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There were curious contrasts in clubs here in Philly over the past weekend. They reflected in varying degrees the explosion of tributes to those affected by Katrina, musical tastes of audiences and performers alike.
Saturday, September 26.
The ZANZIBAR BLUE show featured LUVPARK with Orrin Evans, piano; Ron Jennings, guitar; Donald Edwards, drums and Ralph Bowen, sax along with J.D. Walter and Tiffany Jones, vocals. The music had an anticipated pounding, funky, R&B flavor for the instrumentals. Walter has an eerie singing style that commands attention even without lyrics that are memorable or distinct. This was a two night fundraiser for Katrina victims, but for the last show, the tables were empty and the dance floor deserted. There was one noisy table with people shouting, not just talking to one another, but completely oblivious to the music and the rights of others. I keep asking why spend money to hear music and then ignore it? The band was better than the audience and Walter clearly has a vocal style that is unusual and provocative. Cheryl Bentyne, former soprano voice of Manhattan Transfer and winner of dozens of awards for her stylish American song book vocals was at the Zanzibar Sept. 30 and Oct. 1. She sang with gusto and show business projection doing various numbers in something of a tribute to Anita O'Day. Many in the crowd clearly loved her and many others seemed more inersted in their conversations and dinner. The club has great personnel, marvelous food and brings in top talent, but for many musicians audience responce somehow is seldom what it should be. Bentyne was old time show business with dramatic comments, funny asides and show business style in her vocals. She sang it all, Tea for Two, Blue Moon, Talk of the Town and, of course, The Boogie Blues.
CHRIS' JAZZ CAFE had it's all day-all night fund raiser for Katrina going strong at 10:30 p.m. when I stopped by on the way home. The club was packed and roaring with some of the finest jazz people in Philadelphia going on stage as I came inLarry McKenna, Bootsie Barnes on tenor sax; John Swanna, trumpet; Sid Simmons, piano and his trio. They don't get any better anywhere and they kept the audience cheering with non-stop jazz classics and some originals as well. Club Manager Al McMahon told me the audience was generous throughout the day and night as were the musicians, some 100 plus of them and a New Orleans jazz group closed the night with some down home music.
The KIMMEL CENTER on Tuesday night had the dynamite duo of Harry Connick, Jr., piano and Branford Marsalis, sax. Despite the pleadings of the audience, Connick, never sang, which is his most striking strength as something of a Southern Sinatra. The author-actor- singer-pianist-composer confined his stage performance to piano renditions of various numbers with master sax man Marsalis, a couple of which suggested the New Orleans town they are both natives of. If charm were a musical talent, Connick would be incomparable and he engagingly kept the audience laughing and cheering as rambled artfully through the presentations. His piano playing was very good, but a duo performance had overtones of a cocktail bar setting in New York more than a stage show. Marsalis plays masterful sax and some of his solos were truly (forgive the teenage word) awesome. Miguel Zenon, alto sax; and his quartet were left stranded with half the Perleman Theater audience gone for the second act and even half of that small group left while they were playing. It was sad and the group that was not that bad, just not Connick who was clearly the only one they came to see.
I love jazz because anything is possible; it has few rules and the best jazz breaks those ones. I prefer free improv because it doesn't really have any rules at all.
I was first exposed to jazz in my teens (in the late sixties).
The first jazz record I bought was Filles de Kilimanjaro by Miles Davis, shortly followed by Extrapolation by John McLaughlin.
My advice to new listeners is to listen as widely as possible and not to make snap judgments--stick with it.