Saturday, July 08, 2000

Army players add sizzle to Pops' big-band sounds

By Janelle Gelfand
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        “Swing is back — are ya in the mood?” crowed Cincinnati Pops conductor Erich Kunzel. Then the impressive sax section of the Jazz Ambassadors of the United States Army Field Band launched into the swing classic, “In the Mood.”

        With the help of the Jazz Ambassadors, Mr. Kunzel and the Pops took a sentimental journey back to the big-band sound of swing Friday night at Riverbend. Most of the program was devoted to the luxuriant sound made famous by arranger Nelson Riddle, and the tunes flowed by as smoothly as the Ohio River on this perfect summer evening.

        The Jazz Ambassadors (Chief Warrant Officer Freddie Vinson Jr., director) were arrayed, big-band-style in the center of the stage — leaving space for Lindy Hop dance champions Carla Heiney and Steven Bailey. The evening alternated between gently swaying tunes like “Sentimental Journey” — and Irving Berlin's “Let Yourself Go” — where the dancers turned on the electricity with athletic over-the-shoulder flips.

        Among their contributions, they provided a fleet-footed jitterbug to “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy of Company B,” with singers Brenda Hartman, Patricia Linhart and Laurie Wyant as “The Andrews Sisters.” But their most impressive moment came in “Get Happy,” when Ms. Heiney did a headstand on Mr. Bailey's shoulder, slithered down his back, and came back up through his legs.

        The 19-member Jazz Ambassadors play with precision and balance; when they go solo, one has an inkling of the talent in their ranks. Billy Strayhorn's “Take the "A' Train” ended with a jazzy solo sax and string bass. A high-energy “Well, Git It” climaxed in a screeching showdown between two trumpets.

        Mr. Vinson took the podium for a well-phrased “Let's Face the Music and Dance” and “You Made Me Love You.” The latter featured trumpet soloist Sgt. Maj. John Brye, who played with beautiful tone and style and an easy technique.

        The biggest hand from the crowd of 3,200 went to drummer Staff Sgt. Todd Harrison, who made virtuoso, bombastic contributions to “Sing Sing Sing.”

        Vocalist Michael Gough shone in suave ballades, such as “Unforgettable,” “Summer Wind” and “Nice 'n' Easy.”


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