Carl Fontana and the Whitworth Jazz Band Saturday, Oct. 28, at the Cowles Auditorium
Trombones are the unsung and nearly forgotten heros of the jazz world.
As a mainstay of the big bands, their ripe, fruity sound balanced the trumpets’ gloss and warmed the cool of the saxophones. But with the advent of bebop and its emphasis on speed and precision, the trombone’s popularity waned.
Carl Fontana was one of the best of the big band trombone players, a veteran of the Stan Kenton, Woody Herman, Louis Bellson and Lionel Hampton orchestras.
Saturday, Fontana appeared with the Whitworth College Jazz Band and showed that despite a long period of semi-retirement, he’s still a remarkably powerful and inventive player.
Fontana articulates like J.J. Johnson - leading one to wonder if he couldn’t have made the transition to bebop - and his solos sing with the lyricism of a player who cut his chops on great songs.
Fontana wasted no time setting the stage: Following an excellent set by the Whitworth College Jazz Band, he opened his show with a mid-tempo samba rendition of “Body and Soul.”
There are lots of ways to play a standard, and Fontana wasn’t content with an ordinary one. He explored the quiet pockets of promise that a beautiful melody always implies, his horn burbling like brook water in the passionate parts and growing languorous in the quiet places.
He showed tremendous range in two songs played back-to-back: The romantic ballad “Emily” received a sorrowfully lyric solo, and then he blew through the changes in the bebop chestnut “Cherokee” like a man just discovering Dizzy.
And speaking of Dizzy, Dan Keberle, Whitworth’s director of jazz studies, joined Fontana for a blazing turn on “Cherokee.”
Keberle’s charges played impressively all evening. Senior sax man Matt Nelson took center stage for several top-notch solos - his oblique, floating work on a new ballad, “Widow’s Walk,” was especially noteworthy - while freshman Nathan Distelhorst on alto sax proved Keberle has some good young ones coming up. Drummer Matt Baldock got off a rousing round on “Meet Mr. Cooper and Sons.”
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