Sunday, April 03, 2005

A Festive Weekend of Jazz

This weekend was our jazz festival at the college, and it was a particularly good one. As you might have seen on the sidebar the past few weeks, our guest artists were Denis DiBlasio, former baritone saxophonist with the Maynard Ferguson band and director of the jazz program at Rowan University in New Jersey, and Gregg Bissonette, a former member of the One O'Clock Lab Band who also toured with Maynard as well as David Lee Roth.

Evidently, these two guys hadn't seen each other since their Maynard days in the 80's (they both played on the Live from San Francisco CD), so they had stories aplenty, and it was great just being around them--sort of like dropping in on a family reunion of sorts. On Friday night, they played with our faculty combo, which was all kinds of fun. We had four horns (Denis on bari, myself on alto/tenor, along with trumpet and trombone) and a four-piece rhythm section. Denis was just as amazing as when he was our guest artist at jazz camp back in '02; he's all over the horn (with a sick extended range, too; he hit the alto's altissimo A a few times during the weekend) with great lines, clever quotes, and an effective use of the bari's low end to produce bass-like effects. Gregg is also world-class, mixing tastefulness and technique with a variety of cool sounds, and you can tell he's having an absolute blast doing it. It was an honor to share the stage with them.

I also had the good fortune to serve as their chauffeur from the hotel to the concert on both nights. On Friday, I had John Coltrane's Crescent playing in the car, and Gregg noticed that Elvin Jones's cymbals on that recording didn't sound the way that his usual brand did; that spawned a whole back-and-forth about lightness and darkness in cymbals and how they worked in different settings (I listened and learned). Saturday night, Gregg popped in a track from a new Steve Vai CD that featured Steve scat-singing; it also had the famous Jerry Hey-led horn section that graced all those Al Jarreau CD's in the eighties (or at least some of the same people, but Jerry's arrangement for sure).

Saturday was the part of the festival where different school bands came in and performed and got comments and clinics. As one of the judges in the Black Box Theatre, I had a full day (depsite there being three other jazz festivals going on in North Texas this weekend, we were booked solid and even had to turn some bands away). I was especially impressed with some of the middle-school bands we heard in the afternoon; some of those kids have only been playing for a year and a half, and they're already getting some of the concepts down and even trying their hand at improvisation in some cases. The day went pretty quickly, considering we had ten bands to hear. I felt more comfortable as a clinician than I ever had before; doing that All-Region band last semester obviously helped.

The evening concert opened with the college big band (of which I'm a member more often than not, but they have enough students to fill the section this time) along with Denis and Gregg. Denis pretty much stole the show with his solo turn on "Lester Leaps In," switching from bari to flute to scat-singing and eventually trading fours with himself (four bars of bari, four bars of scat) before engaging the audience in a call-and-response a la Cab Calloway in "Minnie the Moocher." Great fun.

But the evening was not over; after helping hand out the awards, I high-tailed it over to Addison to catch the Chick Corea Trio. I had heard earlier in the week that the incomparable young bassist Christian McBride was going to be there, but I didn't find out until a few hours before the show that drum legend Steve Gadd would be rounding out the trio. I'm not sure I can describe this event in mere words, but I'll give it a shot.

I had only gotten to see Chick one time before, with the Elektric Band. While it was cool to hear all the synth-playing that night, I remember thinking that I would just rather hear him play piano. Last night, I got my wish, and then some. Having McBride and Gadd up there with him made for a dazzling display of musicianship: brilliant piano flourishes and the Latin undercurrent for which Chick is famous; rock-solid support from McBride, whose solo turns left many mouths agape with his otherworldly technical prowess (as well as one of the best-played arco bass solos I've ever heard); and Gadd, who's played on so many recordings I've owned over the years, tearing it up with stunning, how-does-he-do-that-with-only-four-limbs fills and solos (it would have been a drummer's personal nirvana to hear Bissonette and Gadd within hours of each other like we did).

Since the trio hadn't played together as a unit very much (though Chick had worked with each of the others separately), they worked up a bunch of Chick's best-known tunes and ended up sounding like they'd been together for years. The slightly-over-an-hour set included such standards as "Humpty Dumpty" and "Windows," as well as "The One Step" and "Sicily," two tunes from one of my favorite Corea albums, Friends (which I busted out today in the car). Since Gadd played on that recording too, it was great to hear those tunes played with half the original lineup.

But I knew it wasn't over. My guess was that they'd come back out and do "Spain" as an encore, and I was indeed correct. It took Chick a minute to lead into it, but the familiar "Concerto de Aranjuez" intro came soon enough. Near the end, much as Denis DiBlasio had done a few hours earlier, Chick did a call-and-response where he'd play something on the piano and then motion to us to scat it back to him, and the crowd responded in rather competent fashion.

What a night...what a weekend. I'll get caught up on the old posts now and even get a little more sleep, but this was all worth it. It was really a great weekend to be a jazzer in North Texas.

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