Ten years ago, Al and Marilyn Cook brought jazz players to their home in Oro Valley for a night of jamming.
There were about 40 people on the patio.
From those "humble beginnings," the Cooks' annual Jazz Legends concerts got bigger, their patio smaller, and the Hilton El Conquistador's poolside venue ever more attractive. Last year, the ninth, there were 502 people around the pool, listening to the music of trumpet player and vocalist Byron Stripling, keyboardist Bobby Floyd and other stars of the art.
Stripling and Floyd are back for the 10th anniversary show, to be held Saturday, Oct. 24, poolside. They're joined by a new group of musicians in what Al Cook expects to be another superlative show.
Cook praises the players with lofty language — bass player James Leonard is "incredible," trombonist John Fedchock and drummer Dennis Mackrel "extraordinary." Tenor player Houston Person plays "the best ballads on earth."
Stripling and Floyd have already built local reputations. A year ago, Stripling, "one of the most extraordinary trumpeters," also sang, and brought in "a balanced group to go with a theme." Duke Ellington, Count Basie and the blues were performed in "a magic way. They held the audience in their hand." In particular, Floyd's 10-minute version of "Amazing Grace" a year ago won't be forgotten by those engulfed within it.
This year, it's "a different band, a different dynamic," Cook said. "Byron knows how to use all the talents of the people he brings."
That first player years ago was Abe Most, a "phenomenal" clarinetist with ties to Tommy Dorsey, Les Brown and 20th Century Fox. "He taught us a lot about this," Cook said. "He introduced us to many people we've had here." Most died several years ago. "We miss him a lot," Cook said.
The Cooks "began to learn the culture" of jazz music. Musicians like to come to Arizona. "Our reputation is very good," Cook said.
Of further value is the partnership with the University of Arizona, which has invited the jazz players to do master classes that same weekend. The university has "a real commitment to jazz, and to giving their students the very best experience, the best exposure to great players," Cook said. "It's a big plus."
Jazz Legends in Concert, Live 2009 is a fund-raiser for the Southern Arizona Arts and Cultural Alliance. "It's an exposure to terrific entertainment, and a fund-raiser," Cook said.
"We want to be sure that jazz has a voice in Oro Valley and the Northwest," Cook said. "This kind of event, because of the extraordinary quality of the professional musicians we've brought over the last 10 years, tends to show what a tremendous pool of great jazz players are still playing."
Cook gets a big kick out of it all. "I was most thrilled by jazz when I first heard it when I was 10 years old," he remembers. He never expected to assemble an annual jazz event in Southern Arizona. "It's a lot of fun."
And, he points out, "jazz is America's true music. It's America's gift to the world. It's very rewarding to see this happening here, but also to bring some excitement culturally and artistically to our town, it's great."
Jazz Legends in Concert, Live 2009
Byron Stripling, trumpet and vocals; Bobby Floyd, piano and organ; Houston Person, tenor saxophone; Jay Leonhart, upright bass; John Fedchock, trombone; Dennis Mackrel, drums.
Saturday, Oct. 24
Hilton Tucson El Conquistador Resort, poolside
Tickets — $25 for the lawn, $50 poolside reserved, $75 poolside with three-course dinner. Dinner at 5 p.m., concert at 6:30 p.m.
To reserve seats, contact Pat Deely at 797-3959, extension 9, or go online to www.saaca.org/events-jazzlegends.html