ARCHIE SHEPP QUARTET
Striding coolly onto stage where Tom McClung, piano, Wayne Dockery, bass and Steve McCraven, drums lies in wait, Archie Shepp steps up to the microphone. Reminiscent of NY nights, Archie is sharp in his black suit, black hat and light blue, polka dot silk tie. The lights are low, but the overhead spotlight shines down to capture the character of that great looking jazz face. At 63, Archie is still a great musician, pulling harmonic structures, swing, tonal passages, a touch of blues and just a hint of Hawkins and Webster from his bag.
From Elmo's Hope, "Hope Two" emerges with Archie giving it the old-school flavor with hip musical freedom. He blows the sax like no one I ever saw, tasting, pouting, sliding, pulsing, milking the mouthpiece to produce a variety of textures. Free-forming with the trio anchoring it down, Archie creates his magic, then steps away soft as a mouse to let the trio give it the treatment, returning to grab and hold the audience until song's end. Archie and the quartet performed a nice variety of songs, the most memorable being a dynamic rendition of "God Bless the Child," with Archie adding vocals to complete the compliment.
Archie is a creatively free, well-rounded jazz artist and his talented musicianship is only enhanced by his composing, teaching and playwriting abilities. His association with Coltrane embarked him on a fruitful career, which included many successful tours throughout the U.S. and Europe and a long list of recordings to his name. He was also appointed an associate professorship at the University of Massachusetts where he taught music and literature. His latest CD, "Conversations" with Kahil El' Zabar´s Ritual Trio on Delmark, dedicated to late bassist, Fred Hopkins, is cutting edge and offers a diverse expression of Archie's extraordinary musical language.
WYNTON MARSALIS AND THE LINCOLN CENTER JAZZ ORCHESTRA
Under the guidance of Wynton Marsalis, the Lincoln Jazz Orchestra has become one of the best modern day interpreters of the music of Duke Ellington. The increasingly popular broadcasts heard through National Public Radio (NPR) only serve to introduce new jazz lovers to the magic of Ellington, as well as reunite fans with the music that will live on for generations to come.
Wynton Marsalis is the most acclaimed jazz musician and composer of his generation, as well as being a distinguished classical performer. He is the recipient of the Gran Prix du Disque of France, Edison Award winner in the Netherlands, holds 23 honorary doctorates and a 1997 Pulitzer Prize for music, the first ever for jazz. He also became the first instrumentalist to win two simultaneous Grammy awards for Best Jazz Soloist and Best Classical Soloist with an orchestra. His recognition as a super star continues today with accolades, awards
The son of Ellis Marsalis and brother of four musical brothers, Wynton was given his first trumpet at age 6 by Al Hirt. His formal studies began with John Longo around age twelve. By the time Wynton was nineteen, he had already become a virtuoso trumpeter, having attended Juilliard in New York. It was shortly thereafter like so many other post-bop jazz musicians that he joined Art Blakely's Jazz Messengers. This proved to be a good training ground and within two years, he had matured and began touring with Herbie Hancock in Japan and Europe. This gave him international recognition and shortly thereafter, Wynton recorded his first LP as a leader. At the young age of 30, Wynton had become one of the most recognized jazz and classical musicians in the world. Technically, Wynton is a genius and a virtuoso of composed music. His education, precision and musical ability brought him to become the Artistic Director of Jazz at New York's Lincoln Center in 1992. He has published books, taught, produced television workshops, and toured extensively in the U.S. and abroad. Some complain that Wynton lacks the emotional and soulful intensity that a "true jazz musician" might normally aspire to obtain.
There is a difference of course, as felt at the North Sea Jazz Festival. Please don't misunderstand. Wynton is brilliant and has shown some warmth on "A Love Supreme" with Elvin Jones, but given the choice of seeing Wynton or Roy Hargrove, I will take Roy every time. Roy's the man! I would much rather hear a heartfelt improvisational trumpet solo than a sterile precise one. Enough said.
At North Sea Jazz Festival, I went to see Wynton and the other fifteen musicians who made up the Lincoln Jazz Orchestra. The concert included selections of Duke Ellington and Louie Armstrong such as Boogie Woogie Stomp and Mahogany Hall Stomp. Even though there were some fine solos going on, I found the concert to be a bit dry and perfunctory. I had expected some fine things from Wynton, or at least a big band sound that echoed through my chest, but perhaps the hall was just too big. Pump up the volume! Looking for Wynton among the orchestra members, I finally saw him. He was sitting back row, right side. Hmmmmm? Just another band member. I left to go see the Yellowjackets who were performing at the same time in another hall.
In the absolutely immense (size of a football field) Staten Hall, Bob Mintzer- sax, Russell Ferrante-keyboards, Jimmy Haslip-bass and Peter Erskine-drums were anxiously awaited by restless fans. The hall is standing room only, except for bleachers on the right side and rear of the hall. There are two large stages, left and right, divided by a large-than-life monitor screen. Luckily, the crowd at the festival was not as large on Friday. Saturday and Sunday, you couldn't get into Staten Hall, even if you weighed 50 lbs and were six foot tall. It was cram-packed.
Through a shocking pink mist, the Yellowjackets wowed the crowd with their creative, evolving and unpredictable styling. They were bright as a new penny and their transfer between jamming fusion and smooth jazz was a nice contrast. Jimmy's fingers dazzled with melodic finesse while Bob laid down a hot house of grooves to Russell's stream of inventive keyboarding. Peter was in rare form and beat out contrasting accents to complete the fusion.
The band started out as the Robben Ford Band and became one of the most successful bands ever. The link with Robben Ford is still happening as they still guest on each other's albums. The group is ever evolving, ever changing in the world of fusion and rhythm. A high-rated recent album is "Club Nocturne on Warner Bros, 1998, but I much prefer the 1999 release of the "Best of Yellowjackets," Warner Bros., 1999, which brings back fond memories of Los Angeles and the Spyro Gyro beginning era.
Some are born for greatness despite overwhelming odds and such is the story of Jimmy Scott. At a frail-looking 75 years old, Jimmy Scott brought streaming tears to my eyes as he sang with a timeless voice that filled the hall. Expressive and moving, every song that Jimmy sang was filled with so much love. It poured out and flowed through the air, wrapping its warmth around this and every listener in the hall.
In black tuxedo and with a big smile, Jimmy opened the first of his two concerts with an upbeat rendition of All of Me, and then slowed it down with All the Way. His other songs included What I Wouldn't Give, Pennies From Heaven, which were a really hip improvisation, Time After Time and a bluesy rendition of Don't Cry Baby. It seemed that all of his selections spoke of how grateful he was to be performing and sharing all that love he has inside. Eli Adams-tenor sax and musical director, Art Hillery-piano, Wendell Williams-bass and Curtis Kirk-drums were really great too.
Jimmy was born with Kallman´s syndrome, a hormonal disorder that stuns growth during puberty. It is for this reason that Scott was blessed with a voice that transcends gender and time. His voice is still Little Jimmy Scott, but 75-years of life comes through with all the passion (and obvious joy), giving something back to his devoted fans after years of not being able to record. Jimmy joined Lionel Hampton back in the 1950´s and his future seemed bright indeed, but unfortunately, he hooked up with cheating record company executives who shelved Jimmy's albums and blocked Atlantic Records from releasing newly recorded material with Dorn and Ron Carter, saying they had a binding contract with Jimmy. There really was no binding contract and two decades later, the CD was released, appropriately entitled Lost and Found. Additionally, the release of All the Way in 1992 became an international hit for him. Jimmy is on top again and a soon to be released CD entitled Mood Indigo on the Milestone Records label should be another feather in Jimmy's cap. Jazz Profiles with Nancy Wilson, on National Public Radio, recently presented an excellent show on Jimmy's life and music, well worth hearing should you have the chance to do so.
After performing two concerts Friday night to a packed Van Gogh Hall, Jimmy Scott left the next day to play two nights at The Jazz Cafe in London. I feel lucky to have seen him and met him and Jos Knaepen´s photography captures the expressive Jimmy in all his glory.