Lake George Jazz Festival
Music is embedded in each culture, but it's universal in its nature. It takes on many forms and has many uses. It can be a friend and it can be a force. Problems in the romance department? Music is there. Feeling lost? Music. Introspective? Music. Celebratory? Music.
Many have called it a healing force. That theory was put to the test on the weekend of Sept. 15 and 16, just days after the horrific terrorist attacks in the United States, at the Lake George Jazz Festival, a small, but terrific 2-day event on the shores of a beautiful lake in the Adirondack mountains of Upstate New York.
Festival organizers had a decision to make in the wake of the national tragedy: Either cancel the event, like professional sports and some other entities were doing with their respective activities, or go on. They decided to go forward.
The decision was a good one, supported strongly by the musicians. The audience that was fortunate enough to take time out to have some of their troubles washed away – at least for a time – was the beneficiary. Music, and art, were again triumphant in troubled times.
The memorable weekend sent everyone away with a better feeling. The music was a cleansing agent, calming and soothing, conjuring up feelings of sorrow, but also of joy and hope. It has always been thus with music. We need it more sometimes. Like now.
Paul Pines, who books the festival for the Lake George Arts Project, said he conferred with the musicians before making a decision and they stressed to him that music is medicine. "Now is not the time to stop the music," he said.
And so it flowed. From the sharp and swinging guitar of Jack Wilkins; out of the thunderous and wondrous drums of Tony Vacca and World Rhythms; from the searing, good-time bop of the T.S. Monk Sextet and from the erudite, passionate and playful David Amran . They were cognizant of America's heavy heart. They did as good a job of lifting sprits as could be done, with blaring jazz, World Music, and even orchestral works with the local Glens Falls Symphony Orchestra under Amran's direction, playing everything from Bartok to Ellington to works by Thelonious Monk.
The music wasn't just from the jazz repertoire. It was influenced by world events. Amran led the orchestra in the National Anthem, and Wilkins performed a sublime solo jazz-ballad version of "America, the Beautiful." An obviously emotional Monk prefaced a tune by his septet by saying it was about a special place. "My father is there... Miles and Dizzy are there... Charlie Parker and John Coltrane are there. Joe Williams and Ella Fitzgerald are there. Benny Goodman. Buddy Rich... And now 5,000 or so of our brothers and sisters and children are there," he said, choking up for the moment. But then the band then roared through Clifford Jordan's "The Highest Mountain." Hot and vibrant and blazing.
Pines suitably referred to the entire weekend as on ongoing memorial service, and indeed it was.
The highlight of the weekend was Amran and the symphony orchestra with Monk's group. With over 40 musicians on stage, including Monk's men, it was a powerful aggregation, Amran conducted out front, but Monk drove the car with his incessant swing. They covered works by Leonard Bernstein and Bela Bartok, and featured works of Ellington and Monk Sr. From Duke's book, it was the Martin Luther King tribute "Three Black Kings" and the chestnut "C-Jam Blues." The orchestra provided support and different textures to Monk's "Bye Ya," and "Crepuscule With Nellie."
Monk Jr.'s septet, without orchestra, cooked through his father's quirky, bluesy "Think of One." Saxophonists Willie Williams and Bob Porcelli were outstanding, as was trumpeter Winston Byrd, pianist Ray Gallon and bassist David Jackson. The band is extremely swinging and tight, having been together for a long time. On "...Highest Mountain," Monk was brilliant, pushing prodding and soloing his ass off, apparently propelled by the emotion of the day and the moment.
Amran is sheer joy. He has played everything from classical, to jazz, to World Music, to beat poetry readings with colleague Jack Kerouac during his stellar career. He speaks with clarity and enthusiasm about the music and his jubilation is infectious. Jazz is classical music, and there should not be lines of distinction, he stressed, then illustrated his point with an orchestra that only rehearsed twice before the concert.