August 2008 Convention
Kansas City, MO

Jazz Flute Big Band Reading Session

Ali Ryerson

When scores of flutists began filling the stage at 4:45 pm on Thursday afternoon in Pershing Hall, it was evident that attendance was going to far exceed expectations. By 5 pm, the stage was completely filled, with two and three flutists to a stand. The overflow was resigned to join the audience. The two charts I brought to the session were arranged for piccolo, C, alto, and bass flutes. The rhythm section—Mike Wofford on piano, Gerard Spaits on upright bass, and Tommy Ruskin on drums—were more than up to the task of backing this ensemble of both aspiring and professional jazz flutists, include Jim Walker, Greg Pattillo (the beatboxing flute player), and Horace Alexander Young. The first piece was, appropriately, “Miss Missouri,” from the Kansas City Suite by Count Basie. It was arranged by Kris Keith from Columbus, Ohio, who performed last summer with the NFA Jazz Flute Big Band. This was his second arrangement written for the band. It’s a blues, and a good one. The ensemble read the chart quite well. We then opened it up for improvised solos. Zachary Kellogg, 11, sat to the left of my conductor’s podium, playing first piccolo. He opted to take the first solo of the day and knocked our socks off! Thanks to Zach, we were off to a great start. Piccolo, C flute, alto, and bass flute solos filled the hour.

The second chart was an original titled “Oscar’s Steppin’ Out,” by Steve Rudolph. I had recorded this tune a while ago and thought it would make a great vehicle for the flute ensemble. It was a more challenging arrangement than the Basie chart, which allowed Walker, among others, to really shine.

Some fine jazz flutists I hadn’t heard before were featured. Holly Hofmann attended, but graciously gave up her chair to allow others the opportunity to play. She commented on how many good players she heard during the session. I think this all bodes well for the upcoming NFA Jazz Flute Big Band Competition next summer.

I didn’t have a chance to count the number of flutists on the stage. According to eyewitness reports, it was anywhere from 60 to 100 flutists! Thanks to the overwhelming response, a jazz big band reading session might become a biennial event in 2010. Thank you all for your overwhelming support. Jazz flute, your time has come!

Ali Ryerson Conducting the Jazz Flute Big Band Reading Session

—Ali Ryerson