Jazz & Blues: A Tribute to B.B. King

Jim Santella By

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A gentleman who has made his life's career in the blues, spreading his message effectively everywhere he goes.
Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz
International Jazz Saxophone Competition and concert
Kodak Theater
Los Angeles, California
October 26, 2008

As Poncho Sanchez opened the concert alone on stage with a serious chant aloud over his conga drums, the audience was reminded that jazz is composed of parts that grew out of many different geographical areas of the world. His "Afro Blue" evolved into a medley of modern jazz memories as drummer Teri Lyne Carrington, bassist John Patitucci, trumpeter Terence Blanchard, guitarist Lee Ritenour and pianist George Duke joined him on stage.

The Kodak Theater, immense in proportion, provides a quaint setting for musical performances. Acoustics and visual perception coalesce optimally as the artists on stage can be heard and seen while putting their hearts into it before the spotlights. This evening's three-hour concert was the culmination of this year's Monk Institute Jazz Saxophone competition as well as an award ceremony and tribute to B.B. King.

After each of the three saxophone finalists appeared with vocalist Dee Dee Bridgewater and the piano trio of Geoffrey Keezer, bassist Rodney Whitaker and drummer Carl Allen, the composer's award was announced. Sherrise Rogers won with her "Transitions," which was performed by members of the CSU Northridge Jazz Band. Encouraging creativity in several musical categories, the Monk Institute awards $10,000 for composition and $10,000 for the winning saxophone finalist.

The institute's 22-year involvement with students of all ages was on display as high school and college students joined veterans to honor the award winners. Paul G. Allen received the Herbie Hancock Humanitarian Award for his contributions to technology, music and society. Allen was unable to appear, so the award was accepted on his behalf by Bono and The Edge—a fitting role, considering Allen's love for Jimi Hendrix and the searing music that has followed from his lasting impact. Hancock, too, has benefitted over the years from advances in technology. He sat down at the piano after awarding the honor to Allen's stand-ins and was joined by guitarists Kevin Eubanks, Joe Louis Walker, Robert Cray and Keb' Mo' for a fiery version of "Red House" that recalled the best of Hendrix.

B.B. King received the Founder's Award and appeared on stage to perform "When Love Comes to Town" and "Let the Good Times Roll," surrounded by those honoring him. It was a love-fest between jazz and blues as the night featured guitarists Eubanks, Walker, Cray and Keb' Mo' dishing out the blues with authority, Bono and The Edge adding a contemporary rock flavor, Bridgewater, Cassandra Wilson and Lisa Henry adding sensual vocals to the program, while Blanchard, Ritenour, and saxophonists Wayne Shorter, Antonio Hart and Jimmy Heath lent a significant hand to the musical flow.

Performing arts students represent the future of jazz, and the Monk Institute each year features several all-star ensembles that come from various high schools under the Institute's tutelage. This year, saxophonist Hart and vocalist Henry performed with seven students just before intermission in a rousing affair that leaned heavily on the modern in modern mainstream jazz. Later in the program, trumpeter Blanchard returned with seven more students, including young trumpeter Gordon Au, who returned after last year's thrilling performance, with a rousing interpretation of "Bourbon Street Parade."

Other tributes to King from the Monk Institute included "Walkin' Blues" with Keb' Mo,' "Sweet Home Chicago" with Joe Louis Walker and "Bright Lights, Big City" with Robert Cray. "Straight, No Chaser" featured T.S. Monk on drums along with Heath, Ritenour, Duke and Patitucci. Bridgewater sang an uplifting "Sweet Soul Music" with Cray and company, then Quincy Jones brought everybody out on stage for the presentation of the year's saxophone awards: altoist Tim Green placed second and tenorist Quamon Fowler placed third. Sandra Evers-Manley presented the first-place award to Jon Irabagon on behalf of Northrop Grumman Corporation, and then everyone joined him and B.B. King for "Let The Good Times Roll," which sent a warm breeze through the auditorium for a gentleman who has made his life's career in the blues, spreading his message effectively everywhere he goes.


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