August 2009 Convention
New York, NY

Jazz Flute Big Band in Concert (Benson)

Hubert Laws and Ali Ryerson

Hubert Laws and Ali Ryerson

The NFA Jazz Flute Big Band made a wonderful appearance on Saturday night at the convention. Conceived and conducted by Ali Ryerson, a fabulous jazz flutist in her own right, it is an idea that works! The Jazz Flute Big Band was unveiled at the Albuquerque convention two years ago, at the time made up of professional players from all over whom Ryerson invited to rehearse at the convention and give a performance to try out this new idea. This year’s band was made up of performers selected by taped competition; they met Wednesday through Saturday to rehearse and performed Saturday night. Their hard work paid off, much to the delight of the crowd that night. Ryerson’s conducting was aided by the great rhythm section of Mike Wofford on piano, Mary Ann McSweeney on bass, and drummer Alvester Garnett. Guest soloists were Lew Tabackin and Holly Hoffman with Bill Cunliffe on piano. What a treat to hear Tabackin up close on the Charlie Parker/Dizzy Gillespie tune “Anthropology.” Holly Hofmann was an absolute delight, and hearing her with Tabackin trading solos and riffs sent the crowd roaring.

As a special surprise, Hubert Laws sat in on two tunes; “Killer Joe,” by Benny Golson, backed by the Big Band, and “Stella by Starlight” with Ryerson and the rhythm section only, really special. Special solo turns were also taken throughout the night from within the Big Band, by Andrea Brachfeld, Jamie Baum, Dominique Gagne, and young’uns Zachary Kellogg, 12, and Rachel Rodgers, 14.

There were 30 winners and two alternates in this year’s Big Band competition. All of the solos were played inventively and solidly; the group really fit together well. They were also very supportive of each other. The juxtaposition of the Big Band and their famed four soloists was really wonderful—there was so much talent and depth in the room.

Ali Ryerson is mostly known to me as a wonderful jazz flutist in any setting, from a small combo to fronting a standard big band. But the work she puts into the Jazz Flute Big Band, from finding and preparing charts to conducting the group herself, as well as playing—she deserves major kudos from all of us at NFA. A great addition to our convention.

—Laurie Benson