Gillespiana In The Berkshires
On vacation this week, in Connecticut to visit friends. Looking for musical diversion, I stumbled across the Tanglewood Jazz Festival at the summer home of the Boston Symphony in Lenox, MA.
Due to time constraints, I was able to attend only one concert – so I chose the Dizzy Gillespie All Star big band. For me, a great choice. Led by veteran trombonist Slide Hampton, the band was legitimately “all star”… a killer trumpet section: Roy Hargrove, Claudio Roditi, Lou Hunt (phenomenal chops, stratospheric high notes) and Frank Greene (ditto). Trombones: Steve Davis (several good solos), Jason Jackson, Jonathan Boltzock, Douglas Purviance (bass trb). Saxes: Gary Smulyan, Andres Boiarsky (new to me and very good), Mark Gross and Antonio Hart (altos) and Jimmy Heath (looking old and somewhat frail but playing well). Rhythm section: Cyrus Chestnut, piano; John Lee, bass; Dennis Mackrel, drums; and Duke Lee on congas.
Hargrove was heavily featured and worth it. He shone especially on Benny Golson’s “I Remember Clifford” on fluegelhorn and on several other tunes. Roditi was lyrical and thoughtful, playing his rotary-valve horn.
Cyrus Chestnut was showcased on the Dennis Mackrel arrangement of Monk’s “I Mean You” and was alternately Monkish and funkish to the delight of the sold-out audience of 1200 in Meiji Ozawa Hall. Other highlights: Jimmy Heath’s tribute to Dizzy, “Without You, No Me”… “Con Alma”… “Manteca”… Quincy Jones’ “Jessica’s Day”.
Roberta Gambarini came on for a couple of tunes in each half of the concert. She’s good, especially effective in a dramatic reading of “Stardust”. Her singing of “Samba de Orfeu”, arranged by Slide Hampton, was an adventure in Portuguese and English, with changes in tempo and excellent vocal work. She scatted to advantage on “Blue-n-Boogie” which also included some Roy Hargrove scatting. He continues in the trumpeter/scat vocalist tradition of Louis Armstrong and Clark Terry. Electric bassist John Lee pleased the crowd with his work on “One Bass Hit”. Mackrel is a fine big band drummer and his arrangements are fresh and interesting.
Hampton is a congenial leader, mixing humor, enthusiasm and information to engage the audience. The obvious pleasure the band got from the music and their colleagues’ solos was infectious, further bringing the audience into the moment.
So – if you get a chance to hear/see the DG All Stars in your town, by all means do it. They’re still carrying the big band bebop banner. Long may it wave.
Your traveling Washington correspondent,