Jazz Comes to New Bern
The 13th edition of New Bern's Annual Jazz Showcase sponsored by the Craven Arts Council took place on Sunday, February at the Sheraton Grand Hotel and Marina. "Thirteen" was not unlucky for the jazz fans of this eastern North Carolina community who showed up for either the afternoon or evening session. They were treated to almost three hours of jam session, ear catching jazz performed by an outstanding front line of Ed Polcer on cornet and Jeffery Blain on tenor. They were supported by an A-one rhythm section of Richard Sturman on piano, Frank Tate on bass and John Hanks on drums. The second set belonged to one of the last great big band singers, Lynn Roberts. The evening session was well attended despite the Super Bowl.
The first set was strictly instrumental. The combination of playing was interesting to say the least. Leader Ed Polcer comes from classic jazz. Among other things, he was co-owner of Ed Condon's Jazz Club. Tenor Jeffery Bair teaches at East Carolina U. and is a product of the post John Coltrane period. Pianist Sturman recalls Thelonious Monk, while Frank Tate also both classic jazz as well as mainstream backgrounds. Tate, by the way, was an audience favorite as he demonstrated why the bass has gone far beyond just being a time keeper to become an important deliverer of melody. Tate doesn't pluck his bass, he caresses it getting a lovely resonance in response. Hanks, from the Buddy Rich school, with his steady drumming held things together and added more excitement with his rocking drum breaks. The group stuck to standard material with the usual format for small groups, that two to three chorus solos dominated, while ensemble work was at a minimum. Different jazz traditions and lack of rehearsal affected the performance nary a wit. These artists held the jazz knowledgeable audience in the palm of their respective hands with their exciting, high flying playing of such classics of "Just You, Just Me", "Undecided" and others. Polcer and Bair stepped aside to allow Sturman to work piano magic on "Triste".
Vocal lovers got all they could hope for when Lynn Roberts came on for the second set. Roberts is one of the last pure big band singers having worked with Benny Goodman, Tommy Dorsey and Harry James. She has lost none of that special vivacity that is a trademark of those good big band girl vocalists. Despite her years on the job, she's lost nothing. There's that personal feel for the lyrics of songs she knows so well and the ability to use her fellow instrumentalists to her advantage. Most important, she just sounded good. Among her numbers were some dedicated to Frank Sinatra with whom she shared a stage in 1956 at the Paramount Theater in New York during one of those periodic Tommy Dorsey Band/Frank Sinatra reunions.
The last, short set was highlighted by the playing of "Fishin' Hole" the theme of Andy Griffith's long running TV show about the comings and goings in Mayberry, North Carolina. The show ended with Roberts and the band's rousing "After You've Gone", a seque to a standing ovation from a very happy audience.