Jacksonville: Big City, Big Band, Big Plans
I must confess that during its first three years, for various reasons I won't summarize here, Betty and I have had almost no connection with the annual New Mexico Jazz Festival, held for two weeks each summer. That changed on Sunday, July 19, when I drove to Santa Fe (Betty was indisposed) to see and hear tenor saxophonist Jimmy Heath leading the Generations Band in concert at the Lensic Theatre. I was prompted not only by the rare chance to see Jimmy but to check out one of my favorite young(er) tenors, Eric Alexander, who shared the front line with Heath, trumpeter Terell Stafford and alto saxophonist Andrew Speight. The concert was preceded by an afternoon "meet the musician" session in which Heath was interviewed by J.B. Spellman, former deputy chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts, who flew in from Washington, DC, to conduct the session. As it turned out, his was a relatively easy task, as Heath is an accomplished raconteur with a sharp memory and a wealth of interesting anecdotes. He is also, at age 82, a marvelous saxophonist, as he proved that evening. Alexander was also on his game, as was the former Aussie, Speight, and especially Stafford, a dynamo on every number. Once onstage, Jimmy Heath explained the group's name, the Generations Band: "The three guys standing next to me," he said, "are all in their forties; Eric's the youngest at exactly forty. Our pianist (David Hazeltine) is fifty, our bassist (Ray Drummond) is sixty, our drummer (Jimmy's brother, Tootie Heath) is seventy-four, and I'm not gonna say which one of us is in his eighties!"
The septet played one ninety-minute set without pause, opening with Billy Strayhorn's venerable "Take the 'A' Train" (well, they'd not had much time to rehearse). After Jimmy Heath's "The Quota," the front-liners played a "ballad medley," each one choosing one song. Stafford began with "Old Folks," Speight was up next with "Autumn in New York," followed by Heath ("Lover Man") and Alexander (Leonard Bernstein's "Some Other Time"). Blue Mitchell's lively samba, "Funjii Mama," preceded Jimmy Heath's solo feature, "'Round Midnight," and his funky "Gingerbread Boy," which would have ended the concert save for the audience's demand for an encore. For that, the band chose a guaranteed crowd-pleaser, "On Green Dolphin Street." A splendid concert all-round.
A week earlier, Betty and I were at The Cooperage steakhouse in Albuquerque for a concert by the Albuquerque Jazz Orchestra whose leader, trumpeter Bobby Shew, had been taken ill and was unable to be there. Nevertheless, the ensemble was in fine form. Instead of closing with "Green Dolphin Street," the AJO opened its first set with the Bronislau Kaper standard. The rest was familiar fare (to us) with only one new chart, "Where or When," which featured pianist Stu McAskie, sitting in for Chris Ishee who continues to recover from a heart attack. The capable soloists included two newcomers, alto saxophonist Brian Donahoe (subbing for Glenn Kostur) and trumpeter Dan Jonas (for Kent Erickson). Tenor Lee Taylor was admirable as always on his features, "Here's That Rainy Day," "When You're Smiling" and "My Funny Valentine," as were Donahoe on "Cherokee" and trumpeter Bruce Dalby on "Mulholland Falls." Alas, the attendance was slight (we counted less than thirty), and future engagements at The Cooperage remain in doubt.
On the Horizon