Vanguard Jazz Orchestra legends talk music at MU

Tuesday, February 17, 2009 | 7:35 p.m. CST; updated 11:58 p.m. CST, Tuesday, February 17, 2009
Bob Brookmeyer, left, responds to questions posed by Dan Morgenstern, right, in Whitmore Recital Hall at MU on Tuesday. Brookmeyer, a composer and National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Master, was very candid with his responses to Morgenstern's questions and drew laughs from the intimate crowd on several occasions. Brookmeyer and the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra will perform Wednesday at the Missouri Theatre Center for the Arts.

Jazz Master Bob Brookmeyer talked proudly, all modesty aside, of his early days with the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra.

“We were the best in the world — individually and collectively. That’s how we felt,” Brookmeyer said with a grin, setting a light-hearted tone for the two educational forums.

The forums were a part of the “We Always Swing” Jazz Series, held Tuesday in the midst of the MU College of Arts and Science Week. It was a chance for jazz-lovers to prepare for the orchestra’s concert Wednesday at the Missouri Theatre Center for the Arts.

The first forum featured Brookmeyer alongside Dan Morgenstern, a fellow Jazz Master. A Jazz Master is someone who has received the top jazz honor in the U.S., according to the Web site of the National Endowment for the Arts, which runs the program. Morgenstern is also director of the Institute of Jazz Studies at Rutgers University in New Jersey. He turned what was supposed to be a one-on-one interview with Brookmeyer in to a casual conversation about their younger days.

When Morgenstern asked the legendary composer to explain his instrument of choice, he said that he “adored” and was inspired by the famous valve-trombonist Bill Harris, but joked that trombonists are often ignored.

“The valve trombone is the weak sister of the family. We don’t get invited to parties,” Brookmeyer said.

The second forum brought two members of the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra, director John Mosca and bass trombonist Douglas Purviance, in to the discussion

Mosca joined the orchestra in 1975 when he was 25 and, except for Brookmeyer, has been with the group the longest. He grew up in New York City and was familiar with the orchestra when it began playing at the famous Village Vanguard jazz club every Monday night. Although he was a teenager at the time, he said that he and his friends would figure out ways to see the group, then known as the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Orchestra.

“As soon as we figured out we could tell our parents one thing and do something else, we would be down at the club,” Mosca said.

Purviance, who was also 25 when he joined the group in 1978, made a “beeline for the Village Vanguard” as soon as he moved to New York City.

“When I walked into the Village Vanguard on Monday night, I felt like this was home … and I never felt that anywhere else,” Purviance said.

The majority of the audience was made up of students like Sarah Carney, a sophomore majoring in music performance at MU. She attended both forums for credit in her recital attendance class.

“Even if I weren’t getting credit, I’d still be here," Carney said.

Morgenstern ended each forum on a more serious note about the orchestra and Brookmeyer. He summed up the first forum with a quote from a 1975 interview in which Brookmeyer said, “You cannot have jazz music without three things: honesty, integrity and talent.”

 “And that is something that holds true with Bob Brookmeyer,” Morgenstern said as the audience applauded.

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