Mike Wofford is one of those unsung yet enormously talented pianists (there are a lot of them) whose names rarely surface in the so-called "best of popularity contests (excuse me, polls) conducted by various jazz periodicals. One of the reasons, of course, is that Wofford makes his home in San Diego; another, closely related to the first, is that he hasn't the name recognition of a Keith Jarrett, McCoy Tyner, Chick Corea, Kenny Barron, Hank Jones, Cecil Taylor, Oscar Peterson, Herbie Hancock... the list goes on.
But despite keeping a relatively low profile, Wofford manages to stay quite busy, accompanying some of the country's finest musicians and performing regularly at venues large and small. Among the places he has visited often is the Athenaeum Music & Arts Library in nearby La Jolla, California, which presents a year-round program of music including Jazz at the Athenaeum, which was begun in 1989. Live at Athenaeum Jazz, recorded in November of 2003, is the series' first publicly issued recording.
Wofford marked the occasion by assembling a trio whose rhythmic element consists of two of New York City's most prominent and busiest sidemen, bassist Peter Washington and drummer Victor Lewis. The choices could hardly have been betterand not only because Washington and Lewis are among my favorite players. They know instinctively what Wofford has in mind, and they carry out their assignments with casual precision.
The program Wofford has chosen is bright and engaging. The opening ballad, "My Old Flame, is followed by Ellington's "Take the Coltrane, originals by Conte Candoli ("Macedonia ) and Lewis ("Dex-Mex ), a medley of Leonard Bernstein's "Lucky to Be Me and Ellington's "I'm Just a Lucky So and So, and Sting's "It's Probably Me. Wofford closes with one of Irving Berlin's loveliest and most neglected treasures, "The Best Thing for You.
Wofford plays marvelously throughout, as do Washington and Lewis (who introduces "Probably Me with a nearly four-minute solo and rumbles again on the fast-paced "Dex-Mex ). Everyone is clearly enjoying the moment, and when Wofford sculpts an unaccompanied rendition of "Lucky to Be Me, one can appreciate that he truly believes it. A stylish concert by three superlative musicians.