I recently attended the second annual Charlotte Jazz Festival. I wrote about it last year, too, making blogging about it, I guess, a tradition. (And it has nothing to do with the fact that a picture of my wife and me was used in this year’s season brochure.) I find my heart leaning ever more strongly in the jazz direction. It’s similarities to classical music and, indeed, all of the nonprofit arts are many: a relatively small group of fans (except for the big stars), an esoteric “vocabulary” both of words and musical elements, and a deep concern about aging audiences. So I frequently find things to say as a result of attending concerts.
This time there are a couple, one of which will be a separate blog post. For now, I want to comment on the presentation of one particular piece. The Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra led by Wynton Marsalis has been the anchor performing group both years. The individual musicians are, as you might expect, among the most talented in the country on their instruments and the ensemble is a well oiled machine. All of the technique boxes are checked with big red stars.
What struck me particularly was the performance on the last night of a newly commissioned work by Victor Goines called Untamed Elegance. The concert as a whole was organized around music of the jazz age and Goines’ work reflected themes or cultural artifacts from the era: Prohibition and flappers to name just two. Here are the movement titles:
- The Business of America Is Business
- The Elephant in the Room
- Laboratories of Ideas
- Untamed Elegance: The “It” Thing
- Drunk as a Skunk
- Bold, Naked and Sensational
This titles are interesting but if it had been left at that it would have been a series of six interesting and stunningly performed pieces to satisfy jazz aficionados. For others it would have gotten a bit long. What made the performance work much better was the relatively brief narration/scene setting by Mr. Goines ahead of each movement. He was succinct and provided a highly entertaining case for each of them. (You can readily guess which movement was about prohibition and which about flappers.)
The point is that he knew that a relatively small number of the people in the big crowd for the concert would be “all in” for 40 minutes of jazz based on 1920’s idioms. His oral program notes provided the rest access to appreciating the music.
Before I close I’m going to take a point of personal privilege and mention something that’s not directly related to the mission of this blog. At the Festival I found a new rising jazz star–vocalist/trumpeter (and after Louis Armstrong it takes a lot of guts for a jazz musician to own that combination) Bria Skonberg. She’s got amazing chops, both vocal and on the trumpet; a gift for putting a jazz stamp on a lot of different (decidedly non-jazz) music; a winning compositional style; and an extremely tight ensemble of ridiculously talented musicians. For me, her take on Joni Mitchell’s Big Yellow Taxi was a revelation and Trust in Me (from Disney’s Jungle Book) was overwhelming.