There is plenty of snow on the ground, but it’s melting, skies are blue and spring is on the way in Moscow, Idaho as the Lionel Hampton Jazz Festival moves into its second day. Dozens of professionals and more than 10,000 student musicians overflow the town and the University of Idaho campus for this 41st year of the festival, an early celebration of Hampton’s 100th birthday, April 20. Hampton’s key role over the years as a performer and enthusiastic supporter of the festival’s educational aspect led to the event being named for him in 1985.
For students from elementary to college age, there are workshops and adjudication sessions all day every day of the festival. In the workshops, they benefit from instruction, advice and, in many cases, the opportunity to play with professionals. Bassist John Clayton this year assumes the festival leadership from its founder, Lynn Skinner. Among the pros he has brought in are Roy Hargrove, Roberta Gambarini, Bill Charlap, Wycliffe Gordon, Peter Washington, Jeff Hamilton, John Stowell, Jon Hendricks, Tia Fuller, Regina Carter, Hank Jones, Madeline Eastman and Curtis Fuller. That is a partial list. Many of them teach as well as perform at major concerts in the University’s Kibbie Dome, a massive athletic facility shaped like a quonset hut. It sits on a hill overlooking the campus. Using huge curtains and creative lighting, the festival designers have managed to make a sizeable area of the dome’s field house into a performance hall. They haven’t quite achieved intimacy, but good sight lines and sound systems can make you forget that your seat is on the straightaway of a running track.
Last night’s opening concert began with the quartet of young Russians I told you about in yesterday’s posting (scroll down to read that item). They again performed “Strode Road” with an affecting combination of finesse and raw energy. Then the concert turned toward its assigned theme, “New Orleans In The House.” The festival’s all-purpose rhythm section, pianist Bill Charlap, bassist Peter Washington, drummer Jeff Hamilton and guitarist Graham Dechter, played an energetic “Broadway.” The young violinist Aaron Weinstein joined them for “Juicy Lucy” and “Three Little Words.” The richness of Weinstein’s tone, his hard swing and exuberance, brought to mind Joe Venuti. Exit Weinstein, enter trombonist Wycliffe Gordon, who growled, whooped, slurred and sang his way through “Basin Street Blues” and “Sweet Georgia Brown.” In Weinstein’s and Gordon’s sets, there were extensive solos from the all-stars, with stunning choruses from Charlap on “Three Little Words.”
Cornetist Ed Polcer headed up a group with Gordon, tenor saxophonist Houston Person, drummer Joe Ascione, bassist Christoph Luty and John Cocuzzi on piano and vibes. The repertoire had little connection with New Orleans but plenty to do with the legacies of Lionel Hampton, Red Norvo and Bunny Berrigan, which is why Polcer calls his band Lionel, Red And Bunny. Judy Kurtz was the energetic singer. Polcer’s plunger solos were more reminiscent of Berrigan in enthusiasm than in style. Cocuzzi’s vibes tribute to Hampton was “Midnight Sun,” played with a distinctive harmonic approach.
Following intermission, Clayton introduced the hard-core New Orleans part of the program, a forty-five-minute set by Dr. John. It was party time in the dome. Often playing piano with his left hand and organ with his right, his heavily amplified quartet generating the volume of a big band, Dr. John delivered several of his hits, including a “Makin’ Whoopee” even more soulful than his recorded version. When his set ended, he wasn’t through. The Polcers and the Dr. Johns combined for a full-fledged jam on “Down By The Riverside” and the good times continued to roll for the concert closer.
A new feature of the Hampton Festival this year is the addition in the Kibbie Dome of a place for student musicians to play each night following the main concerts. It is called Hamp’s Club. Adjudicators of the daytime student competitions select outstanding soloists to jam in the club, adding to the joy of competitive victory the challenge and stimulation of practical experience.