Boston jazz festival makes room for outstanding local musicians

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When you think of jazz festivals, you usually think of the big stars. So it's a nice surprise when the local musicians at a festival turn out to be a really hot item. Such was the case at the opening night of the Boston Globe Jazz and Heritage Festival. It was a tribute to Jimmy Mosher, a Boston-based alto sax player who died last year, that brought 37 of Boston's most talented jazz musicians together that evening. The program, titled ``Mosher Exposure,'' was produced and hosted by Tony Cennamo, a popular Boston jazz disc jockey. Mosher was one of those rare players whose music moved everyone. His major influence was Charlie (Bird) Parker, which is probably why Mosher was nicknamed ``Sparrow'' - a lesser light than Parker, but a shining one.

And what a talented bunch showed up to pay him homage! Everyone there had been connected with Mosher in some way - either they'd played in a band with him, or written music for him.

The Festival Big Band opened with a Greg Hopkins original, ``This One's for Jimmy,'' reminiscent of Mosher's stint with the Buddy Rich band, and with a sweet solo by alto saxophonist Larry Monroe. Phil Wilson's ``Isn't It So Sad'' followed - a lovely, mournful ballad he had originally written for Mosher to play with Boston's top jazz orchestra, the Herb Pomeroy band.

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Trumpeter Paul Fontaine was most closely associated with Jimmy Mosher, as the two had co-led a big band for a number of years. Fontaine performed both with that band and with a quintet at the concert, displaying his broad-toned, oblique approach to his instrument.

Everyone who played at the tribute was a skilled, creative improviser, and there were too many exciting and satisfying moments to mention them all - from the strong alto playing of young Mark Pinto (who has taken Mosher's place in the Fontaine band) to the exquisite bass/guitar duet of Charlie La Chappelle and Mick Goodrick on Hopkins's ``Elegy for the Sparrow.''

But if one part of the program were to be singled out, it would be Hopkins's ambitious composition ``Pathways - Inner Voyage,'' a suite with classical overtones for woodwinds and rhythm section.

The next two nights of the festival were a complete contrast to the opener, and to each other.

First came the Big Band Ball at the Park Plaza Hotel - a nostalgia trip if there ever was one. It could easily have been 1940-something, and it made you wonder why the big band era ever ended.

Then came New Orleans blues night at the Orpheum Theater, with singer/pianist Dr. John, the Neville Brothers, and the headliners, the Fabulous Thunderbirds, who weren't particularly fabulous. In fact, the gutsy, funky Neville Brothers made them look downright pallid.

Stan Getz, Mel Torm'e, George Shearing, and the Modern Jazz Quartet with vocalist Dianne Reeves appeared the following nights. Festival events coming up: tonight, Lionel Hampton's 80th birthday party, featuring his orchestra and Carmen McCrae and her trio. Tomorrow, a St. Patrick's Day celebration with Irish musician/storytellers Patrick Ball and Patrick Sky. Friday, soul night with the O'Jays and vocalist Miki Howard. And Saturday, Latin night with Celia Cruz, Willie Colon, and Maria Maria.

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