Sedona Jazz on the Rocks
September 21-24, 2006
Paquito D'Rivera's Afro-Cuban energy fueled the daylong outdoor festival of the 25th annual Sedona Jazz on the Rocks weekend, aided by dazzling guitarist Earl Klugh, story-telling bluesman Doug MacLeod and a pair of scintillating singers, Rene Marie and Barbara Morrison.
I've attended each of the 25 festivals, and this year's planning, program and presentation were solid and satisfying. After four venue relocations since its inception, including recent years at the shade-deprived Sedona Cultural Park, attendees raved about the tree-studded grounds of the Radisson Poco Diablo Resort. Its park-like setting provided the missing natural elements with weeping willows, a bubbling brook and waddling ducks.
An estimated 5,000 attended four days of events, Sept. 21-24, with 3,500-plus at Saturday's outdoor event, where the festival included a second stage for several youth band performances between headliners' sets. More than $1000,000 has been committed to youth programs since JOR's inception in 1981, according to Bettye Wilson, JOR board president. The free printed program, which included photos from past decades, was a valuable souvenir, along with the usual t-shirts, hats and jewelry.
During the past quarter-century, JOR expanded its concept from a one-day festival to include pre-weekend concerts, and last year added monthly themed concerts in Sedona featuring Arizona jazz musicians on Saturdays and Sundays, proceeds benefiting youth education projects.
The extended festival weekend began with a Thursday evening performance in a private home by pianist Billy Mitchell, Klugh and the JOR Youth Band. Two Friday night concerts were played by the Benny Green Trio at the Sedona Creative Life Center, Green's amazing agility and invention rivaling Oscar Peterson, drummer Carl Allen delivering percussive ingenuity, acoustic bassist John Webber providing a solid foundation.
D'Rivera, who played the festival three years ago, delivered a set of soulful spice. He played alto sax on the first few charts, then switched to clarinet for "Night in Tunisia. A loop-delay effect was added for another clarinet chart before he again picked up the alto for an infectious mambo, impelling the crowd to rise for a standing ovation.
Morrison's incredible voice and charisma never fail to reach audiences, and the JOR listeners obviously dug every well-chosen familiar song, among them "All Blues, "Lullaby of Birdland, "Think You Made Your Move Too Soon and "Rio de Janiero Blues. Morrison swung mightily, and a bonus was Billy Mitchell sitting in on piano, reuniting two California treasures and inciting dancers to get moving.
Klugh spiced his set with recollections of his '70s collaboration with Bob James, Latin zest and a couple of standards. His tightly meshed sextet created a driving energy that kept the crowd excited and involved, including Lenny Price's searing soprano sax solo on "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes. Klugh's style and skill in the contemporary jazz genre thrilled the audience throughout his hour on stage. His dedication to jazz education was proven by his waiving a performance fee to assure more funds for JOR's expanding youth programs.
MacLeod, a favorite at several previous festivals, was enthusiastically welcomed back, but his duo set differed from performing with a full band and spurring a frenzy of dancing. Instead he played a set of low-key, slow-tempo story-songs. Fans moved closer to the stage, enthralled by the lyrics, his slide Dobro guitar skill and the artful but almost subliminal acoustic bass of Danny Croy. Many others left the grounds, expressing disappointment that Doug didn't deliver his get-down-and-boogie style.
The day opened with a sparse but appreciative 10 a.m. crowd hearing Marie deliver an emotive set of mostly originals, with a nod to standards via "It Might As Well Be Spring and two Broadway hits. Her trio of pianist Kevin Bales, bassist Rodney Jordan and drummer Quentin Baxter delivered inventive solos.
A jam session was staged after the festival, led by pianist Mitchell, featured many of the day's performers, youth-band musicians and scholarship winners.
The Sunday buffet brunch at the Sedona Hilton Resort the next day featured two sets by singer Melissa Walker, who has a pleasant voice but no definitive style to distinguish her from so many others. Her dynamic trio was a strong audience-pleaser, featuring the always-amazing Makoto Ozone at the piano, artful bassist Christian McBride (he and Walker were to be married in Sedona that weekend) and superb drummer Clarence Penn.
Patricia Myers and David Aragon