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Concert honors jazz legends, celebrates Black History Month

Concert honors jazz legends, celebrates Black History Month

February 12, 2004|by KATE COLEMAN

It is fitting that two legends of jazz - Frank Foster and Mel Wanzo - will be in Shepherdstown, W.Va., Wednesday, Feb. 18, for the second annual Black History Month Jazz Heritage Concert sponsored by Eastern Management Development Center.

Their heritage is rich in the genre.

This year is the centennial of Count Basie's birth, says Todd Bolton, who put the musical program together.

Saxophonist Foster played with the Count Basie Orchestra for 14 years beginning in 1953, and, after Basie's death in 1984, he returned to serve as the band's musical director from 1986 to 1995.

Wanzo was lead trombonist with the Count Basie Orchestra from 1969 to 1980 and 1984 to 1996.

Jazz was a breath of fresh air in the world of music, says Bolton, for whom jazz is a passion. Jazz is truly American and has been embraced by the world, he says.


Bolton has a day job as branch chief of visitor services at Harpers Ferry National Historical Park in Harpers Ferry, W.Va. He volunteers with the Western Maryland Blues Fest and has helped out at Mountain Green concerts, but jazz is Bolton's musical passion.

Besides Bolton's appreciation, jazz has other connections in West Virginia's Eastern Panhandle.

Don Redman, who is known as the first great arranger in jazz history, was a 1920 graduate of Storer College. Storer, one of the first schools founded to educate freed slaves after the Civil War, flourished for almost 90 years. The campus is preserved as part of Harpers Ferry National Historical Park.

Last year, Bolton helped to arrange for the park's Redman exhibit to be displayed during Black History Month at the Eastern Management Development Center, an executive and management residential training facility for government leaders. He arranged last year's jazz concert, and he's done it again.

The 7:30 p.m. concert at the Clarion Inn will feature the 17-piece All Star Band, put together by saxman and flutist Howard Burns. The Shepherds-town audience won't hear Foster's legendary saxophone playing. The 75-year-old resident of Chesapeake, Va., says he hasn't played since a stroke a couple of years ago.

But it will be his music - his compositions and arrangements - that will be performed.

"It's all Foster charts," Bolton says.

Burns first met Foster several years ago when the Count Basie Orchestra played in Frederick, Md., and they've stayed in touch. Burns, who grew up in Baltimore, attended Howard University in Washington, D.C., graduated from the Royal Conservatory of Music in Brussels, Belgium, and teaches at Frederick Community College.

Foster is a wonderful guy, Burns says. The composer/arranger sent Burns the charts for the evening in Shepherdstown, his trademark "Shiny Stockings" among the pieces on the program.

Burns is honored to have the opportunity to play Foster's music in his presence and with Wanzo in the band.

"That's the actual learning," Burns says. It's not like reading a book.

"You get to meet these guys. That is college - the University of Count Basie," he says.

Frank Foster doesn't mind being held in high esteem.

"I feel pretty good about it," he says. He says he's honored to be included in the company of Joe Wilder and Claude Williams, groundbreaking musicians and big band veterans who played at the first Jazz Heritage Concert in Shepherdstown last year.

For his part, Wanzo is looking forward to seeing Foster. They were together last spring when Foster was in Detroit for a youth symphony concert.

Wanzo, 73, calls Foster "one of the heroes." He says he's honored to be involved with something with his friend.

"I love Frank's writing," Wanzo says. "It's very earthy, very hip. He writes for everybody. It reaches all the people."

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