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Passing on the musical torch

Erik Hughes performs at the 2011 Monterey Jazz Festival with the USC Thornton Jazz Orchestra. (Photo/Carla Mintzer)

The Bob Mintzer Big Band on Nov. 30 will celebrate Count Basie, one of the most influential bandleaders in jazz history. Led by noted saxophonist and bandleader Bob Mintzer of the USC Thornton School of Music, who won a Grammy in 2002 for the band’s album Homage to Count Basie, the one-night performance will revisit the award-winning album.

Erik Hughes, a senior at USC Thornton, is set to play in the trombone section that night. It’s one of many gigs that have been offered to him as a student at USC.

“It’s been almost like an avalanche,” Hughes said. “It started when my teacher, Bill Watrous, recommended me to Bill Hollman, a legendary big band arranger. I ended up playing with that band, and that’s how I sort of stepped into the real world a little bit.”

In addition to playing with Hollman, Hughes works regularly with a number of jazz ensembles in Los Angeles. This past summer, he traveled to Japan with Mintzer’s big band for eight sold-out shows in Tokyo. Last year, he was a featured soloist at the Monterey Jazz Festival with the USC Thornton Jazz Orchestra, the award-winning ensemble that Mintzer leads as chair of the jazz studies department and holder of the Bowen H. “Buzz” and Barbara M. McCoy Endowed Chair in Jazz at the school.

Hughes, who was a 19-year-old sophomore at USC Thornton when he got his first call from Hollman, is by far the youngest player in the band. Recently, a fellow student, drummer Jacob Reed, joined Hollman’s band after being recommended by faculty member Peter Erskine.

On the night of the Basie celebration, USC Thornton students Jacob Kraft, on bass trombone, and trumpeter Blake Martin will join Hughes in the horn section of Mintzer’s big band. Two alumni will also work with the band: trumpeter John Daversa and trombonist Vikram Devasthali. The rhythm section will consist of three USC Thornton faculty: pianist Russell Ferrante, bassist Edwin Livingston and drummer Erskine.

“I think it’s a compelling story that the big band features current and former students, as well as faculty, from the school’s jazz programs,” Mintzer said. “We are providing international exposure and supporting the argument against popular consensus that there is a thriving jazz scene here.”

A member of the Yellowjackets, the fusion powerhouse he joined in 1990, Mintzer is a renowned big band leader, arranger and composer who has been nominated for 13 Grammys.

“The jazz vocabulary is passed from older players to younger players,” Mintzer said. “It’s always been that way. It’s a great opportunity to work with USC students and faculty in an academic setting and then take it onto the stage. In the end, it’s all about playing the music with others.”

The Count Basie celebration is at 8 p.m. at Upstairs at Vitello’s Jazz and Supper Club (4349 Tujunga Ave., Studio City 91604). For tickets and more information, visit


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