evening that, judging by its success, should become a standby for all jazz festivals: a grand ball, complete with two big bands (in this case the Lionel Hampton and Widespread Depression Orchestras), harking back to the swing era.

The elegant ballroom of the Park Plaza Hotel provided the perfect atmosphere for the severla hundred dancers that kept the dance floor jammed until 1 a.m. Moans of disappointment issued from the crowd as Hamp's band pack up for the night.

Another unusual program was an afternoon of rare and vintage jazz film clips, collected and presented by David Chertok, who has more than 300 such films in his possession.

There were shorts of a youthful Nat Cole singing and playing piano on "Sweet Lorraine"; John Coltrane on TV with McCoy Tyner, Jimmy Garrison, and Elvin Jones in 1963; and jazz tap dancer Baby Laurence --the only known film of that legendary hoofer.

And an often neglected category provided one of the hottest concerts of the entire week: Jazz Latino night, with Mongo Santamaria and his band, and the Tito Puente Orchestra.

The rest of the festival was a happy balance of events and locations: everything from Dixieland to bebop at three different halls, each location geared to the type of performance, acoustically and otherwise. THe variety was good, although offerings from the avant-garde were noticeably absent.

The festival opener set a mood which carried right on through to the final event: Lionel Hampton in a noon concert with Phil Wilson and the Trombone Choir at Quincy Market, playing to a standing-room-only crowd. Hampton really outdid himself on his solos of riff tunes like "Perdido" and his theme "Flyin' Home," as well as the beautiful ballad "Midnight Sun."

But the clincher was the trombone ensemble, an impressive aggregation of soloists, expertly accompanied by a fine local rhythm section.

The rest of the festival had its ups and downs, with at least 80 percent on the up side. Especially fine performances were given by Chick Corea, Betty Carter, Tito Puente, and Mel Torme.

Santamaria's band had some great moments, but from the moment the Puente band struck up the first note until Tito's final thunderous timbale solo, the audience was hardpressed to stay in its seats. I couldn't help thinking: If only this band could have been in the ballroom, too! One hopes this concert will bring the point home: Let's have more Latin music in the jazz festivals.

And Corea, whose direction in the past few years has caused concern from fans who held his musicality in such high esteem, gave a flawless performance accompanied by some of the finest musicians around: Eddie gomez on bass, Steve Gadd on drums, and Michael Brecker on tenor sax, as well as trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie, who jumped in for the second half of the concert.

Making an about face from the bland offerings on some of his recent albums.Chick's performance was nothing short of spellbinding. It's a high-energy, free concept, moving in and out of swing, constantly changing, yet tight and cohesive, and solidly based in bop. you could feelm the high quality of this music.