Monday, January 14, 2013

Faculty Post - Jim Oatts' Jazz Renaissance

Jazz Renaissance



During the second week of October I was invited to take part in a five day festival in Los Angeles. The L.A. Jazz Institute presented eighteen concerts by musicians that had been members of the "touring Big Bands" during the 1970's. I toured and recorded during that time with several bands that included the Stan Kenton Orchestra, Woody Herman Jazz Orchestra, and the "Jazz/Rock" band "Chase". They were experiences that I have not forgotten. A number of the musicians that I traveled with were also participating and we had a marvelous time performing and "catching up" during the gruelling schedule.

My first concert was with the alumni of Woody Herman. Some of the finest jazz musicians in the music world. When I was thirteen years old my father took me to the Val Air Ballroom in West Des Moines the hear this band. It was a revelation to me and I remember that it was that evening I decided, "that's what I want to do with my life". To have the experience later in life to play with this orchestra was a dream come true. Two of my favorite trumpet players that were on stage that night also played the concert in L.A. They were Bobby Shew and Don Rader.

The second concert was the music of Stan Kenton. I toured and recorded with the orchestra in 1975. They flew me to Chicago the join the band and we performed sixty-five straight concerts of "one nighters". Some of the alumni included: Peter Erskine, Mike Vax, Carl Saunders, and Jay Sollenberger.

I was in charge of bringing together the group "Chase". Bill Chase created this band in Las Vegas and it was very popular until half of the band were killed in a terrible plane crash in 1974. The band ended and never performed again until we did a reunion concert in Minneapolis in 2007. You might remember the first "hit", Get it On. Since 2007 the band has performed in Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, and St. Paul.

Another concert that I played on was the music of Louie Bellson. Louie was one of the finest drummers and his band featured many of L.A.'s great jazz players. Other well known bands of the 1970's that performed included Buddy Rich, Maynard Ferguson, Bill Watrous, The Tonight Show Band, Don Ellis, and Gil Evans.

In closing, my formal music education came from my father and the outstanding experiences in college. However, my involvement with these professional organizations gave me an insight to the real music world outside of academia. Being fortunate to learn and play with some of the finest people at their craft was invaluable. Experiences such as these have unfortunately dwindled, making the ability to sustain a musical and financial future more difficult. Good luck to all of you as you hone your musical skills and talent.

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