Sunday, July 30, 2006

Jazzin' the Clubs (Extended Edition)

SEQUIM--It's been quite a good two days for jazz out here. Imagine this, all within a few blocks of each other: Pete Christlieb and friends at an American Legion post; Gary Smulyan in a chordless trio at a Thai restaurant; the great pianist Bill Mays at a pub with alto player Steve Wilson, across the street from a coffeehouse with a frontline of Jiggs Whigham on trombone, Jeff Clayton on alto and Terell Stafford on trumpet...oh, and James Morrison sitting in for the last two sets. If you hadn't read the dateline, you might think I was on vacation in New York City, except that I was actually in Port Townsend, the charming little Victorian seaport on the Olympic peninsula that has a serious commitment to the arts, especially during the last week in July.

Catching up on the last two days (since these have been some very late nights): Friday evening, the mainstage concerts kicked off with the Jeff Hamilton Trio, led by the tasty, chops-laden drummer. The trio (also consisting of Tamir Hendelman on piano and Christoph Luty on bass) functioned as a highly cohesive unit, combining technique and sensitivity with a highly-honed sense of interplay. The venue, McCurdy Pavilion, was originally a military balloon hangar, though the balloon program was discontinued before it ever had the chance to house one. The sound was a little bit thin in the top section where we were located, but besides that, it was reasonably inimate for a place of its size. Since the concert started a bit late, we had to miss the second half, which was the great Latin percussionist Poncho Sanchez...but whatcha gonna do, we were here for a gig, so gig we did.

As for our own set, it went well, especially considering that we were playing from midnight to three by Texas standards. The crowd was a bit disappointing, but we were in competition with about seven other venues, and we did get some club-hoppers who at least stuck around for a tune or two. It was a good showcase for the program, and we were proud to be representing Texas up here. The trip home was pretty much on auto-pilot for me, but I got my vanload back to the hotel without incident.

This afternoon, we were delayed by a trip to the tidal pools just west of Port Angeles, but we did arrive back at Ft. Worden in time to see the Workshop Faculty Big Band. Directed by festival coordinator John Clayton, it featured names such as Ingrid Jensen, Terell Stafford, Jiggs Whigham, Pete Christlieb, Gary Smulyan, Kim Richmond and Jeff Clayton. Each featured soloist got to pick his/her tune to solo on, which added to the enjoyment. Among the guests were two of the vocal faculty, Dee Daniels (who was new to me this week, but she has an amazing set of pipes) and the great Kurt Elling. Even though Elling only did one tune (a treatment of the famous Neal Hefti ballad "Li'l Darlin'"), it was a treat to hear him as always, and I'll post the photo from my camera phone up here once I figure out how to do that. (One other notable thing that happened for the afternoon concert was that the side door of McCurdy Pavilion was opened--it looks like this when that happens--so that people could watch the concert from a side angle on the lawn if they chose to do so; it was a very cool effect.)

After dinner on the waterfront, we returned for the evening concert, which kicked off with pianist Benny Green and friends. Though he turns 43 this year, he doesn't look a day over 20, and he maintains the combination of fiery chops and sensitive warmth for which he's become famous in his duet work with guitarist Russell Malone (a group I saw at IAJE in 2000). Among his friends were Elling and Daniels, along with the other vocal faculty member, Nancy King; the three of them would collaborate on a rollicking "Bye Bye Blackbird" to close out the first half of the program.

After almost no intermission at all, it was time for the main show: James Morrison, the Australian multi-instrumentalist known as "The Wonder from Down Under," ably backed by the Jeff Hamilton Trio. James plays trumpet, trombone, euphonium, saxophones and piano, all at a very high level, and on one of his CD's, Snappy Doo, he recorded several tunes on which he played an entire big band's worth of instruments--everything except guitar, bass and drums. He only brought trumpet and trombone for this performance, but that was more than enough to dazzle the packed house. Sure, he brought several things out of the "bag of tricks" for this show (most notably, playing three-note multiphonics on trombone and trading fours with himself, holding the trumpet in one hand and the trombone in the other--which meant that he did all his trombone work using just his embouchure and the trigger!), but he also showed evidence of both technical brilliance and heartfelt sensitivity. He was also extremely funny, and the cool Aussie accent just added to the package. My only gripe about the festival format was that, by having double-features each night, most sets lasted only an hour, but it was still great to finally see this guy in person; I'd known about him since my college radio days.

From there, it was on to the clubs. We had lots of stops to make in three hours, and I did get to see a few of the people that I was planning on seeing: Christlieb? Check. Smulyan? Check. Steve Wilson? Yeah, from across the street. But I was drawn in by the session that took place at Sweet Laurette and Cyndee's, where the scheduled guests included Jeff Clayton (brother of festival coordinator John), trumpeter Stafford (known for his work with Bobby Watson and Horizon) and trombonist Whigham. I already had a kind spot in my heart for Sweet Laurette's, since they were the only place around that was still serving coffee (and very good coffee at that) during the late-night hours. The place was too packed to actually go inside (except to the separate side room to order said coffee), but they had their extra door propped open just enough to hear the music, and the players were clearly visible from the sidewalk through the windows. That was when I noticed that they had an unscheduled guest: Morrison. Needless to say, the chance to hear him some more, especially when he did fiery trading with Stafford and the other horns, was too enticing to pass up. I spent the entire last two sets out front, digging every minute (especially the extended jam on "A Night in Tunisia" that came near the end of the night). Getting to hear Steve Wilson and Bill Mays waft in from across the street during the breaks at Sweet Laurette's was just icing on the cake.

This was a really great time, and I'm already trying to figure out how I can get up here again during future years, while also wondering if something like this could be replicated at home during jazz festival or camp.

QUOTE OF THE DAY: "Son, someday you will make a girl very happy for a short period of time. Then she'll leave you and be with new men who are ten times better than you could ever hope to be. These men are called musicians."--Sign on the wall of the place in Port Townsend where we ate dinner last night.

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