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Billy Taylor's Jazz at the Kennedy Center with Clark Terry

Ken Dryden By

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The NPR series Billy Taylor's Jazz at the Kennedy Center only aired for 26 weeks out of the year for a few years, but that doesn't mean it wasn't a terrific program. Taylor is not only a masterful pianist who brought out the best in his guests, but a terrific interviewer as well. Of the relatively few broadcasts which I recorded, the edition featuring Clark Terry was one of the most memorable shows.

Terry is obviously one of the easiest to recognize flugelhornists and trumpeters, with a tone so distinctive it can often be identified in a single note. The show begins with his brisk blues "Free and Oozy, showcasing not only the composer, but each member of the Billy Taylor Trio to good effect. The lively jam of "Lester Leaps In makes me wonder how good he might have sounded as a part of the Jazz at the Philharmonic recording sessions and tours, though since he was a part of Duke Ellington's band during the heyday of JATP, it might have been difficult for him to do so.

Of course, Ellington's works are an indispensable part of Terry's vast repertoire, so the inclusion of "Just Squeeze Me should be no surprise. Not only does his flugelhorn seem almost vocal in nature, but he alternates between the instrument and muted trumpet (with one in each hand), a routine that has been part of his act for a long time, though he manages to play both parts of a very coherent solo, rather than just making it a gimmick. Jackson kids everyone with a quote-filled solo that borrows from several famous songs. Terry follows with a vocal chorus that alternates between mellow and bluesy.

Terry switches to muted trumpet for a rapid fire performance of "Lover, but it is blown away by his fast take of his famous blues "Mumbles, featuring his mostly incomprehensible singing parody of an inebriated would-be blues singer accompanying a pianist in a local bar, while also briefly showcasing his open trumpet. His unaccompanied coda finds him imitating various European languages to the delight of the audience and Taylor's appreciative laughter.

Always a superb ballad interpreter, Terry returns to flugelhorn for a captivating interpretation of "I Can't Get Started. The group closes with an explosive take of Charlie Parker's famous "Donna Lee (reworking the chord changes to "Indiana ). Terry leads the way on flugelhorn, though both Taylor and Jackson give him a run for the money with fine solos.

In addition to the music, there are several interesting interview segments, along with a few audience questions.

It is a shame that no label has sought to commercially release individual programs from the late lamented Billy Taylor's Jazz at the Kennedy Center.

Playlist

  1. Introduction
  2. Free and Oozy (Clark Terry)
  3. talk
  4. Lester Leaps In (Lester Young)
  5. talk
  6. Just Squeeze Me (Duke Ellington/Lee Gaines)
  7. trio theme for station break
  8. audience questions
  9. Lover (Richard Rodgers/Lorenz Hart)
  10. audience questions
  11. Mumbles (Clark Terry)
  12. talk
  13. I Can't Get Started (Vernon Duke/Ira Gershwin)
  14. Donna Lee (Charlie Parker)
  15. band introductions


Personnel
Billy Taylor/piano
Clark Terry/flugelhorn/trumpet/vocals
Chip Jackson/bass
Steve Johns/drums

Satellite feed October 3, 1995 Recording date circa 1995


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