Events are packed tightly, often simultaneously, in the schedule of the Portland Jazz Festival. If a listener selects one performance, otherssometimes severalmust go by the wayside. Missing Roy Haynes did not seem an option.
Three weeks short of his 87th birthday, on Friday evening the drummer played, danced, kibitzed and kidded with his Fountain Of Youth band. Even friskier and fuller of wry fun than usual, Haynes played the leader as MC. At the Newmark Theater, he engaged the audience in banter and conducted mock interviews with the members of his quartet, snatching the microphone away when they attempted to answer. He roamed around periphery of his drum set, giving it strategically placed whacks, thumps and heel kicks. He tap-danced. He made sure that we admired the scarlet lining of his impeccably tailored jacket.
The fun and games did not distract Haynes from the main order of business, which was to play in the way that has put several generations of drummers in awe of his time and technique. Decades ago, someone described his style as Snap, Crackle and Pop. The description stands. Before the music got underway, Haynes asked what people wanted to hear. Someone asked for Thelonious Monk’s “Green Chimneys.” Pianist Martin Bejerano pieced out the quirky line, bassist John Sullivan and Haynes joining in the experimentation until the novelty wore off and Haynes launched the quartet into a piece that sounded as if it might have been based on a phrase from “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star.” Then, alto saxophonist Jaleel Shaw played a long unaccompanied cadenza that became an an introduction to Rodgers and Hart’s “My Romance.” Shaw (pictured with Haynes) caressed the song slowly and it infused with intimations of Cannonball Adderley and Sonny Stitt. A crystalline solo by Bejerano and a powerful Sullivan bass solo sustained the mood.
The first of several virtuoso Haynes solos began with a soft, steady bass drum pulse. Several minutes of the pulse went by before he initiated mallet strikes that grew into a polyrhythmic flurry, then a storm that subsided slowly. “I bet I can’t do that again,” he told the audience. He left the drums to confer with his sidemen. Agreement reached, heads nodded, he returned to the set to give a rocket launch to John Lewis’s “Milestones.” Shaw (pictured with Haynes), exuberant, worked into his solo a succession of bebop quotes without being clichéd about it. Sullivan’s selection of firmly intoned bass notes and his solid time had much to do with the success of the performance. In a long exchange of eight-bar phrases between Shaw and Bejerano, Haynes inserted accents by way of snaps, pop, crackles and cymbal splashes, while intensifying the smooth flow of the time, at top speed. Haynes took a break to play a game with the microphone, tapping it on his chest and saying, “My heart has a beat…my heart has a beat…my heart has a beat,” then, to Shaw, “My heart has a beat. Is that all reet?”
“James,” a piece by Haynes’s collaborator Pat Metheny, appeared and reappeared through the rest of the set, subsiding to resurface several times and take over what seemed to be other themes. Along the way, Haynes produced prodigious solos. After he dropped a stick, he walked around the set to retrieve it and used the occasion to contrive a solo using the stick on everything he came near, including the floor and the microphone stand. It was one more instance of his easy adaptability and insistence on living in the moment. Back on his stool, he soloed using mallets, switched to sticks and doubled the time, grinning.
Given a standing ovation, the band returned for an encore with Haynes poppa-de-popping away under Shaw, who was impressive on soprano saxophone. Shaw incorporated a passage with liquid movement and intensity reminiscent of Sidney Bechet that worked fine in the post-bop setting. Whatever the piece was when they started, it soon became “James.”
A midnight jam session at the Mission Theater started promisingly with pianist Ezra Weiss, bassist Tom Wakeling and drummer Alan Jones, stalwarts of the Portland jazz community. Guitarist Matt Shiff sat in impressively, as did Todd Strait, a busy drummer this week what with his work in Chuck Israels’ and Dick Titterington’s bands as well as participation in jam sessions. Shortly before I left, things began to unravel a bit as sitters-in materialized. I got a sense of the drift when Weiss asked if there drummers in the house. A boy who looked 16 but may have been older volunteered, “I play drums, but not jazz drums.” Evidently impressed with his honesty, Weiss nonetheless said, “Uh, I think we’ll hold out for someone who plays jazz drums.” I was hoping he’d give the kid a shot.
Whether for a jam session or not, if you are ever in Portland, the Mission Theater is worth a visit. Built in 1891, it has had a life as a church, a Longshoremens Union hall, headquarters of an acting company and now a theater pub. The building’s architecture inside and out evokes old Portland, and the acoustics are superb.
Earlier in the evening at the Crystal Ballroom, I caught much of the first set of guitarist Bill Frisell’s concert of the music of John Lennon, Speedy West and Jimmy Bryant. Frisell accompanied by Greg Leisz on steel guitar, Tony Scherr on bass and longtime Frisell sidekick drummer Kenny Wollesen, played western swing to a ballroom floor jammed with listeners. The music would have been perfect for cheek-to-cheek roadhouse dancing, if only the people had been able to move. Frisell loves that kind of music and plays it with as much soulful feeling as West and Bryant ever did. The Crystal, another historic landmark, is a magnificent space whose walls feature big terra cotta medallions depicting the history of the performing arts. I didn’t hear The Lennon portion of Frisell”s program, but there would be another opportunity. We’ll have a Rifftides report on that later.