At the invitation of the Rifftides staff, reader Michael Phillips sent a report about the NEA Jazz Masters Tribute Concert last night at the Kennedy Center. Mr. Philips (pictured left) lives near Washington, DC. He is a clean-energy consultant who “used to play guitar in swing and jump blues bands” and now co-hosts a jazz radio show.
By Michael Philips
In person, the music was electrifying. In a tribute to Dick Hyman, his long-time friend, semi-protégé and distant cousin Bill Charlap joined with Aaron Diehl for a medley on twin grand pianos. They started playfully with a few measures of Scott Joplin’s “The Entertainer,” then went through a series of increasingly complex Hyman tunes. The pianists played overlapping harmonies and rhythms, and when the baton was passed each sat silently while the other soloed.
Another highlight was the ensemble playing in tribute to Dave Holland. For a few minutes, the rest of the band stopped as trombonist Robin Eubanks and saxophonist Chris Potter went off on an extended mutual solo. Partly because of his work with Pat Metheny and his many Down Beat awards, Potter is already well known among jazz fans. Eubanks showed that he deserves as much attention as his guitarist brother Kevin and his late uncle, pianist Ray Bryant.
A poignant moment came in the tribute to Dr. Lonnie Smith when the blind 16-year-old organist Matthew Whitaker, playing the Hammond B-3, led a quartet through Jimmy Smith’s “Mellow Mood .“ The piece also featured a superb solo by guitarist Mike Moreno.
The pit band was the talented all-female 15-piece Diva Jazz Orchestra led by Sherrie Maracle. They did a yeoman’s job backing alto saxophonist Lee Konitz and pianist Dan Tepfer during their tribute to jazz writer Ira Gitler, and in accompanying singer Dianne Reeves and clarinetist Paquito D’Rivera as they honored brand new Jazz Master Dee Dee Bridgewater.
During a listening session at NPR headquarters the day before the NEA concert, bassist Dave Holland recounted a time in 1968 when he was playing at Ronnie Scott’s Club in London. During a break, his friend Philly Joe Jones told him that Miles Davis was in the audience and wanted him to join Miles’ band. Holland said he thought Jones was pulling his leg, but Jones insisted that he should talk to Miles during the next break. At the break, Holland looked for Davis but was told he had gone back to his hotel. The next morning, he waited until a respectable hour, then called the hotel, only to be told that Miles had checked out and gone to the airport. Holland called Philly Joe and asked him what he should do. Jones said to hang tight, that he’d hear from Miles.
A week went by, then another week. Three weeks later on a Tuesday at three o’clock in the morning Holland got a call. It was from Miles’ manager asking if he can make a gig with Davis in New York on Friday. Of course Holland said yes, then raced around London getting a visa and a plane ticket and was on the first flight he could arrange. All the while, he was listening to Miles’ music, but didn’t really know what to expect at the gig. He arrived in New York the afternoon before the date and went to Herbie Hankcock’s house. Herbie went over the changes of some tunes with him, but Holland showed up for the gig with minimal preparation. Miles appeared at the last minute, counted off the first tune and they were off and running.
Holland stayed with the Davis band for two years.
(Michael Phillips’ radio program In the Jazz Kitchen airs Thursdays from 9 to 11pm Eastern time on the non-profit, community-based station WOWD-FM 94.3. It streams live at takomaradio.org.)