How a jazz festival should be staged: stars, planning, a sense of history
With all the jazz festivals around, the Boston Globe Jazz Festival could be just another string of concerts. But imaginative planning and careful selection of talent has made it a fine example of such an event. After ten years, it is settling into its shoes and has become a regular part of the jazz scene.
This year included one special evening that, judging by its success, should become a standby for all jazz festivals: a grand ball, complete with two big bands (in this case the Lionel Hampton and Widespread Depression Orchestras), harking back to the swing era.
The elegant ballroom of the Park Plaza Hotel provided the perfect atmosphere for the severla hundred dancers that kept the dance floor jammed until 1 a.m. Moans of disappointment issued from the crowd as Hamp's band pack up for the night.
Another unusual program was an afternoon of rare and vintage jazz film clips, collected and presented by David Chertok, who has more than 300 such films in his possession.
There were shorts of a youthful Nat Cole singing and playing piano on "Sweet Lorraine"; John Coltrane on TV with McCoy Tyner, Jimmy Garrison, and Elvin Jones in 1963; and jazz tap dancer Baby Laurence --the only known film of that legendary hoofer.
And an often neglected category provided one of the hottest concerts of the entire week: Jazz Latino night, with Mongo Santamaria and his band, and the Tito Puente Orchestra.
The rest of the festival was a happy balance of events and locations: everything from Dixieland to bebop at three different halls, each location geared to the type of performance, acoustically and otherwise. THe variety was good, although offerings from the avant-garde were noticeably absent.
The festival opener set a mood which carried right on through to the final event: Lionel Hampton in a noon concert with Phil Wilson and the Trombone Choir at Quincy Market, playing to a standing-room-only crowd. Hampton really outdid himself on his solos of riff tunes like "Perdido" and his theme "Flyin' Home," as well as the beautiful ballad "Midnight Sun."
But the clincher was the trombone ensemble, an impressive aggregation of soloists, expertly accompanied by a fine local rhythm section.
The rest of the festival had its ups and downs, with at least 80 percent on the up side. Especially fine performances were given by Chick Corea, Betty Carter, Tito Puente, and Mel Torme.
Santamaria's band had some great moments, but from the moment the Puente band struck up the first note until Tito's final thunderous timbale solo, the audience was hardpressed to stay in its seats. I couldn't help thinking: If only this band could have been in the ballroom, too! One hopes this concert will bring the point home: Let's have more Latin music in the jazz festivals.
And Corea, whose direction in the past few years has caused concern from fans who held his musicality in such high esteem, gave a flawless performance accompanied by some of the finest musicians around: Eddie gomez on bass, Steve Gadd on drums, and Michael Brecker on tenor sax, as well as trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie, who jumped in for the second half of the concert.
Making an about face from the bland offerings on some of his recent albums.Chick's performance was nothing short of spellbinding. It's a high-energy, free concept, moving in and out of swing, constantly changing, yet tight and cohesive, and solidly based in bop. you could feelm the high quality of this music.
It's hard to say enough about Chick's piano playing, for its wealth of ideas, sumptuousness of expression (he played one ad lib solo that was positively majestic), and technical mastery. Bassist Eddie Gomez was in his glory in this context, where he had the right accompaniment for his lickety-split, dancing staccato solos. And drummer Steve Gadd, the epitome of focus and concentration, is one of those rare percussionists who can play with the same intensity at any volume, and knows just when to jump on it and when to pull back.
Although the Toshiko Akiyoshi-Lew Tabackin Big band appearance had been canceled, replacements alto saxman Phil Woods and vocalist Betty Carter seemed to make up somewhat for that disappointment. Especially Betty Carter, who swooshed out onto the stage decked out in red ruffles, fairly burning with her own special brand of energy. Carter's recent (and long overdue) popularity was evident. The audience oohed, aahed, laughed, and squeaked with delight at every note, gesture, and facial expression of the wildly innovative Carter, as she lunged around the stage, taking those incredible chances with her voice, which don't always work -- but when they do, hold on to your socks!
Mel Torme is a veritable institution in the pop/jazz world, but sometimes there's a tendency to forget just what a great jazz singer he is. The final concert -- Mel and his trio, followed by Count Basie and his orchestra --proved that Torme is still a master of the idiom.Backed by a responsive and tasteful trio, Mel sang a gorgeous selection of tunes, including a chills-down-the-spine rendering of the rarely heard ballad "The Folks Who Live on the Hill," and Benny Golsom's great "Whisper Not."
The highlights of his set were an up-tempo "Pick Yourself Up" that concluded in a phenomenal fuguelike tour de force between himself and pianist Mike Renzi, and "Love For Sale," that had Mel doing some of the finest, hippest, and funniest scat singing ever. One only wished that the evening had ended with Torme and Basie doing a number together.
Another delightful evening, dubbed "Red, Hot and Swingin," included some of the best swing players around: tenor saxophonists Zoot Sims and Scott Hamilton, trumpeters Doc Cheatham and Jimmy McPartland, pianists Dick Wellstood and Marian McPartland, trombonist Al Green, And reedman Bob Wilbur, all splendidly backed by bassist Whit Browne and drummer Alan Dawson.
Outstanding were stride pianist Dick Wellstood, a funny, matter-of-fact sort of fellow with a big shock of blond hair hanging on his forehead, who walloped the bejunior out of the Yamaha grand in an astonishing display of technique and imagination. There was a nice homey feeling to this night, especially when festivalmaster George Wein himself jumped onto the piano bench -- ousting Dick Wellstood without missing a beat -- and launched into some pretty serious two-fisted piano playing of his own.
Good, although not exceptional performances were given by tenor saxophonist Dexter Gordon and his group, and pianist Oscar Peterson, who gave a solo concert at Symphony Hall. The local talent night featured Boston's finest big band, the Herb Pomeroy Orchestra, in a tribute to Duke Ellington, spotlighting tap dancer Leon Collins and modern dancer Adrienne Hawkins.