Two jazz greats who span an era
Two of the jazz greats who span the era from swing through bebop to the present - vocalist Betty Carter and trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie - have been treating New Yorkers and visitors to a rich melange of styles and tunes.
Crowds jammed the long hallway waiting to get in at Fat Tuesday's for both the Carter and Gillespie performances, and it's safe to say that no one has been disappointed by what they have heard and seen so far these past few weeks.
Carter's performance was one of the most satisfying I've seen over the past few years. There was a solidity to everything she did, and the chances she's known to take with her voice seemed to work better than ever. Her singing was filled with fire, humor, tenderness, and the same impeccable musicianship she has always displayed.
Energetically and sensitively backed by Lewis Nash on drums, Kahlil Moss on piano, and Curtis Lundy on bass, Carter confidently moved through octave-and-a-half leaps, meter changes, and lightning-fast tempos. The uninitiated might wonder if she and the band will end up in the same place at the same time -- but not to worry, she is absolute master of her musical domain.
As with Gillespie, whose puffy cheeks and upward-angled trumpet bell have been his trademark, Carter's appeal is both aural and visual: Her myriad facial expressions bring a lyric to life, and she has a knack for choosing the kind of song that tells a story and makes us believe it.
Some have criticized Carter for taking too many liberties with the melody, but what emerges is so swinging, so punchy, that the song takes on a whole new meaning, and one feels safe leaving the melodies with the Frank Sinatras and Eydie Gormes. Strict adherence to the composer's melody is not what Carter is about. Instead of thinking in bars or short phrases, she seems to embrace the song as a totality, riding over the top of the rhythm section like an inner tube on the waves. The timbre of her voice is reedy and hornlike.
Unlike Gillespie, Carter passed many years with little recognition, and now she is finally getting the attention she deserves. She demonstrated staggering virtuosity on a breath-catching up-tempo version of the Jerome Kern song ''All Through the Day,'' which alternated between rhythms -- a scat marathon that was improvised for what seemed an endless number of choruses.
Gillespie, whose name is practically synonymous with bebop, presented his enthusiastic audience with what he referred to as an ''international'' set -- a little Latin, a little bop, some blues, a ballad, even a Yiddish tune!
Gillespie, a master showman, infused his performance with plenty of humor, and the audience obviously expected and eagerly gobbled it up. But this is not to belittle the musicality of the evening. Dizzy was joined by Michael Howell on electric bass (whose humorous mugging was almost a match for Dizzy's), Ignacio Berroa on drums, and Ed Cherry on guitar.
Whereas Carter's offering leaned heavily toward lyric, line, and melody, Dizzy (who alsosang and played congas) let rhythm be the focus, with ventures into Latin-rock and Afro-Cuban, with plenty of solo space for the percussion instruments.
Most impressive was the musical affinity between Cherry and Howell, which punctuated and enhanced Dizzy's solos, especially on ''My Funny Valentine.'' The climax of the night was a rousing sing-along version of the Gillespie classic ''Salt Peanuts.''
Dizzy Gillespie remains at Fat Tuesday's through Jan. 10