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AJO finishes show with (a swing-shuffle) bang
Sunday, 03 February 2019 20:57

BLACK MOUNTAIN — The Asheville Jazz Orchestra closed its sizzling Jan. 5 concert with Miles Davis’ “1954 jazz standard “Four,” triggering a standing ovation and a demand for an encore from the audience.

While the AJO performed “Four” as an instrumental, a little research — later — on the meaning of the song’s title revealed that that it also has lyrics that tell of the four “wonderful things you get out of life” — truth, honor, happiness and love.

As the crowd continued to applaud and cheer the spirited performance of “Four,” band leader, composer and trombinist extraordinaire Dave Wilken said the AJO, which never left the stage, would play “one more” as an encore — Woody Herman’s great medium swing chart on the Mercer Ellington 1942 classic swing-shuffle, “Things Ain’t What They Used to Be.” 

The catchy instrumental, with a superb arrangement, prompted another standing ovation, but the house lights were turned up, indicating the show had concluded.

The show, which drew about 140 people, was split into two 50-minute sets with a 20-minute intermission.

The 17-piece AJO performed many big-band and progressive jazz standards, as was as several original compositions by Wilken and one by pianist Richard Shulman.

A show highlight (as usual,) was the stellar performance by AJO vocalist Wendy Jones, who sang two songs during each set — way too few for such a rare talent. At least two members of the audience shared a similar view with a Daily Planet reviewer.

In introducing Jones, Wilken prompted laughter when he joked that she had been performing as the AJO’s featured vocalist for a long time, seemingly “since she’s been in diapers.”

During the first set, Jones sang the 1993 Diana Krall version of Nat King Cole’s “Frim Fram Sauce” and the Count Basie Orchestra’s 1955 jazz standard “Until I Met You.” 

In the second set, she sang the 1920 Fred E. Ahlert classic (with lyrics by Roy Turk) “Mean to Me” and Nat King Cole’s 1959 smash, “Avalon.”

Prior to singing the naughty “Frim Fram Sauce,” Jones noted that jazz song lyrics, such as to that particular song, sometimes have been interpreted — or misinterpreted — as being risque, prompting efforts to censor them from the public airwaves.

For instance, she noted that “Cole Porter’s 1928 classic ‘Let’s Do It’ was regarded as so rique that some radio stations” refused to play it.

In addition to being the featured vocalist with the AJO, Jones has her own jazz quartet, and sings with the Michael Jefry Stevens Trio, The Steve Watson Trio, and the Richard Shulman Group.

Among the night’s memorable instrumentals were an original by Wilkens — decicated to Count Basie — “Almost Every Monday;”  the Glenn Miller Orchestra’s “Jeep Jockey Jump” and the Count Basie Orchestra’s “Basie Straight Ahead.”

Founded in 2006, the AJO “has evolved into Western North Carolina’s hardest swinging band,” the Black Mountain News noted in a recent artcile.

Under the direction of Wilken, the AJO’s mission is to preserve and advance America’s big band jazz tradition.

The orchastra plays music ranging from the canon of swing-era greats like Duke Ellington, Count Basie and Benny Goodman, but also make forays into more progressive works by Stan Kenton, Thad Jones and Gordon Goodwin. The AJO also makes a point of expanding the swing repertoire by programming freshly composed and arranged pieces, many by bandleader Wilken. 

“The players in the AJO are drawn from the ranks of the best jazz artists in the area,” the BMN noted, “some of whom have spent time in latter-day incarnations of legendary big bands.”

By JOHN NORTH, Daily Planet



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