Blue Wisp Big Band at U of L's Jazz Week

By Todd Hildreth

Jazz Week '95's first performance featured the internationally known Wynton Marsalis. This year's Jazz Week started with the Blue Wisp Big Band from Cincinnati. Were the jazz fans disappointed? I don't think so.

The Blue Wisp Big Band has been playing together at the Blue Wisp in Cincinnati for 16 years. They've had a lot of time to get their sound together, and it shows. The band is tight, and this evening they focused mainly on arrangements from local writers. The arrangements were well written, and played with respect.

The ensemble featured several soloists, and there was not a weak link in the bunch. Particularly enjoyable was drummer John Von Ohlen. His playing propelled the group through ensemble sections as well as solos — never overpowering, never overpowered.

Pianist Steve Schmidt never tries to woo the audience with flash; his forte is swinging thoughtful lines. When he does unleash the fireworks, it's always in the right place. His solo introduction to "Take the 'A' Train" was a masterful weaving of contemporary harmonies and barrelhouse blues.

Check out the Blue Wisp Big Band in Cincy sometime; it's not too bad a drive. And if you didn't get to see something during Jazz Week '96, don't miss it next year.

In addition to the Blue Wisp Big Band concert on Feb. l9, other concerts scheduled nightly through Feb. 24 included U 0fL's Jazz Ensemble I and Ill with John Hart & Chris Potter; Hal Miller; Jazz Ensemble II and Jazz Vocal Ensemble; Ant Farmer Quartet; Benny Golson with the U of L Jazz Ensemble, and the Harry Pickens Trio.

Jazz Week '96 was presented by the U of L School of Music.