Thursday night through Sunday night, there were performances virtually every hour of the day breakfast jazz brunches, afternoon Pool Stage sessions and, of course, evening concerts in the Grand Pacific Ballroom And, if that were not enough for afficionados to get their fill, everyday was topped off by after-hour night-cap music in the lounge and bar. Late Saturday night was especially well-attended when revered tenor sax-man Houston Person presided over the yearly dance event, giving patrons a chance to "shake it" on the ballroom floor.
Each evening's concert was topped by a feature presentation. Saturday John Pizzarelli (photo above)appeared with his trio, singing and playing guitar. His hip style, influenced by Nat Cole, was greeted with enthusiasm. Cole’s "The Frim Fram Sauce" and the whimsical "Rhode Island" were highlights.
Saturday’s feature was a full-scale celebration, "The Music of Antonio Carlos Jobim," produced by esteemed flute player Holly Hoffman. The tribute included 11 violins, alternately led by pianists Mike Wofford and Bill Cunliffe. Veteran drummer Jeff Hamilton and Brazilian percussionist Luis Conte made up the rhythm section.
Hoffman’s playing of Jobim’s lilting melodies seemed to float above the ethereal beauty of the strings. Later in the set, bossa nova singer/guitarist Paulinho Garcia brought the music back to its earthy origins with the breathy romantic urgency of his singing. All together, everything worked and surely would have made Jobim proud.
Sunday night's "Dear Mr. Sinatra" program was every bit as special. This related to the recent CD release of Pizzarelli’s collaboration with the Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra, showcasing music associated with Sinatra.
Without imitating "Ol’ Blue Eyes," Pizzarelli put his own clever stamp on the song book. And the Clayton-Hamilton band was outstanding, introducing the segment with three numbers on its own. Without exaggerating, this aggregation is surely among the best tight, well synchronized, with each section producing subtly shifting waves of sound which washed over listeners. Leading them was John Clayton, tall, slender, his long arms waving like a sorcerer’s as he conjured a magical arrangement of "Lullaby of the Leaves."
When Pizzarelli came out, he put his stamp on the Sinatra canon. The swinging "Ring-A-Ding Ding," the boozy, melancholic "Set ‘Em Up Joe" and the lively "How About You?" left no doubt that Pizzarelli can follow in Sinatra’s footsteps.
These featured shows were big attractions, to be sure, but at the heart of what makes these parties so good is the playing of the collection of world class musicians (over 70) gathered here. Co-promoter John McClure puts them together in various configurations with exciting, often serendipitous results.
Among the groupings was that of pianist Benny Green and tenor saxophonist Houston Person, who appeared together Friday and Saturday nights. Almost 30 years Green’s senior, Person with his large warm sound melded perfectly with Green’s often minimalist technique.
On ballads, Green builds each solo into an exquisite jewel and on up-tempo numbers he digs in hard, coming up with solid gold. The audience was rapt as he lovingly played with Cole Porter’s "I Love Samantha"; then shouted as he got "down and dirty" with Person’s lusty turn on Curtis Maryfield "Send Me Someone To Love."
One could go on and on about the superb interplay in the various settings. There was the marvelous trumpeter Terell Stafford and clarinetist Ken Peplowski going back and forth on Denzil Best’s "Wee." The jubilant audience agreed the two couldn’t have played any faster. Stafford, with Person this time, hit the stratosphere with his rocketing "Lester Leaps In," and then hushed the crowd with his tender "I Remember Clifford."
Another memorable set came when father John Clayton on bass and son Gerald on piano, joined drummer Jeff Hamilton in a trio setting. They excelled mightily in the young Clayton’s "Sunny Day Go," which seemed a small suite not a song.
Promoter Joe Rothman likes to describe the music he presents as "right down the middle and straight ahead." This description is apt. The body of what was heard at the party was in the "middle," the heart of jazz.