The concert by drummer Robbie Scott and the New Deal Swing Band at Montgomery College yesterday afternoon was devoted to works by Duke Ellington and other jazz giants. But more importantly, it was a fitting and well-deserved tribute to pianist, arranger, band leader and educator Bill Potts, who recently retired after 16 years on the college's music faculty.
Although Scott's 10-piece group sounded a bit anemic compared with the thunder Potts's big band has produced at Blues Alley over the years, the difference was a function of size, not talent. Indeed, during the opening set, the ensemble compensated for its limited manpower by having members of the reed section play as many as four instruments. The flexibility proved invaluable on the Ellingtonia, which ranged from the jungle rhythms of "Ko-Ko" to a gorgeous soprano sax and clarinet reading of "Come Sunday." Relying on plungers to create a wide assortment of vocal effects, the brass section was similarly resourceful, while Scott and the rest of the rhythm section propelled both conventional and Afro-Cuban swing tunes with power and subtlety.
Following the intermission, Potts received a plaque and gift from college President Robert E. Parilla, then sat back and listened as the band performed a series of his own vibrant arrangements.