Phoebe Jacobs, who left us on April 9, 2012 just a couple of months shy of 94, was a most remarkable lady who did so much for the music and its makers, as so well-documented in last month's Big Band in the Sky.
I first encountered Phoebe when she was handling press and taking care of the musicians at Basin Street East. Our shared love for Louis Armstrong
captured the flavor of Phoebe in his 2000 TV documentary series, Jazz. Phoebe was truly a star, lighting up the screen with that great hat, luminous smile and strictly New York accent. Working with her on the labor of love of her later years, the Louis Armstrong Educational Foundation, was indeed an educationin the true meaning of dedication to a cause.
So it was right and proper that Phoebe's life be celebrated with a major event on May 24 at Jazz at Lincoln Center, which had honored her in 2003 with its Award for Leadership. Held free to the public at Rose Hall in the afternoon, there was close to a full house, including many students from I.S. 227 in Queens, named for Louis Armstrongand guess who was responsible for that?
There were fine speeches, none too long, by friends and associates, including Stanley Crouch, Mercedes Ellington
(my favorite eulogistI'll never forget the one he gave for Vic Dickenson). At the end, there were touching remarks by Phoebe's son, daughter, granddaughter and grandson. But the meat of the feast, so to speak, was the music, in the good hands of Wynton Marsalis
Inevitably, the musical portions, interspersed with the speeches, began with "What a Wonderful World," far from my favorite except as done by Louis, yet rendered with taste and great trumpet chops by Lew Soloff
Nimmer stated the verse and Faddis the chorus, first with a mutenot a cup or Harmon, maybe a solo tone of more recent incarnation than I'm familiar withand lovely phrasing that had some Bobby Hackett
-like moments, then on powerful open horn, climbing high. It reminded me of a Gibson Jazz Party in the 1970s, when Jon and Eubie duetted on this very song, as the youngest and the oldest of the musicians. Jon was terrific then, but he plays on another level now.
When he was done, Jon took his place in the trumpet section next to Lew, and that brought back another memory from long ago, when these two were roommates (cozy virtuosi?) and I paid a visit, finding them surrounded by Armstrong blue Deccas. There was a spirited two-tempo rendition of "After You've Gone" by Antoinette Montague
's beautiful "A Flower Is a Lovesome Thing." Jimmy not only conductedand he is not just an arm waver, but the real thinghe also played some moving tenor. The other featured soloist, as usual performing from his section chair, was Wynton, who held his own in the afternoon's trumpet sweepstakes with a statement that was wholly original, true to the composition and setting, and one of those things one instantly wanted to hear again. The band did justice to Jimmy's great chart.