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Live Reviews

The 2004 St. Lucia Jazz Festival

By Published: May 26, 2004

"Hi Ya'll" was Billy's first song. The next tune he explained goes like this: C-A-G. Then he began to play "It's a Matter of Pride" a Suite for Martin Luther King. The melody was light and funky and reminded me of early Ramsey Lewis... "In Crowd" sound. Made us all smile. "His Name Was Martin" the suite continues. Then Chip and Wynard join in. So sophisticated, soft and understated. Beautiful music. Chip took an impressive solo as a lyrical and exciting bassist. Then Wynard turned the drum set into an arsenal of weapons that stole the show. I looked around at the mixed people in the audience—all smiling and moving—and realized the one thing we all as humans have in common—is rhythm. The drum. Primal.

Up early Friday for my usual cup of double espresso, they call it coffee. Jump in the cool Caribbean Sea. Sit on my deck and snack on melon, papaya, mango, banana, cheese, bread. Somebody pinch me.

Tonight it was back to the same jammin' club, Gaiety on Rodney Bay for Marlena Shaw and Maynard Ferguson. By the way, during the set changes for these shows, I have the opportunity to step outside and enjoy a fine Cuban Cohiba cigar. So nice to have them available. Again, I'm smiling.

Marlena Shaw is lookin' good. She was Count Basie's singer back in the day and she still packs a punch. A beautiful woman and wonderful entertainer. I was totally impressed, having never seen her before. She can really work an audience. Counting it off, "ah-one ah-two ah-you know what to do...". She shared a nice story about her old friend guitarist Freddie Green and "Until I Met You"/"April In Paris." Then it was "Round Midnight" where Marlena sways "If you don't want my peaches, don't shake my tree...let somebody else make jelly of me." Well, I guess that says it all.

Maynard Ferguson came out breathing fire as expected. His high hip chops are legendary in his fifth decade as a bandleader. He's still got it too. Man, what a swingin' band of kids. And I mean kids. Maynard is known for finding young talent and teaching them the ropes. These guys swing. Everyone of 'em. Maynard was countin' 'em off and swing baby swing! The alto player looked like a high school chemistry student but blew that sax with power! "It Don't Mean A Thing If It Ain't Got That Swing" had everyone taking solos. Maynard slaps five to each soloist as they finish their stretch. It's really a wonderful thing to see the baton being passed before your eyes.

Maynard kiddingly asks the pianist, "Have you been drinkin'?", since he just turned 18. Here's a hint: there's alot of rum on the island, mon. But the piano man is blazin' hot. The crowd ooh-ed as they began a version of "The Girl From Ipanema." The audience is truly transfixed to see these great jazz performers do their thing. It reminds me that always being in New York City for music...I take it for granted. I'll try not to do that.

The Maynard gang went into a medley of songs: "MacArthur Park," "Don't Let The Sun Go Down On Me," "Rocky Theme," "Chameleon", "Hey Jude"...a little somethin' for everyone. The trumpet players took turns trying to match Maynard's blasts. A good time was had by all. The power from this brass machine gave me goose bumps, as I'm sure it blew a few of the locals away too. Lots of Brits here.

Next that night, its off to see Murder Inc.'s princess of Hip Hop and R&B. Ashanti. I don't get out to many of these. So I was packin'. Two Cohibas. A packed outdoor venue at beautiful Pigeon Island. I'm East Coast. Does that make me Murder Inc.? or Death Row? Hmmmm.

Saturday morning I swam in the clear blue water and enjoyed a fine breakfast on the beach, overlooking the bay. Made friends with the lovely Marcia from London, who's birthday it was—May 15th. Happy birthday! Small 2-inch birds sing and nibble at the crumbs. A skinny black cat sways by missing half of one of his ears. (Reminds me of my ol' friend cat, Skinny McFinney.)

This island is beautiful beyond words. And I mean that. You have to come here to see for yourself. The natural beauty is mind-blowing. The people are beautiful, physically and spiritually it seems. But the love is so great, the family spirit so strong. The laughter so real. I feel so at peace here. There is caring and compassion.

I look over the menu at the excellent local Lime Restaurant: "green fig and herring" (that's really unripe bananas cooked like vegetables and cod fish that's dried—salt fish), hmmmmm, "cow heel soup", hmmmm. "curried goat", o.k. I've had that in Aruba. It's good. And man did I eat lots of Jerk Chicken at the Jerk Pit. Hi to my friends—Shervor Mathew and the incredibly beautiful Debra Hypolyte—at the Liquor & Tobacco Co. Ltd. for supplying me with those great Cuban cigars. I'll be back.

Today-Saturday, it's back to the astonishing Pigeon Island. At night, you don't notice it, but when I took the shuttle bus back this morning, I was blown away. Huge volcanic rock structures lurching out of the sea. Wow.



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