How To Play Tribute To Benny Goodman, And Make For A Perfect Summer Evening

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Ross Wooldridge and His Sextet Shows How It’s Done at Music at Fieldcote, Sunday July 8

Everything was right, musically speaking, at the Fieldcote Museum Bandshell in Ancaster. The volume, the blend of instruments, the beautiful singer, the swing style, the solos, the place and the time were spot on. With all the pieces in place, the audience travelled back in time 70 years, and may as well have been listening to Benny Goodman himself. Ross Wooldridge and his Benny Goodman Tribute ensemble made it all happen. The July 8 concert was a special encore performance to mark the release of Wooldridge’s first CD, recorded here in July 2010.
Ross Wooldridge
Ross Wooldridge, a Hamilton native and graduate of Mohawk College’s Applied Music program, has recently relocated to the Hamilton area (Brantford) after years working the Toronto music scene. The Fieldcote audience happily enjoyed the benefits of Wooldridge’s years of experience and natural talent.
Eight-hundred people filled the grassy slopes in front of the bandshell and hung on every selection Wooldridge performed. Surprise guest vocalist Alex Pangman, “Canada’s sweetheart of swing,” joined the group for several selections to enrich the musical experience. “Although Benny Goodman didn’t often use vocalists with his small groups, there were enough such occasions that it didn’t detract from the authenticity of the tribute,” Wooldridge explained.
Alex Pangman is a treasure. Her presence added even more substance to the show, so that the audience’s cup was not just filled, but overflowing. Dressed in a spiffy black and white polka dot dress, wide brimmed hat and sunglasses, her snowy complexion and up-done red hair made it easy to complete the time travel experience. As she sang we were taken back to an imaginary summer dance hall, circa 1940, where her presence as the live performer would have been up close and personal, and she would have electrified the room.
Alex Pangman
Pangman’s latest CD, 33, was released to great acclaim in April of this year, and displays her love and authentic performance of swing era songs, all from the year 1933. It was clear from the moment she took the stage that the audience was charmed.
In his tribute, Wooldridge was careful to follow the arranging style of Goodman, and he also ensured that he hired musicians who would be capable of achieving the true swing style.
Wooldridge selected widely from different periods of Goodman’s works and drew repertoire from various iterations of Goodman ensembles. After a generous program of twenty one selections, bolstered by Pangman’s vocals on several, the audience was satisfied and they showed it with a standing ovation.
The stellar tribute band consisted of Glenn Anderson, drums; Chris Banks, bass; Jesse Barksdale, guitar; Danny McErlain piano; Don Thompson, vibraphone.
Chris Banks, bass
Danny McErlain, piano
Don Thompson, vibraphone
Glenn Anderson, drums
Jesse Barksdale, guitar
Everyone took turns soloing, with Anderson saving his for the very up-tempo I Got Rhythm. Each sideman turned a nice riff on more than one occasion, and the rich improvisational vocabulary of each saved us from “solo monotony,” and kept everything fresh and to the point. Of course, watching Don Thompson (double Juno Award winner, Best Jazz Album) on the vibes is always a special treat. His casual stance in front of the instrument belies the fact that a fiery mallet attack is about to erupt at any moment! All five sidemen were sharp, making constant visual contact and easily trading riffs and feeding off of each other’s ideas.
Concert Highlights
Pangman’s theatrical stage presence was just right and not overdone. She performed the resurrected song A Hundred Years From Today beautifully, presenting it as if it were a special gift. “If we had millions what would they all mean, a hundred years from today?” A final chorus of just Wooldridge soloing with Barksdale chunk-chunkingalong added to the special treatment.
Wooldridge’s stage banter kept the ensemble focused and relaxed. The informal nature of the concert came through when a couple of little blip mistakes were shrugged off with a chuckle and a knowing glance from the leader.
Up tempo tunes Slipped Disk, Running Wild, After You’ve Gone, The World Is Waiting For The Sunrise, and I Got Rhythm kept everyone’s toes tapping. Flawless soli sections combining clarinet, vibes, guitar and piano kept coming, with the best example being the clarinet/vibe/guitar treatment of Flying Home.
The audience was completely on board with smiles, tapping toes and bobbing heads throughout. They had come for a treat and they were getting it. Two encores by the band and a third by Pangman were called for, and the audience took quite some time to disperse, making a scene at the CD sales booth afterward.
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The Benny Goodman
Tribute CD, by
Ross Wooldridge

Ross Wooldridge is one of Canada’s top talents on clarinet. His skills also encompass saxophone, piano, arranging and producing. Wooldridge was nominated five times as National Jazz Awards’ Clarinetist of the Year. With over two decades of diverse musical experience behind him leading a trio, a quartet, co-leading, together with Eddie Graf, the 14-piece Swing Era big band The Galaxy All-Star Orchestra, co-leading with Dan Douglas The Dixie Demons six-piece traditional jazz band, playing in Jeff Healey’s Jazz Wizards, and performing regularly with Terra Hazelton, Alex Pangman, and Alfie Zappacosta, Ross Wooldridge is making his mark in the world of Canadian jazz.

CD copies of Wooldridge’s Tribute to the Benny Goodman Sextet are available at the Silverbirch online store. http://silverbirchprod.com/store/proddetail.php?prod=1189
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Alex Pangman’s latest recording is on Justin Time Records out of Montreal, and is called simply “33” featuring songs popular in the year 1933.  It is available on iTunes, on the web and in stores (EMI distribution). An Amazon link is here http://astore.amazon.ca/greathamilmus-20/detail/B004PYHCWG
A new recording is due for next March featuring great players like Ross, and Bucky Pizzarelli.
RBG, July 27
Her next Hamilton show is “Jazz in July” at Royal Botanical Gardens with the Brott Music Festival.
Friday, July 27, 7:30pm, 680 Plains Rd W Burlington, ON.
Tickets, $30 regular/ $25 senior/ $10 student. Special group rates available.
Order by phone, 1-888-475-9377, or online at http://www.brottmusic.com/contact.shtml

For more information

– GB