David Arnay and Nedra Wheeler at Parkway Grill, Pasadena
Friday Night Jazz at Parkway Grill
The Parkway Grill
August 15, 2008
Imagine this... An Olympic Marathon of the blues mixed with straight ahead jazz relays, all seasoned with a dash of ballads, swing, and contemporary compositions from the '60's and '70's and a standard turned into a tantalizing tango. This was the soulful session that occurred Friday night, August 15th, at the Parkway Grill in Pasadena. The packed lounge and bar area was alive with easy conversation, food and drink; I was seated with a friend. As we settled in for an evening of dinner and Friday night relaxation, we anticipated a wondrous musical experience.
Pianist David Arnay and bassist Nedra Wheeler serenaded us with an array of tunes that would take us on an explicitly soulful journey. The combination of the two seasoned musicians not only lured the audience all night but would also inspire a couple of devoted jazz lovers to join them before the night was done. The result was a trio delight.
The flight included the beautiful blues by Miles Davis, "All Blues," the Thelonious Monk tune, "Crepuscule with Nelly," and the Erskine Hawkins swinger, "Tuxedo Junction." Finally, Charlie Parker's "Confirmation" was just thata varied validation of the duo's creativity.
Wheeler showed that her vocal chops were equally as cool and in the pocket as her soulful bass work, sounding lyrical, joyous, and filled with a glorious sense of timing.
Next, the musical couple earned a long-stemmed rose between the teeth a tantalizing tango version of Cole Porter' "What Is This Thing Called Love." It was passion personified. Finally, the team mixed in a bit of the late 1960's with the Fifth Dimension's "Up, Up, and Away" and "Good Day Sunshine." The 1970's were not left behind as the duo performed a tune made famous by the band Chicago, "25 or 6 To 4," followed by Stevie Wonder's "Master Blaster," which sounded as soulful and funky as ever.
The artists invited some sitting in as the night progressed. An ardent pianist in his own right, Michael sat down in front of the ivory and black keys and performed a solid version of Duke Ellington's rarely heard "Angelica." The attentive audience was rewarded by Michael's performance during this number as well as by David Arnay, a man of versatility, who sported his guitar playing abilities to back up Michael along with Nedra's contributions on bass.
I feel a bit awkward in sharing this, but David stepped over to my table and asked if I had "brought my axe." Flute in hand, I went up to the band stand and elatedly stayed with the blues form, performing a Sonny Rollins tune, "Blue 7," followed by Duke Ellington's "C-Jam Blues."
The scene seemed as though there wasn't a ceiling over the lounge area, where the three of us floated to the heavens in sync with the spirit of the moment and music. The two musical hosts' spontaneity, gracefulness, acute union, and affecting approach were contagious and wonderful. Indeed, this proved a night bursting with surprise, serenity, and serendipity.