Roger Kellaway Trio: Review and Bonus Video


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Washington, DC, correspondent John Birchard attended Kellaway's Saturday night performance in the nation's capital. Here is his report.


By John Birchard

The 2008-2009 season at the Kennedy Center's KC Jazz Club in Washington, DC finished with a flourish last night. In a tribute to the late Oscar Peterson, Roger Kellaway's Trio showed two sell-out crowds why he is so highly regarded among musicians and insiders.

Setting a tone of relaxed swing from the outset of the evening's second set, Kellaway, guitarist Bruce Forman and bassist Dan Lutz moseyed along at a medium walk through Benny Golson's “Killer Joe." Afterward, Kellaway remarked that, so far as he knew, Oscar Peterson never recorded the tune. He then said his favorite Peterson trio was the one with Herbie Ellis and Ray Brown and noted their Stratford Shakespearean Festival album as being especially great.

With that, the group set off on a brisk “Cottontail", with Forman spinning long lines in his solo while Kellaway mulled over some choice chords as accompaniment. Lutz offered a good approximation of Ray Brown's style on bass, while Kellaway did more exploring in his solo with a series of small, intriguing adventures.

Gershwin's “I Was Doin' All Right" was up next. The arrangement began in an old-timey rhythm, but during the piano solo Kellaway served up a helping of funk, a series of keyboard smears, a bracing combination of old-style and modern harmonies. There's lots of grinning in this band as the members show delight with the subtle inventions of their colleagues. They obviously enjoy making music and they communicate that to the audience.

C Jam Blues “ began with Kellaway solo. By the time he settled into the familiar melody, he had toured outer space, giving no hint of what was to come. As the tune came into view, the rhythm began chugging in a walking two beat with some great Forman choruses. Lutz contributed a solo marked by lots of double and triple stops. Then, for several climactic choruses Kellaway went to church, ringing out the kind of gospel chords that cause folks to rise up shouting.

The trio performed Paul Desmond's “Take Five" as if done by the Peterson trio, with Forman strumming five to the bar, much bluesier than the Brubeck version. The leader then confessed his youthful love for the Sons of the Pioneers, and proceeded to perform a “Tumbling Tumbleweeds" faithful to the familiar loping gait, but re-harmonized with some chords never conceived by its composer. From Kellaway's Cello Quartet period in the 1970s, he performed a solo version of his original “All My Life", a melancholy ballad of great beauty. He promised to reinstitute the Cello Quartet soon.

The night came to a storming conclusion with Thelonious Monk's “52nd Street Theme."

Kellaway said Oscar Peterson performed it at a finger-busting 160 beats per minute, but that he wasn't up to such a challenge and they would ease into it at 144. That pace was still jet-propelled and the familiar descending ensemble figure once played by OP and Herb Ellis was executed to perfection by Kellaway and Forman.

Roger Kellaway has never settled down to one specialty in his long career. His active mind has taken him many places in music from the bandstand at the old Half Note with Clark Terry and Bob Brookmeyer to writing TV's All in the Family closing theme and more than two dozen film scores, including Barbra Streisand's “A Star is Born" for which Kellaway was nominated for an Academy Award. He was Bobby Darin's musical director and had a long association with lyricist Gene Lees. In 2008 he won the prestigious award Prix du Jazz Classique (the French Grammy) for his album “Heroes." That's a partial listing o f his many credits. Any time you can catch him at the keyboard, you're in for a special experience.

In the video clip below, you will see and hear Kellaway, cellist Borislav Strulev, bassist Christian McBride and guitarist Russell Malone at Kellaway's 2007 Carnegie Hall tribute to Oscar Peterson. Strulev, whose training was in Moscow's Central School of Music, moved to the US with his parents in the mid-1990s. Like most classical musicians, he does not improvise but, like a growing number of young classical players, he is developing a feel for jazz time and jazz phrasing. Kellaway wrote the solo you will hear Strulev play on “Sweet Lorraine" with Kellaway, Malone and McBride. Strulev is sight-reading it. Be sure not to bail out before the video ends with his stage exit.

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