It was a rather unique spectacle to see five generations of jazz musicians sharing the same stage. The performance aptly titled "Giants of Jazz 3" took place Saturday Oct. 13 at South Orange Middle School in Essex County NJ and featured a high-powered lineup of artists ranging from ages 17 to 74. Though the music was certainly captivating, the show was not entirely fulfilling since no one person really pushed the limits of their abilities or the music. The evening's master of ceremonies was Jon Faddis, musical director for the Carnegie Hall Jazz Orchestra. For the first piece he introduced the starting lineup which included Slide Hampton on trombone, saxophonist's Jimmy Heath, Antonio Hart, Paquito D'Rivera and the rhythm section Benny Green on Piano, Todd Coolman on Bass and drummer T.S. Monk. The impromptu super group launched into a rousing rendition of Sonny Stitt's "The Eternal Triangle." It was highlighted by Faddis' ear blasting Dizzy Gillespie style solo. Following this the horn players left the rhythm section alone on stage. Green began playing a boogie woogie intro. As the piece began to develop the trio's interplay became quite riveting. This continued during the next tune when Hart joined them on Alto Sax. But the real high point of their playing came when Slide Hampton performed the Benny Golson standard "Along Came Betty." Even though Hampton's solo was decent Monk and Coolman's explosive interweaving was one of the evenings finest moments. After Hampton departed Faddis introduced one of the evening's special guests Asher Stein a recent winner of the Charlie Parker Saxophone competition. He choose to perform the Johnny Mercer and David Raskin classic "Laura" in a manner similar to Parker's 1950 version, minus the strings of course. Despite being only 17, Stein didn't sound a bit about of place on this stage. The first note was so richly textured it gained a loud applause. Many were shocked to see that this young man who looked barely 14 could play with such depth. At the end of the piece even his cohorts on stage gave him standing ovation.
A new group was then introduced, drummer Dion Parson, bassist John Lee (who was one of the events organizers) and pianist Renee Rosnes. The percussionist Duke and Paquito D' Rivera joined them and began a spirited but somber performance of Antonio Carlos Jobim's "Quiet Nights." After his first solo D'Rivera left the stage and returned with his saxophone and quickly pushed the tempo transforming it into furious paced Afro-Cuban jazz piece that ended the set.
The second half of the show was much different from the first. It began with Rosnes and Green in face to face for a piano duel. Although well executed it didn't quite capture the same emotion as the first set. When they finished Faddis introduced acoustic guitarist John Lucien, his mellow Latin tinged guitar numbers were certainly engaging but very anti-climatic and tended to drag. His style of playing appeared a bit out of place during an evening devoted more heavily to the various styles of Bop and Bossa Nova.
To final phase of the performance began with a ceremony honoring Jimmy Heath for his lifetime commitment to jazz. This was followed by Heath's rendition of his own "The Voice of the Saxophone." His performance however was quickly overshadowed by the event's finale. It featured the entire ensemble minus only Lucien and Coolman. The 12 piece group performed Heath's "Ginger Bread Boy," a song, he joked, that was originally inspired by his son who is now 6'2'', 220 pounds. After the initial melody the young Stein was literally pushed up the microphone by his peers. Following a brief moment of terror he went into an inspired solo. But the real climax of the piece came during the drumming stand off between T.S. Monk and Dion Parson. For about five minutes the two sat staring into one another's eyes, each trying to out do the other with Blakey inspired fills and hard driving rhythms.
While it was entertaining to see this group of musicians having a great time while performing to such a receptive audience, it was disappointing that such big names played so few tunes. More than a concert the show acted like a bit of tease, now if all the artist's would return next year with their own bands, South Orange could be the host of the hottest Jazz festival this side of the Atlantic. But until that day guess we'll just have to settle for Giants of Jazz, a rather well put together jam session.
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