Jazz at Carnegie Recital Hall? In the past, there's been plenty of jazz in the main hall. But when the Hamiet Bluiett Quartet kicked off an eight-concert series here in this newly refurbished Recital Hall, it was a first.
The importance of this event hasn't yet hit the jazz community, but it's bound to before long. After years of playing in lofts, trying to break into the major jazz clubs, or not playing much of anywhere, the cream of the experimental jazz crop has finally found a venue. True, it is at this point a limited venue, but it's a prestigious one, and it's a start - a very promising start.
Commenting on the new series, Seymour Rosen, the Carnegie Hall artistic director, says that ''with a seating capacity of 283, Carnegie Recital Hall is a perfect forum for music that is interesting to a smaller or more specialized audience, and deserves to be heard.'' Until now, that music has fallen mostly into the classical category.
The complete series includes 48 concerts, a number of which will focus on contemporary classical music, ethnic music, and the avant-garde. In addition to the concerts themselves, a series of lecture-demonstrations entitled ''Highlights of Jazz'' and ''Inside Classical Music'' are being given. The jazz lecture series began the night of the Bluiett concert with a talk on jazz history by pianist-jazz educator Billy Taylor. Future lecturers include jazz historian Martin Williams, composer-conductor Gunther Schuller, and tenor saxophonist Archie Shepp.
The Bluiett performance was a kind of revelation. The hall was filled, and it didn't seem to be a jazz audience. Even that was encouraging in a way, since one of the goals of the series is to find new audiences for the music. And if the opening concert was any indication, the Carnegie Hall jazz series is already a great success: Bluiett was very well received, and his cheering admirers demanded two encores.
Baritone saxophonist Bluiett played with a quartet consisting of Don Pullen on piano, Fred Hopkins on bass, and ''Smitty'' Smith on drums. The program announced, in typical classical fashion, ''Works by Hamiet Bluiett'' entitled ''To the Future'' (Score I) and ''To the Future'' (Score II). It all sounded very lofty indeed. What Bluiett and his men actually played was a series of improvised vignettes (with a couple of written pieces thrown in), ranging from down-home gospel blues to cacophonic train-wreck free-bag, with everything imaginable in between.
The slightly stiff atmosphere of the hall seemed to set the tone of the first part of the program, but it wasn't long before Bluiett, with great wit and a good deal of dramatic flair, had everybody completely relaxed. At one point, during a ballad, he stopped playing in the middle of a phrase and said, ''Wait a minute, wait a minute,'' while he changed the reed on his horn and chatted casually to his incredulous audience.
The music itself sometimes had a broad and sweeping feel, and other times was furiously intense. Yet it all sounded smooth and connected, despite the many tempo and mood changes. The four musicians were tuned in to one another, and it was clear they were enjoying themselves. Pianist Pullen played clusters as if they were single notes, using a kind of wrist-rolling technique. His solos built to shattering climaxes. Hopkins was economical, sensitive. And Smith, the newest and youngest member of the group, showed himself to be a natural for this music. In the second half of the concert he took a very funny solo, using a kazoo to give the effect of a pesky buzzing fly and his drumsticks as flyswatters - proving that even the avant-garde can benefit from a little comic relief!
Future concerts in the jazz series are:
John Carter, clarinet, with string bass and four winds, Oct. 10.
Henry Threadgill, bass flute, with a string quartet, Nov. 12.
James Newton, solo flute, Dec. 3.
Dewey Redman, saxophones, clarinet, with piano, bass, drums, Jan. 21.
David Murray, saxophones, bass clarinet, with string section, Feb. 4.
Cecil McBee, string bass, March 10.
Chico Freeman, saxophones and other reeds, May 5.