The Dave Stoler Jazz Orchestra honors the legendary Thad Jones’ music in Madison

Pianist and jazz orchestra leader Dave Stoler. Photo by Bobbie Harte.

Dave Stoler Jazz Orchestra, Cafe Coda, 1224 Williamson St., Madison. Saturday, June 8, 8:30-11;15 p.m. Cover $20  608-630-9089

My bet is on the Dave Stoler Jazz Orchestra to show, and big time. I think they’ll have the horses and they sure will have the fodder, when they perform a concert of compositions by the great jazz brass player-composer, and arranger Thad Jones this Saturday at Cafe Coda, in Madison.

My stance derives primarily from my knowledge of the dedication with which pianist and bandleader Dave Stoler abides the modern jazz tradition. A former quarter-finalist in the Thelonious Monk Piano Competition, the ace veteran is esteemed as a classic jazz trio pianist, with the Tony Castaneda Latin Jazz Sextet, and as co-leader of the large-group Steely Dan dedication band, Steely Dane. His trio and quartet play in New York not infrequently. So his musical cred lines up perfectly to do this, an ambitious first time project for him.

Anyone who knows Stoler, or his frequent postings of beloved modern jazz recordings on Facebook, has some sense of his dedication. And that word brings me to a quintessential Jones tune “Dedication,” which he and co-bandleader Mel Lewis recorded with their orchestra, on the great 1970 Blue Note album Consummation. “Dedication,” which Stoler’s orchestra will perform, is a fairly sublime piece actually somewhat reminiscent of Gil Evans, which brings me to an interesting point of mutable comparison and contrast. Madison has also recently provided us with another brilliant big band dedicated deeply to the Gil Evans tradition by way of Maria Schneider, that being the Paul Dietrich Jazz Ensemble.

Dave Stoler’s Jazz Orchestra will do music from this classic Thad Jones-Mel Lewis recording, among other Jones tunes, on Saturday at Cafe Coda,

The Thad Jones-Mel Lewis Orchestra wasn’t as impressionistic as the original Evans-Schneider style. And in that sense, Thad came more from an older jazz lineage just as did Evans.

To somewhat simplify, if Gil Evans’ sensibility and style draws from the deep coloristic well of the Duke Ellington Orchestra, the original Jones and Lewis orchestra was ultimately more of a swinging machine, but in the finest sense of the word, as in the glorious Count Basie Orchestra.

Of course, the swing era of prime Ellington and Basie way back in the day. The Jones and Lewis aggregate was thoroughly modern and perhaps the most acclaimed jazz orchestra during their heydays in the ’70s and ’80s, when they performed legendarily Mondays at the Village Vanguard in New York. They could really “do it all” musically speaking, which often set their contemporaries in awe. To wit, Stoler’s Thad Jones project has a little magic in store, he says, with two French horns in the ensemble. The horn is a relatively rare jazz orchestra instrument that Jones’ arrangements handled with aplomb.

Actually, one could argue that Gil Evans gradually picked up on Jones and Lewis, as he became funkier in his later years, one of the latter ensemble’s many vibrant traits.

Speaking of Madison ties, The Jones-Lewis orchestra’s primary bass player was none other than Madison legend Richard Davis, now largely retired but still active (but not in this event).

So who’s to say if the spirit of that now-departed Thad and Mel orchestra doesn’t come visiting their old band mate in Madison once in a while, enough for orchestra-whisperer Dave Stoler to one day pick up on it and run with it. As I said, I’m betting on this band to show, and then some.




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