Hot horns

Russ Tarby 07/30/09More articles
mags is on the left, Stockham the right - in a cutting contest - at the NE Jazz and Wine Festival.
Magnarelli and Stockham create special moment at NE Jazz & Wine Fest

It was like an old-fashioned cutting contest.

At twilight-time Friday at the Northeast Jazz & Wine Festival in Clinton Square, bandleader Bret Zvacek conducted his 17-piece CNY Jazz Orchestra through a half dozen modern charts. The tunes included his own moody “The Mad Land,” Rick Montalbano’s “Hip, Not Hop,” and Maynard Ferguson’s “Frame for the Blues” featuring festival artist-in-residence Joe Magnarelli on trumpet.

Those performances were plenty hot, but then Zvacek turned the heat up past a hundred.

He invited CNYJO brassman Jeff Stockham to join Joe Mags at the front of the American Express Main Stage for a friendly session of dueling horns on “Status Quo,” a chart by the late CNYJO director Calvin Custer which he wrote based on rhythm changes.

The result was a magical musical moment in which each of these extraordinary horn players improvised imaginatively over the solid comping of the orchestra. Stockham soared into the high register while Magnarelli mastered the mid-ranges. Both brassmen brought a barrelful of emotion to the task at hand and were rewarded by a well-deserved ovation from the crowd of 3,000.

Though Syracuse-born Magnarelli relocated to New York City 23 years ago, Stockham, a Western New York native, has settled in this city where he plays with no less than a half-dozen of the region’s best bands.

Both Magnarelli and Stockham have toured the world. Magnarelli played countless road gigs with the Lionel Hampton Orchestra, the Toshiko Akiyoshi Orchestra, Harry Connick Jr. and John Pizzarelli. Stockham has toured with the Monk on Monk big band, bluesman Jimmy Johnson and with his own Civil War-era septet, the Excelsior Cornet Band.
Magnarelli’s newest disc is Persistence, on the Reservoir Jazz label, and Stockham’s most recent recordings were with the CNYJO on its debut disc, Then, Now and Again.

Though it rarely draws the huge 10,000-plus crowds that routinely turn out for the Syracuse Jazz Fest or the NYS Blues Festival, the Northeast Jazz & Wine Festival (formerly Jazz in the Square) consistently draws several thousand folks downtown for three days during which they sample an amazing array of jazz acts at four smaller venues in Clinton and Hanover squares along with the main stage.

A Michael Jackson tribute by New Orleans’ saxman Donald Harrison was one of the main stage’s memorable moments as was his nod to the Mardi Gras Indians, “Hey Pockey Way.”
Philly singer Nicole Henry displayed an enthusiastic reverence for her forebears as she sang “I’d Rather Drink Muddy Water,” a rousing blues popularized in the early-1930s by pianist Eddie Miller and vocalist Willie Mae McKenzie.

Even the smaller venues simmered as Salsa Son Timba had dancers swirling inside the Unimar World Beat Pavilion Saturday, and the Jon Seiger Quartet swung outrageously in the Mardi Gras Pavilion.

Seiger, who specializes in music by Louis Armstrong, often plays both trumpet and keyboard simultaneously as he fronts a combo featuring clarinetist Ron Joseph, drummer Mark Shiner and bassist Lynn Eberhardt. The quartet rocked the Mardi Gras tent with tunes such

as “Caledonia,” “Minnie the Moocher” and “Shake that Thing.”

Earlier Saturday afternoon at Eagle Newspapers’ “Battle of the Community Jazz Bands,” Resonance 7 made its debut with a fine set of fusion featuring farther-and-daughter saxophonists David and Lauren Rich on tenor and alto respectively.

Then The Rhythm-Airs, together for 33 years, played an all-uptempo set of swing under the direction of trumpeter Maureen Clum. Pianist Mimi Osmun rose from the bench to sing a Satchmo-like “Hello Dolly” while Clum and clarinetist Danny Brisk blew the familiar melody.

The Jazz Kats, a 1-year-old 18-piece orchestra primarily from Oswego County also electrified Saturday afternoon’s audience starting with Dizzy Gillespie’s “A Night in Tunisia” and ending with Blood, Sweat & Tears’ “Lighthouse.” Syracuse showgal Mo Harrington joined the Kats to sing “Orange-Colored Sky” and “Just the Way You are Tonight.”

Cutting contests
Although “cutting contests” first became popular as musical battles between ragtime pianists, they evolved into onstage contests between all sorts of instrumentalists.

Margaret Moos Pick, executive producer of NPR’s Riverwalk, Live from the Landing, summarizes it this way:

“Trumpet kings were royalty in the early days of New Orleans jazz. They won their crowns in ‘battles of the bands.’ Lines were drawn at Storyville clubs, at open-air dance halls — and playing from the backs of horse-drawn wagons in the streets. Whoever blew the hottest trumpet wore the crown. Friendly, and sometimes not-so-friendly competition, or ‘cutting contests’ among musicians and bands were a revered tradition in the early days of jazz in New Orleans."

TAGS: onstage contests,instrumentalists,cutting contests,Margaret Moos Pick,Trumpet kings,Magnarelli,Stockham, NE Jazz & Wine Fest,
EDITION: The Eagle

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