Bright Moments: So Cal Jazz Highlights, 2011
The evening began with a small group, the Jazz Heritage All Stars, swingin' through several classic jazz tunes, including Burrell's "Midnight Blue." George Bohannon's sweet, rumbling trombone and Clayton Cameron's slick drumming complemented Burrell's bluesy yet sophisticated guitar riffs. Next, Argentine born pianist, composer and arranger Lalo Schifrin joined Burrell for a revisiting Dizzy Gillespie's "Con Alma."
The blues has been at the foundation of jazz and celebrating that intimate musical connection was the "King of the blues" himself, the inimitable B.B. King, who instantly magnified the evening's electrical output. When he tore into "The Thrill Is Gone," the crowd roared ecstatically. But the musical thrills peaked when surprise guest, the great Stevie Wonder, joined Burrell, King and vocal queen Dee Dee Bridgewater onstage. Burrell suggested they "play a blues" and the cats went off. Wonder's harmonica and the two octogenarian guitar masters drove each other to a fiery finish.
The evening's second set featured Burrell's recent project, the LA Jazz Orchestra Unlimited, an organization that Burrell hopes will one day rival New York's Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra. Although finding sufficient financial support and performing opportunities for such a large group will be challenging, clearly Burrell has the energy to bring his dream to fruition. Later, the LAJOU joined with UCLA Philharmonia to perform Burrell's powerful extended composition, "Suite For Peace."
This 80th birthday tribute was a joyous affair, well-deserved by Burrell whose humanity, generosity of spirit and contributions to jazz may even exceed his unparalleled sense of swing.
Too many empty seats continues to be a problem here in Southern California where the dispersed nature of life translates into long drives to venues scattered over miles of freeways. Club owners face a daunting task trying to fill seats, especially mid-week, but if people want to keep this precious music called jazz alive, they need to fight the inertia and get out and support these musicians in the clubs.
All Photos: Chuck Koton