Jun 20, 2012 - Saxophonist Brian Gorrell Brings "Scene" To Jazz Depot


 Given its reputation as the best-known “sweet” (as opposed to “hot”) band from the Big Band Era, you might not expect the Lawrence Welk Orchestra to have been a hotbed of great jazz players. But good musicians take good gigs, and the Welk outfit, given its lasting impact and financial strength as a television and concert attraction, provided employment for some of the best.

            “There were a lot of world-class musicians associated with that organization,” says Brian Gorrell, who played piano in Branson, Mo, with the group in 1994 and ’95, only a couple of years after its founder’s death.  “One was a saxophonist named Jay Migliori, who had moved from L.A. to Branson to do the gig.  He was a founding member of a famous jazz group called Supersax, he’d played in thousands of sessions, and he’d worked with people as significant as Miles Davis and Charlie Parker. I was in my twenties, he was in his sixties, and he was a living encyclopedia of jazz history. He was a mentor of mine. He taught me as much about life as he did about music.”

            The same band featured Jay Daversa, a still-active trumpeter who toured with both Stan Kenton and Elvis Presley and played on hundreds of television and movie theme songs.

            “He grew up in Oklahoma and had a great career in L.A,” notes Gorrell. “For a number of years, he was a first-call West Coast trumpeter. If you remember The Gong Show in the ‘70s, he was the white guy with this Afro-looking hair, playing the trumpet. I found out that he was the brother-in-law of my teacher in the UCO jazz program,  [trombonist] Kent Kidwell. Both of them were big influences on me.”

            These days, Gorrell is doing the influencing himself, as the Director of Jazz Studies for the University of Central Oklahoma’s School of Music as well as a musician with credits ranging from Jim Nabors to Louis Bellson. Adept on both saxophone and keyboards, Gorrell will be playing the former when he takes the Jazz Depot stage Sunday with a group of musicians made up of UCO jazz program alumni. They include guitarist Mitch Bell, bassist Johnny Nelson, and drummer Justin Walke. (Bell is also the Coordinator of Academic Operations for Music Performance at UCO’s Academy of Contemporary Music.)

            “Mitch Bell is a remarkable guitarist, influenced by a lot of cutting-edge, very contemporary guitarists,” Gorrell says. “I’m also real excited to have Johnny Nelson, who plays a fretless electric bass and gets one of the most individualistic sounds that I’ve ever heard. He has a unique sound, a unique approach to playing. It’s soloistic -- a very unique voice.”

            Gorrell describes the Sunday concert as “mainstream jazz with a contemporary approach,” featuring some original compositions as well as more familiar offerings.

            “We haven’t put the set list together yet, but I’ve got an original tune called “Dorothy,” which I wrote for my grandmother, that I’m sure we’ll play,” he says. “Mitch has some original things, too. But it’ll be primarily jazz standards, tunes that jazz fans will find familiar, but may not have heard played like we play them.”

            A man described in his official biography as “passionate about music education,” Gorrell has played all over the world, observing the variety of jazz scenes he’s found. One thing he’s come away with is the idea that the local scenes have a lot to do with the population in any given area..

            “Manhattan has eight and a half million people on an island that’s 7 1/2 miles by two miles, and there are probably 80-85 jazz venues in New York,” he says. “I was just up there, and those places were going six nights a week, three or four shows a night, with lines out the door. In Oklahoma, we don’t have that population, but we have people who understand the value of the arts. They’re in the Oklahoma City area. They’re in the Tulsa area. They’re all over the state. The Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame plays a major role in building our music scene, thanks to their hard work, we have a vibrant jazz scene.”     

            Brian Gorrell and his group are set to begin Sunday at 5 p.m. at the Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame, located in downtown Tulsa’s Jazz Depot, 111 E. First St. Tickets for the event can be purchased at the Depot or by calling Bettie Downing at 918-281-8609. General admission is $15, reserved table seating $20. Seniors and Jazz Hall members are admitted for $10, and high school and junior high students for $5. Refreshments will be available for purchase.

            The show is part of the Jazz Hall’s 2012 Summer Concert Series.

            The Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame is a 501(c)(3) non-profit cultural and educational organization, with a mission to inspire creativity and improve the quality of life for all Oklahomans through preservation, education, and performance of jazz, our uniquely American art form.