This special concert edition of Riverwalk Jazz was recorded live at Frost Amphitheater on the campus of Stanford University one Sunday afternoon in July of 1999. It’s a rare concert performance as The Jim Cullum Jazz Band teams up with the San Jose Symphony Orchestra conducted by Michael Krajewski for the national radio premiere of Playing With Fire, an original work composed for traditional jazz band and symphony orchestra by bandleader Jim Cullum and noted composer Frank Ticheli.
It was a beautiful Sunday afternoon in July, a perfect day for an outdoor concert, as The Jim Cullum Jazz Band appeared before a crowd of some 5,000 parents and children at the 37th Annual Summer Symphony Concert Series at Stanford University near San Francisco. Inaugurated in 1960 with a performance led by the long-time conductor of the Boston Pops Orchestra Arthur Fiedler, this concert series in northern California is a benefit for the local Children’s Health Council; it has had a rich history of presenting America’s great artists, including Benny Goodman, the Duke Ellington Orchestra and Ella Fitzgerald.
Continuing in this grand tradition with The Jim Cullum Jazz Band in concert, it was a perfect day for picnics on the lawn, relaxing in the shade, and impromptu dancing by the six to ten-year-old set in front of the stage. The show got under way with Jim and the Band heating things up with “Freakish,” a tune originally composed by Jelly Roll Morton in 1929 as a solo piano piece, it is heard here in an original arrangement for seven-piece jazz band created by pianist John Sheridan.
The concert continues with two more selections often played by The Jim Cullum Jazz Band— “I’m Comin’ Virginia,” cited as a crowning achievement in the recorded output of Jazz Age cornet genius Bix Beiderbecke; and “One Step to Heaven,” a 1928 composition from the early Chicago jazz scene which bandleader Jim Cullum learned from the playing of guitarist Eddie Condon.
In 1993 Jim Cullum set out to write a new composition for jazz band and orchestra. He teamed up with the highly acclaimed composer Frank Ticheli and created Playing with Fire. The three-movement ‘through composed’ work incorporates strains reminiscent of jazz styles and blues themes from Spirituals to Swing. Each movement focuses on a different aspect of pre-World War II jazz genres.
“A La Bauduc” pays tribute to small ensemble jazz bands and Bob Crosby Bob Cats drummer Ray Bauduc with a special nod to his playing with bassist Bob Haggart on “Big Noise from Winnetka.” The second movement, “Shades of Blue,” explores 12-bar blues themes in Spirituals, Hymns and Jazz. The third movement, “Polyphonies and Riffs,” features a spectacular extended 20-chorus clarinet solo from Evan Christopher that brought the crowd to its feet.
The composers dedicate this work to their fathers—Frank Ticheli, Sr and Jim Cullum, Sr. Both men were passionate in their love for jazz, and they inspired their sons to make music their life’s work.
Photo credit for Home Page: Evan Christopher. Photo courtesy of the artist.
Text based on Riverwalk Jazz script by Margaret Moos Pick ©1996