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 was first exposed to jazz circa 1973, when I met a fellow who ran Kappy's Record Store over near 10th Ave., on 42nd St. in NYC. We really clicked and when I told him I played piano and went to Music & Art HS, and had just started at City College of NY as a music major, he asked if I liked jazz...I said yes but I didn't know much about it, but that I did have sheet music for many popular 1920's through 1940's tunes by noted composers (Porter; Gershwins; Irving Berlin; Rodgers & Hammerstein/Hart; Jerome Kern; Lerner & Loewe; etc.) that my mother had sung beautifully starting in the 1940's including tons of famous show tunes, and I played many of those songs already
I was first exposed to jazz circa 1973, when I met a fellow who ran Kappy's Record Store over near 10th Ave., on 42nd St. in NYC. We really clicked and when I told him I played piano and went to Music & Art HS, and had just started at City College of NY as a music major, he asked if I liked jazz...I said yes but I didn't know much about it, but that I did have sheet music for many popular 1920's through 1940's tunes by noted composers (Porter; Gershwins; Irving Berlin; Rodgers & Hammerstein/Hart; Jerome Kern; Lerner & Loewe; etc.) that my mother had sung beautifully starting in the 1940's including tons of famous show tunes, and I played many of those songs already. SOOOO... he started me off LP's by Oscar Peterson, Art Tatum, Bud Powell, Errol Garner, Bill Evans, Monty Alexander, Charlie Byrd, and Dave Brubeck... does it get any better than that? ...No, it doesn't. I was hooked!!
I met and had a master class with the late music giant John Lewis, leader of the Modern Jazz Quartet! This was at CCNY in 1977. I was blessed! It was an incredible class... how could it have been anything else?!?!
The first jazz record I bought was...I bought numerous records from my friend at the record store, as mentioned above. He introduced me to nothing but music giants/legends! I think The Dave Brubeck Quartet, Greatest Hits, was actually the first one.
My advice to new listeners... study first--understand the rudiments--solfeggio, keys, scales, and basic chords. Read a book or take a class that includes the study of chord progressions, especially in jazz. It should ideally be a piano class so you can play multiple notes together. Have a good EAR or else it's not really worth it in my view...to become a musician, a good EAR for music is about as fundamental as breathing! Learn to read chord charts--i.e., lead sheets - wherein you play various voicings of the chords--major, minor, dominant 7th (alterations of these, you can learn over time - the basic chords are most important for starters), plus the melody, on the piano or keyboard. If you have to read the exact notes, then it's not the same as actually internalizing it & getting it all into your head. If you can do this, I think you're ready not only for listening to jazz, but understanding many concepts of it! Of course...anyone can listen to jazz... but I think it's so good to also have a grasp of it.