Wednesday, October 15: Having seen Ernestine Anderson falter and appear confused in a performance a few years ago, I was concerned about this festival appearance. She was now a couple of weeks short of her eightieth birthday. She had just been through a crisis in which she came close to being evicted from her house. Looking frail, she made her way slowly and uncertainly on stage, sat on a chair, took a while to get ready, and gave one of the great concerts of her life. By the end of the first song, “This Can’t Be Love,” thirty years had dropped away. She brought a Piaf-like intensity to “Skylark” and so much passion and note-bending to “Falling in Love with Love” that she made it a virtual blues. In a single chorus, she defined “Wonder Why.”
Time, intonation, concentration and control were perfect on every tune. Anderson was
sustaining notes with the lung power of an eighteen-year-old. “Yeah, I can’t figure that out either,” she said afterward. “I get winded walking up two steps.” She had the audience erupting in cheers, giving her a standing ovation not at the end of her program but during it. She repeatedly thanked her trio — and with good reason. Pianist John Hansen, bassist Jon Hamar and drummer Greg Williamson sustained the energy Anderson thrived on. Each of them soloed with creativity and vigor that matched hers. Boogieing in her chair toward the end of the concert, she delivered “Down Home Blues,” then “Never Make Your Move Too Soon,” enlisting the audience as a chorus riffing the first four bars of the melody of Neal Hefti’s “Lil’ Darlin’.” She left them happily agitated and demanding an encore. They didn’t get one, but people didn’t seem to mind. She had created euphoria in the room.
Ernestine Anderson: eighty going on thirty-five.
Thursday, October 16: Jovino Santos Neto preceded his quinteto’s concert with a demonstration-lecture tracing the development of Brazilian music. It amounted to a tour through significant parts of the history of Portugal and Brazil with samples of African and Caribbean influences on the music of his native land. If you have a chance to catch the
educational aspect of this dynamic man’s performance, I urge you not to miss it. That
advice also obtains to his band. The cutting-edge music Santos Neto has developed beyond the bossa nova grows in part out of his experience with Hermeto Pascoal and other advanced Brazilian musicians, but also out of his dynamic musical imagination. At the piano or playing flute — he did both simultaneously at one point — he was concentrated energy, enthusiasm and rhythm.
The quinteto includes bassist Chuck Deardorf, drummer Mark Ivester, percussionsist Jeff Busch and Bay Area saxophonist and clarinetist Harvey Wainapel (pronounced WINE-apple). Santos Neto set up each choro, baião, forró or xote with an explanation of the form and rhythm. His “Amoreira,” dedicated to percussion guru Airto Moreira, was a highlight. Wainapel, whom I had somehow managed to miss until this night, was a revelation, inventive on all of his instruments, immersed in the Brazilian tradition, fully a complement to Santos Neto’s conception of adventurous modern music.
Friday, October 17: Jerry Gonzalez and the Fort Apache Band threw the audience into momentary shock with the opening blasts of Thelonious Monk’s “Little Rootie Tootie.” Powered by the overamplified bass of young Luques Curtis and the drumming of Steve Berrios, who had no choice but to compensate, the band was too loud for the hall, by half. The Seasons’ exquisite natural acoustics were rendered meaningless by volume suitable for a stadium. Nonetheless, the music was so captivating that the audience stayed with it, except for a couple of defections, and seemed to adjust to the sound level. Fort Apache followed with a long treatment of Wayne Shorter’s “Footprints,” notable for an alto saxophone solo by Joe Ford that assulted the aural cavity but penetrated deeper, to the emotions.
Gonzalez shone on congas, trumpet and fluegelhorn. His impassioned fluegel solo on “In a
Sentimental Mood” was a memorable moment of this memorable festival. Curtis soloed with an acute sense of the harmonic possibilities in “Obsesión,” the Pedro Flores Puerto Rican classic. Pianist Fred Hoadley came next with a solo that was hypnotically, and effectively, repetitive. Hoadley rushed across the mountains from Seattle at the last minute to substitute for Larry Willis, who cancelled following the death of a relative. Gonzalez wrapped up the set with Monk’s “Evidence,” taken at a fast clip and — what else? — top volume. The evening ended with ears ringing and faces smiling.
Saturday, October 18: Every time I hear the Tierney Sutton Band, they have developed more bandness. After more than a decade, seven CDs and hundreds of gigs together, their musicality and shared goals have melded them into the antithesis of chick singer with rhythm section. It’s a thinking man’s, and woman’s, band that knows how to have, and show an audience, a good time. Sutton opened with Irving Berlin’s “What’ll I Do?” at a drastically slow tempo in keeping with the heart-breaking nature of the song. In the care of a less cohesive group, the time might have puddled. “It’s All Right With Me” was at the other end of the metronome and full of tricky time changes, which Sutton negotiated flawlessly.
Following a masterly solo by pianist Christian Jacob on “Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea,” Sutton said, “I think he took private lessons,” no doubt a stock line, delivered deadpan with perfect timing. Bassist Kevin Axt played the concert with two fingers of his right hand in a cast. He broke them in a motorcycle accident. Anyone listening blindfolded to his intricate solos would never have known that. Ray Brinker’s drumming went from thunderous on some pieces to barely perceptible on others. If there are awards for soft, quiet swinging with wire brushes, Brinker is a major competitor. He was particularly effective with brushes as Axt took a rest and Sutton, Jacob and Brinker gave Berlin’s “Cheek to Cheek” a ride that was enough to make you almost forget Fred Astaire.
Sutton sang sixteen songs from her repertoire of more than one hundred arrangements written jointly by her and the band. Toward the end, she called out the Toppenish High School chorus, which had opened the evening with a couple of songs. Together, the rhythm section and the kids did “Ja Da” while Sutton stood by smiling. The chorus ended up swinging a little, and Sutton smiled more broadly. As they filed out, she returned to the stage for a blistering “I Get a Kick Out of You” and a langorous encore, “You Are My Sunshine.” She announced that the band’s eighth CD will be out in the spring. It will include “What’ll I Do?” I’m looking forward to hearing that again.
It is a rare jazz festival that can run more than a week without a few flaws — a performance dud or two. Somehow, even the Fort Apache amplification sow’s ear turned into a silk purse. This festival worked from beginning to end, on stage and in the schools. That’s quite an achievement for an arts organization in a town of 90,000 in the hinterlands of apple and wine country.