May 30, 2003
It was an unlikely gathering place for musicians of such high caliber. This smooth jazz superband couldn've packed any outdoor festival with a crowd of 25,000. But tonight we were all huddled into the auditorium of Foran High School in Milford, Connecticut. The event: "Smooth Jazz For Scholars."
All these jazz luminaries had come together to benefit the city's high schools' music departments. The brainchild of city resident, killer keyboardist Jay Rowe; he invited his buddies over to this coastal New England enclave for a jazz jam.
Ask them and they will come. Ken Navarro, Nelson Rangell, Chieli Minucci and Marion Meadows all showed up in fine form. Each musician took a 3-song spotlight backed by the funky rhythm section of bassist Dave Anderson, drummer Trevor Summerville and Jay Rowe on keyboards. Vocals were provided by gifted Timmy Maia.
I noticed what must've been Trevor's parents in the crowd, proudly cheering him on. Made me smile. (Incidentally, my son's name is also Trevor and he goes to this high school. It's all connected.)
"I just wanted to do something nice for the music department," Jay Rowe humbly remarks. "Since I went to school in Milford, I wanted to help out somehow, buy a computer, help pay for transportation, raise some extra money."
I had a brief chaat with guitarist Ken Navarro before the show. Nice guy. (Somehow we got on the subject of Sonny Rollins.) Ken had just flown in from Maryland, was doing the gig here and then flying back that night and performing in another town the next night. It never ceases to amaze me how these guys can keep up the schedule they do. It's a true labor of love.
Ken, Jay and company kicked off the jam. The crowd was rockin'. Jay is explosive onstage and one of the best keyboardists on the circuit. He is a true entertainer. (www.jayrowemusic.com)
Ken walked out into the front rows strumming his instrument. Displaying an exciting technique on a variety of guitars, Ken showed us why he does so well on the Smooth Jazz charts. As he was finishing up his set, saxophonist Nelson Rangell slipped in to join the fun.
Next, it was his set. Rangell proved an accomplished host, as he joked with the crowd and played some really beautiful and inspiring music. He even whistled a classic Hampton Hawes tune to close out his offering.
Jay explained how they all used to play at the World Trade Center and how this get-together was in remembrance of 9/11. Tonight was a night of tithing and giving back.
At this point in the evening, I ran into Jackie Buster. She is the wife of guitarist Rohn Lawrence and from the legendary Buster family of jazz, daughter of Bobby. Eddie Buster and Bobby Buster played with people like John Coltrane back in the day. She told me Rohn Would've been here tonight, but he was out on the road with Boney James. Jackie and I worked together on the New Haven Jazz Festival.
As the show continued, guitarist Chieli Minucci, dressed in all black, eased into this beautiful Jeff Beck ballad, "Cause We've Ended As Lovers." He has a searing sound. Very impressive. (We had hired him for the New Haven Jazz Festival when he was with Special EFX. Marion and Jay were at the fest' too.)
Closing out the evening was chart-topper Marion Meadows. The saxophonist had lived in nearby New Haven. Back in the early 80's we'd all hang out at the New Haven nightclub called The Foundry. That's were alot of these guys honed their chops. Folks like Marion, guitarist Rohn Lawrence, keyboardists Joey Melotti and Jay Rowe, drummer Paul Mills...Najee even used to show up for the jams. Collectively they were the legendary band known as "The Lift."
The final two songs featured an up-and-coming singer, Timmy Maia. Watch out for this guy! He brought the house down.
This night was a type of homecoming. Jay had brought his now-famous friends back to town to earn funds to nurture new young musicians. A full circle.
Visit Jay Rowe on the web at www.jayrowemusic.com .