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Jazz crusade 

by Mike Corrigan


It's helping to foster an appreciation for jazz in the Inland Northwest and beyond. It's instructional. And it swings. It's the EWU JAZZ DIALOGUE FESTIVAL 2001, and as you read this it's raging on the Eastern campus in Cheney. Joining more than 25 college, high school and middle school jazz bands, vocal ensembles, small groups and soloists in performance and instruction will be members of the Woody Herman Orchestra -- one of the most celebrated professional big bands in the country. The festival concludes on Saturday night with the orchestra's finale performance.


The annual festival, now in its third year, is a personal crusade for EWU's director of jazz studies, Rob Tapper. The purpose of the three-day festival of concerts and clinics is twofold. First and foremost, the event gives local jazz students a rare opportunity to get one-on-one instruction directly from seasoned, working musicians. But second, and by no means insignificantly, the guest performances by top national bands give local jazz fans something to cheer about.


"What we're trying to do from a purely musical standpoint," Tapper explains, "is give people an opportunity to come out and hear some real world-class jazz. This is the third year for the festival, but it's the first time we've had the Woody Herman Orchestra. It was a big deal to get these guys. Huge."


Since the 1930s, the Woody Herman Orchestra has distinguished itself as one of the most popular and innovative big bands in jazz. Herman (on clarinet and sax) led the orchestra right up until his death in 1987 and personally chose current bandleader Frank Tiberi as his replacement. Though Herman was confident with his decision, Tiberi himself, though obviously honored, continually emphasizes that the real leader of the band "will always be Woody Herman."


Says Tapper: "As far as the Woody Herman band itself, there's only about maybe a half a dozen of the group bands still playing, like the Count Basie band and the Glenn Miller band, Tommy Dorsey band. Obviously, all of the original leaders of all those bands have passed away. The Woody Herman band has always been known for its soloists. And it remains a group that has just killer players. And I think everyone will see that when they play here. When I saw them about two years ago, it was in New Orleans, and they did a whole retrospective of their history -- 50 years of what they've been doing. From 'Caldonia' and 'Lemon Drop' to some of the more modern things they did in the '80s to the stuff they're doing now."


Herman began his career in the swing era but soon became notable for his willingness to keep his band's repertoire modern. And so the orchestra evolved as the music evolved, growing with the history of jazz.


"They never stopped, didn't just keep playing swing-era stuff," says Tapper. "They started there and then they moved on. When be-bop hit in the '60s, they were playing be-bop tunes, and when the rock fusion-y things started happening in the '70s, they were playing those tunes. It's the history of jazz with one group. There were a lot of people that kind of stayed the same, but it's rare to find an ensemble that keeps going and keeps growing."


Herman was also famous for encouraging and bringing on young talent. In that respect as well, the current version of the orchestra carries on the tradition.


"The current band is composed of people who are either teaching right now or who are really into teaching," Tapper says. "So all the guys that are involved, every guy in the band is going to be doing something in an educational set up here. The road manager said to me, 'Why don't we just have everyone involved?' Wow. Yeah, I mean, twist my arm, man, that's cool."





The Woody Herman Orchestra plays at EWU's Showalter Auditorium on Saturday, Nov. 17, at 8 pm. Tickets: $14-$18. Call 325-SEAT.





The Good "Fat" -- Admit it. The blues scene in this city is pretty damn good. We've got the electric rockabilly roots blues of Too Slim and the Taildraggers, the rugged, acoustic delta blues of Paul Brasch, the gritty rocking blues of the Cannon Hill and the Hendrix-inspired hot licks of Aaron Richner and the Blues Drivers. So how does a blues guitarist living in a tiny Idaho town fit into all that? Easy.


DAVID WALSH is clearly in the same league as the best blues professionals in the region. A San Francisco native, he was trained in London and played guitar in musicals. He's recorded a solo CD of jazz and classical guitar. But he found his calling in New Orleans where the blend of Caribbean, Afro-Cuban and Louisiana-style music opened the stained glass doors of hybrid blues in his brain. With his band the Painkillers, Walsh produced an album, Prescriptions for Life, that is an incredible blend of blues, reggae, jazz and rockabilly. Walsh is an extremely gifted musician who personally handled the album's vocals, bass, percussion, harmonica and wicked guitar. And somehow, he manages to make it all sound easy.


But aside from playing blues festivals in the summertime, Walsh (known on stage as "Phat Baby Dave") and the Painkillers are fairly inconspicuous, although they are on tap at the Wine Cellar in Coeur d'Alene this Friday and Saturday night. Based in Sandpoint, the band mostly plays small local venues around Coeur d'Alene. And, as you can imagine, it's been difficult for them to get attention. But Walsh, with his pleasant and outgoing personality, doesn't let that stop him.


"I don't get discouraged," he says. "Because I know that every time I walk into a room, I have the capacity to change people's disposition. I can either affect them positively or negatively and I realize that it's contagious. Your attitude, your enthusiasm and your level of commitment to what you're doing is infectious. And that's the good kind of infection." -- Kari Tucker





Phat Baby Dave and The Painkillers play at the Wine Cellar Friday and Saturday night, Nov. 16-17, at 8 pm. No cover.


Call: 208-664-WINE.
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