Upstairs at the Van Dyke Café
on Friday, May 17, 2002, Dr. Lonnie Smith
regaled the jazz loving public, during the second edition of the JVC Jazz Festival-Miami Beach
, with two sets of steadfast music that excited the place up.
Smith performed the organ with Bob Devos on guitar and Adam Nussbaum sticking it to the drums. Both Devos and Nussbaum were up to the task of fleshing out Smith’s take on the range of music presented, which exhibited diverse phrasings from sundry genres. The turbaned organ player, who is a South Florida resident, was clearly pleased with the way in which Devos complemented and edged his stage compatriots throughout the night, showing superb fingering, as well as terrific intelligence, patience and feel. Nussbaum, on the other hand, clearly enjoyed himself while keeping the pocket alive and well even through the most abstract moments. As any good drummer knows, keeping things in the pocket, even when out of it or when it is not even stated but only felt, is one of the earmarks of a jazz player. His were the briefest solos throughout the night, albeit he did not lag behind his cohorts in insight, liveliness, sensitivity and just sheer fun. Nussbaum would reassert these facts under the leadership of Randy Brecker a few nights later.
Smith was his exotic calm usual persona. Dressed in black, wearing a white turban, he simply played excellent organ. His pedaling was fine, as well as his judgments and their respective logic. His playing was strong and the full house at Van Dyke Café loved his performance. Thankfully, Smith remained easily accessible during the break between sets.
On Saturday, May 18, half a century of song was poured on the Jackie Gleason Theatre when Tony Bennett performed to another full house during the JVC festivities. Ralph Sharon did not perform with Bennett, although his current pianist did an excellent job. The quartet seemed to be rounded up by Clayton Cameron on drums, Paul Langosch plucking the bass and Gray Sargent strumming the guitar. Everything Bennett and his musicians did on stage looked, sounded and felt good. As expected, his presentation was stereotypical Bennett, hence the ensuing enjoyment, veneration, happiness, gratefulness, fun, nostalgia, and respect that one could breathe at that venerable venue. The public was treated to a strong performance by a living and thriving singing institution.
Bennett presented a familiar repertoire to a widely varied audience in Miami Beach, smartly dressed in blue, delivering a relaxed, albeit swinging concert, with finesse, grace, class and elegance. He even sung a tune unaided by any technology whatsoever, which turned out to be one of his best renditions throughout the night. The band kicked ass in any sense of the phrase and it was a privilege and a blessing to witness Bennett live, that’s that!
After Bennett’s concert, at the nearby Van Dyke Café, Randy Brecker played his trumpet to yet another full house, accompanied by Gary Campbell on tenor sax, Mike Gerber on piano, Adam Nussbaum on drums and Don Wilner on bass.
Interestingly, for some, Campbell’s playing, rather than Brecker’s, defined the framework of the two set performance that felt timid, too friendly, comfortable, predictable, and almost devoid of the advanced challenges all players on stage were able to support or supersede. With the level of talent and history at hand, the recurring expectations were high. Others were satisfied with the ensuing trumpet led encounters throughout the night, while many were even getting down on it all. After wondering how such mixed reactions to a musical performance would impinge on the current efforts to quantify such a creative process through artificial intelligence , a fellow radio programmer at WDNA 88.9 FM and I concurred that the playing was unrealized, although with enough substance to sustain a high level of content and avenues of communication. Albeit, unexplored frontiers of expected realization, exploration, challenge and fulfillment were left abandoned in lieu of friendlier precincts. All the same, listening to the these cats jamming while looking out of a window into the Lincoln Road human flow in Miami Beach, with its cinemascopic behavioral universe at full tilt, was a killer background for the near end of the second edition of a jazz event that should’ve proven more successful this year. Let’s drink some wine to jazz and all that!