Newport Comes to Chicago
“ The show that evening in Chicago lived up to the Newport name by showcasing the finest that jazz has to offer. Generations of past and present came together to create, and to enjoy this treasured art form. ”
One of the most talked about jazz events of the year, the Newport Jazz Festival 50th Anniversary tour, rolled into Chicago on a rainy Friday night in late February 2004. The all-star septet was to play the beautiful and historic Chicago Theatre that night, and having awaited this moment for months, I could not have been more excited. Sitting in my 14th row center seat anxiously awaiting the start of the show, I could not help but notice the large number of empty seats throughout the theatre. Even with a grand event such as this, it is sad that jazz, being such an important and beautiful piece of Americana, suffers from neglect and lack of support from the general public, even in Chicago where so many core elements of the music were created and nurtured. But this was not a night to let negativity prevail, for we were about to be treated to two sets of incredible music by some of the music’s most talented musicians. I had only seen two of the musicians in person before, so while still fully expecting a stirring evening of great jazz, I was excited to see many of these musicians on stage and in person for the first time.
The band emerged in full for the opening number, and although this was to be a leader-less collective of some of jazz’s most prolific players, I immediately felt the sense that the band was revolving around James Moody. Not only was the great multi-instrumentalist the elder statesman of this band, but his dynamic personality shone through every time he was on stage. The other band members, particularly saxophonist James Carter, seemed to always look in his direction after their solos, as if non-verbally asking him, “how did I do?” And Moody commands respect. At 78 years old, he carries a youthful vibe as well as a legacy that any musician would be eternally proud of. And as we all heard that night, the man can play. The band played in various configurations throughout the evening, and the pieces with Moody were all solid. He played “Take the A Train” in a duet with bassist Peter Washington that was inventive, playful and very hard-swinging. Another Ellington tune, “C-Jam Blues” found Moody and James Carter trading measures on tenor, and Moody did some of his best playing of the evening here, clearly being edged on by Carter. But the ultimate James Moody moment of the night came during the second set, with his vocal performance of “Moody’s Mood for Love” which turned into a full-blown hip-hop rendition of the same song! Moody was dancing across the stage, while rapping, scatting and singing smiles and laughs into everyone watching him. It was an unforgettable moment. Moody stuck to tenor the entire evening, and while I was hoping to hear him play some alto, there are no complaints from this jazz fan about James Moody’s performance that evening. He is a class act, a living symbol of what jazz is all about, and I feel honored to have had the opportunity to hear him play music.
Randy Brecker, another musician who I’d never seen live before, was on trumpet. My father, who attended the show with me, is a big fan of the Brecker Brothers and was excited to see Randy Brecker perform live after more than 20 years. One thing I noticed right away about Brecker was his beautiful, brassy tone. He has one of the nicest, cleanest tones I’ve ever heard emerge from a trumpet, and he demonstrated his mastery right away on the ballad “I Can’t Get Started”, which featured him with the piano-bass-drums configuration. However, it seemed that during the first set, Brecker was not quite in prime form. While his horn always sounded nice, he seemed to struggle a bit with building ideas in his solos, most notably on “C-Jam Blues”. But during the second set, he emerged revitalized, delivering a searing solo on “Woody N’ You” to start things off, and later playing one of the finest solos of the evening on “Firm Roots”. His beautiful horn sound always fit in perfectly with the ensemble, and overall, he delivered a fine performance.