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An Evening with Jack Sheldon

Jim Santella By

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Jack Sheldon and Friends
Founders Hall
Orange County Performing Arts Center
Costa Mesa, California
November 13, 2004

Punctual, in his usual good spirits, and sounding better than ever, Jack Sheldon gave his Southern California audience a night to remember. Based in Bebop, coated with California Cool, and dedicated to emotional expression, he and his all-star sextet held their fans spellbound for 90 minutes in a dimly lit room that oozed its intimacy.

Founders Hall is arranged so that 61 tables arch around a high stage in such a manner that everyone in the room can see the band without interference. There's no noisy bar in the room; however, drinks are served quietly before each performance and partway into each program. While the room's acoustics haven't yet been toned down to remove its few unwanted qualities, this new feature on the Orange County jazz scene surpasses most venues in the area. Roomy, and yet intimate, the room served as an ideal location for Sheldon and Friends to communicate with their audience.

For his up-tempo Bebop numbers, Sheldon had each of his sextet members take an extensive solo in turn. Alto saxophonist Lanny Morgan's fierce attack on "Green Dolphin Street" helped set the pace. Cascading with dry alacrity, he recalled Bird's early years one moment, and introduced his own free-flowing style the next.

Tenor saxophonist Pete Christlieb lent characteristic emotion to the program, keeping a cohesive outlook through favorite selections such as "Don't Get Around Much Anymore" and "Lover." His blues-laden roadhouse roar on "Our Delight" left a considerable groove for the band to follow.

Pianist Tom Ranier, bassist Chuck Bergoher and drummer Bob Leatherbarrow supported Sheldon admirably. As he sang "Where Do You Start?" they provided a lush accompaniment to color the mood appropriately. Tender solos from piano and bass added a graceful touch.

One session high point was Sheldon's expressive trumpet rendition of "Shadow of Your Smile." Using half-valve squeezes and a bold, majestic manner, he carried the song's theme to fruition. Pouring from the heart, the virtuosic trumpeter captured its essence and interpreted accurately.

Closing with a fiery "Caravan," the sextet let loose with up-tempo ferocity. Everybody in the house enjoyed this one immeasurably, and the band took it away with flying colors. Even Leatherbarrow, the reliable timekeeper, got into the stepped up emotional upheaval with a hot, Gene Krupa-like extended solo to close out the night.

Trumpeter Sheldon, 72, is an expressionist. He values musical expression above all else through each performance. While he pours every ounce of his energy into a song, he cherishes a beautifully played melody over dizzying streams of flurried notes. The inner strength with which he interprets a song gives him the ability to play physically demanding excerpts with natural ease. High notes punctuate an aria as effortlessly as saying "hello" or "good night." The result is a meaningful conversation between performer and audience that can never be forgotten.

Visit Jack Sheldon on the web at www.jacksheldon.com .


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