"A Celebration of Jazz & Joyce," Beantown Jazz Festival
September 27, 2007
I doubt Boston has seen as many great jazz players on one stage for one concert since the old Jazz at the Philharmonic jazz all-star tours sponsored by producer Norman Granz decades ago. On September 28 jazz festival impresario George Wein brought together 18 top musicians for a multi-generational tribute to his late wife, who died in August 2005 after battling cancer.
The "Celebration of Jazz & Joyce event, which kicked open the weekend's 2007 Beantown Jazz Festival, sold out Symphony Hall and raised nearly $250,000 for the new Joyce Alexander Wein Scholarship fund at the Berklee College of Music. Performers included Herbie Hancock, Roy Haynes, Jon Faddis, Lizz Wright, Regina Carter, Geri Allen, Esparanza Spalding, Branford Marsalis, Joe Lovano, Lew Tabackin, Joey Calderazzo, Claudia Acuna, Toshiko Akiyoshi, Michel Camilo, Howard Alden, Kenny Werner, Jimmy Cobb and Ray Drummond. Besides great jazz, the evening was filled with anecdotes and poignant music often featuring Joyce Wein's favorite tunes, not that the music always rose to the caliber of which individual performers were capable. After all, many were thrust into unusual combinations.
Saxophonists Branford Marsalis and Joe Lovano, backed by Kenny Werner, Ray Drummond and Billy Cobb, provided a first-half highlight. Their blistering rendition of Sigmund Romberg's "Softly as in a Morning Sunrise" didn't reveal the melody until the coda. The same treatment followed for the quintet's version of Johnny Green's "Body and Soul.
Pianist Joey Calderazzo and singer Claudia Acuna performed a delicate version of "Amanecer" (Sunrise). Pianist Michel Camilo's thunderous solo version of "Caribe, which he said was Mrs. Wein's favorite Camilo composition, brought the crowd to its feet. Trumpeter Jon Faddis and guitarist Howard Alden brought the first half to a close with a poignant version of Eubie Blake's "Memories of You, the tune Faddis had played two years ago at Joyce Wein's memorial in New York.
Wein brought pianist Geri Allen, vocalist Lizz Wright and violinist Regina Carter together with and without rhythm section in the second half. Allen and Wright collaborated on a sweet duo version of "Here's to Life before all three women offered a trio version of Irving Berlin's "Reaching for the Moon. Saxophonist Lew Tabackin, featured in the first half in the opening quintet jam on Monk's "I Mean You, returned for a solo flute version of Django Reinhardt's "Nuages.
Herbie Hancock opened his two-song cameo with an elegy-styled improvisation he later titled "Here's to the Elegant Lady. Hancock was then joined by young bassist Esparanza Spalding and drummer Roy Haynes for a version of the pianist's "Dolphin Dance that never reached its full potential. Native Bostonian Haynes, perhaps the youngest-looking and sounding 82-year-old on the planet, got the energy of the night back on track with a short, crackling, polyrhythmic untitled drum solo. The crowd again leaped to its feet.
After Werner, Drummond, Cobb, Alden, Lovano, Faddis, Tabackin and Carter wound down the night with Charlie Parker's "Confirmation, George Wein brought the musicians to the stage and gave thanks with a series of musical and non-musical anecdotes about each of them.
The night was a splendid reminder about the personal and musical legacies of Boston natives George and Joyce Wein, who launched their careers in Beantownhe with the jazz clubs Storyville and Mahogany Hall before the Newport Jazz Festival, the mother of all such events, transformed his career as a producer and she as a medical researcher before becoming a key cog in the Wein's Festival Productions Inc. wheel.