Confirmation: The 2004 Telluride Jazz Celebration
"Are you ready to work?" he asked with a devilishly excited grin as we sat down. With mechanical pencil points breaking one after the next, he proceeded to write out "Confirmation" by Charlie Parker for me to learn with him on guitar. We broke the tune down into sixteen bar sections and we grilled the chords and melody over and over. I even laughed at myself about the humorously slow tempo we sometimes had to reach. By the end of the lesson, we were able to just about get through the entire tune.
"I want you to not just learn this, but get better at understanding it, so that you can incorporate what you've learned with your own music. You are doing the fusion thing, and so Bebop is pertinent. Eventually, we're going to play this tune together. See you in Telluride!" he said to me as he proudly signed the piece of music paper that he had so gloriously written out Mr.Parker's music on...from total memory.
There was that moment of silence just before we began our set, when I realized that the 2004 Telluride Jazz Celebration (Aug 6-8, 2004) was a Jazz confirmation itself. The shared experience of hearing Coryell, Medeski, Martin and Wood, Cuchito Valdes, Chris Potter, Skerik and Mike Dillon, Marco Benevento, Joe Russo, Kurt Elling, Karl Denson, Steve Nygaard, Leon Russell, The Carribean Jazz Project, Flora Purim and Airto, etc. was part of a much greater, infinite lesson. The classroom; was Telluride.
Part 4: The First Night of 2004
On the first night of the festival, Cuchito Valdes Afro Cuban Ensemble performed at the Telluride Conference Center. The Conference Center is atop the mountain, by way of gondola, located in the heart of the ski resort's "mountain village". If you catch the gondola ride up at the right time, you can witness spectacular views of nature with postcard pictures for your memory. In the distance, you can see the Telluride Airport landing "strip" on the mountains in the distance. I was sure to catch the sun setting that evening, and a magnificent lightning storm of in the distant skies the next night. Cuchito started a bit after the scheduled time, and while waiting for the show to begin, many restless audience members pulled stacked chairs from beside the wall to sit.
As the band made their way out onto the stage over the applause, they looked out at a mostly seated audience. "You know you aren't going to be sitting in those chairs by the end of the night, don't you?" laughed Cuchito's drummer. He laughed, but he was really not joking.
Listening, and watching Cuchito perform with his band, their chops, and their rhythm, is a pure burst of energy. Their traditional afro-cuban sound is a rhythm wake-up call. His playing drives right into your chest, grabs your heart, smacks it around, and then makes it dance. For a while I stood behind Cuchito, so I was facing the keyboard as he was, and watched as he made his way all over it. It was amazing to see someone process ideas at such a rapid pace. It wasn't long before the Conference Center was on its feet. It was nearly impossible to walk away from this performance, but there was more music to catch at the very same time! I danced my way back down the mountain, beating the side of my gondola like a conga, to catch the last few tunes of Larry Coryell's performance at the Sheridan Opera House. (note: do not use the gondola as a percussive instrument when pulling into gondola stations as the staff does not like it)
Part 5: The Coryell Trio/Confirmation
There are a few times in which you are lucky enough to witness someone being genuinely unique with his/her instrument. It is difficult enough to achieve a personal style or even sound, yet to be able to play in a way that is not often seen or heard is a true testament to creativity and talent, as well being a profound and impacting connection to the audience. As I sat in front of that stage, and the harmonic melody carried over the still and silent heads in the opera house, I felt lucky to be seeing this performance. Playing with his ear nearly touching the neck of the guitar, Coryell bent each string to perfection, making us all lean in a bit closer. The music was gorgeous, sophisticated, elegant and perfect. It made me want to dig deeper; to study and learn. As Mike Dillon put it, "Being in Telluride, it just makes you want to practice." With creativity, genius, and true artistic expression all around, he was right.
"Black Orpheus", as performed by Larry Coryell, was not only the highlight of his night performance, but it now also serves as the pseudo-internal-soundtrack that runs through my mental festival review. Inside this Opera House, he commanded near acoustic perfection with a virtuosic touch. The entire room was blushing in anticipation of each note. The worldy, chordal, changes to the tune were so warm and full.