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Guess who didn't come to swing?

Robert McArthur was saxophonist Donald Walden’s special guess Wednesday night at the second concert for the Jazz Forum. But there was nothing particularly special about McArthur’s performance. McArthur a native Detroiter has gigged with Walden before, and is one of his favorite singers.

"He sings better than a lot of vocalist in Detroit who are notorious for singing all the wrong notes. He sings with more feeling," Walden said.

McArthur has a fluid intonation. However, the feeling that Walden referred to McArthur didn’t show during his guess spot. He appeared to be uncomfortable. Dressed in black, he had the demeanor of someone who had just left a funeral. He was listless on Janine the first song that he performed. He delivered it unenthusiastically like a child reluctant to do his household chores.

On Body and Soul and Bridges, he looked comatose. He didn’t give any indication that he felt the lyrics or was enjoying himself.

Normally, jazz music effects the body. It enters through the feet and works upward. The music never seemed to penetrate his body. Fortunately, McArthur was only a guess. Walden, on the other hand, was exceptional.

Walden was tasteful and comfortable. James Ruffner, the director of the Jazz Forum, was correct when he introduced Walden as one of the best tenor saxophonists in the country. With Billy Strayhorn’s Lush Life, Walden established the mood of the first set. Walden played mostly ballad, which is his trademark.

Walden had to work a little harder than normal to capture the audience-particularly, the woman in the first row who was flipping through a fashion magazine. He went into Antonio Carlos Jobim’s songPicture in Black and White. Walden admitted that it was his first time playing it live. He played it so carefully that you could hear him manipulating the keys on his horn. By the second chorus, the woman had folded the magazine, and was swaying with her eye closed. Walden has a knack for drawing you in.

The second set was freer. Walden got a second wind. Given his stamina during the first set he didn’t need it. When he improvised on Grooving High and Fanta-Si he didn’t get carried away. He remained conscious that he was performing in a church. The Jazz Forum concerts, by the way, are held at the Grosse Pointe Unitarian Church.

" Churches maybe the better place to play nowadays becomes there’s no more bars," Walden said.

Either Walden or his rhythm section behaved like they were performing in a bar. Bassist Marion Hayden and drummer Bert Myrick didn’t make any waves. Pianist Buddy Budson was the liveliest. He smiled nonstop as if the piano keys were made of feathers that ticked all the nerves in his fingers.

"Buddy is the happiest pianist player that I have been around in my life," Walden said.

Obviously, Walden felt McArthur contributed significantly to the first set because Walden invited him back for the second. This time, however, McArthur appeared more comfortable-although not much. Walden, as expected, put his best foot forward. McArthur was fluff. Why show up if you aren’t going to do your best? McArthur guess spot could have worked if he had shown some enthusiasm.

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Donald Walden
  • Concert Date: 11/5/2003
  • Subtitle: Vocalist Robert McArthur gave a lackluster performance at the Jazz Forum
  • Venue: Grosse Pointe Unitarian Church
  • City State Country: Grosse Pointe, MI
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