Art of Jazz Celebration
Young Centre For The Performing Arts The Distillery Historic District, Toronto, Canada
May 18, 2006 9:30 PM - A Tribute to Barry Harris
By Paul J. Youngman KJA Jazz Advocate
The show started with an introduction to Hank Jones, the legendary pianist took to the stage and announced his selection, Poke a Dots and Moonbeams. Mr. Jones performed the song solo and his interpretation was breathtakingly beautiful. Bassist Earl May and drummer Leroy Williams joined Hank Jones for the next two numbers and they really got the house swinging. Earl May played some really nice solo bass lines and seemed to be enjoying himself immensely as he traded lines with Hank Jones. Leroy Williams was in the drivers’ seat setting up the beat, pushing and swinging with steadfast reliability.
The sound of the room was very good, this is a great venue for jazz performance, very intimate, comfortable and well designed. The stage seemed compact but that was probably due to the two grand pianos that were at stage right and left. There was no doubt as to why two pianos were on stage, the great Dr. Barry Harris was next up and he took a seat at the piano on stage left. Dr. Harris was very warm, welcoming the audience and thanking everyone for the wonderful tribute. Dr. Harris performed a solo piece that was very melancholy, he plays with such intense emotion and you find yourself drawn into the music and literally loose yourself in his playing. Every note that he plays is so expressive, perhaps a statement of his love of and for the music.
The next song was uplifting, joyous and right out of an old jazz movie. Jimmy Slyde a master tap dancer, known as "King of Slides" joined Harris, May and Williams on stage and performed an amazing tap number. Slyde best known for his appearance in the film The Cotton Club also appeared in many other films and the Tony nominated Black and Blue. In the 40s and the 50s Jimmy Slyde danced with the leading big bands of the era including Count Bassie and Duke Ellington. In 2002, Slyde received an honorary Doctor of Performing Arts from Oklahoma City University. With the precision of a surgeon, he performed intricate tap routines that had the audience roaring with delight.
The show was a very relaxed affair; it was very similar to the type of show you might see at a club in New York. Dr. Harris looked out into the audience and requested a helper, he called on up and coming virtuoso Cuban pianist Davide Virelles to join him on stage. The self-proclaimed oldest teacher of jazz, instructed Virelles there and then to play certain cord changes on the piano so that Dr. Harris could sing us a song. It was marvelous; Dr. Harris included the audience in the song as well, as back up vocalists in three-part harmony.
The second set was a joyous occasion that took the art of jazz to another level. If jazz is played in heaven, than this is what it sounds like. The band was joined by Charles McPherson on Alto Sax. McPherson’s sax playing quite simply blew the roof off the place. McPherson who grew up studying with Barry Harris has had a career in jazz that has seen him perform and record with Charles Mingus, Art Farmer, Kenny Drew, Billy Eckstine and Jay McShann to name just a few. It was an exiting finale that had everybody on stage Hank Jones and Barry Harris playing off each other. Jimmy Slyde and Leroy Williams in a Tap and Drum battle. Earl May playing rock solid and looking like he wished it could go forever. The audience made the same wish, at the end of the show there was much applause and shouts for more.
My only complaint or concern is the same one voiced by most people I spoke with, why was this event not sold out. Masters such as Barry Harris and Hank Jones do not visit Toronto often; they are not going to be around forever. The student price of a ticket was a very affordable $30.00, I did not see very many young people. Toronto has some very highly regarded schools teaching jazz, attending shows like this one should be a mandatory part of the school curriculum.
The concert and educational series continues with clinics by Hank Jones and Barry Harris as well as many other fantastic events. For all the information on the Art of Jazz Festival, 5 days, 50 jazz greats go to the web site ArtofJazz.org