The Jazz.com Blog
February 22, 2009 · 0 comments
Tomas Peña has conducted more than twenty interviews for jazz.com since site launch in December 2007. But when he is not chatting with jazz musicians, he also goes to jazz concerts. Below he reports on a recent event celebrating the 50th anniversary of two classic jazz albums. The question is immediately raised: What do you do for a 50th birthday for the album that already has everything? Anyone up for an a cappella version of Kind of Blue?
How do you celebrate the 50th Anniversary of two of the most popular and revered jazz recordings of all time without falling victim to parody? That was the challenge for the powers that be at Jazz at Lincoln Center on the evening of February 12th.
The evening’s festivities began with actor, Wendell Pierce, the star of the television show, The Wire, who provided just enough information to make the evening interesting as well as enjoyable.
According to John Coltrane, “Everything I did [on Giant Steps] was harmonic exploration and harmonic sequences that I wasn’t familiar with up to that point.” In keeping with that, four saxophonists—Ted Nash, Sherman Irby, Walter Blanding Jr. and George Garzone—backed by the rhythm section explored Coltrane’s music by playing bits and pieces of transcribed improvisations. They deconstructed and reconstructed Coltrane’s concepts with solos, duo and four-way improvisation. Of the four saxophonists, veteran George Garzone came the closest to articulating a deep understanding of Coltrane’s sound. But the star of the show was the collective, a well-oiled machine that was full of surprises and proved to be larger than the sum of its parts.
Kind of Blue is the best selling jazz album of all time and for many listeners it is the recording that lit their passion for jazz. As such, the album was interpreted by Take 6, a popular gospel and R & B a cappella group, who performed the album in its entirety by singing, scatting, harmonizing and at times imitating the sounds of various instruments.
Straight-ahead jazz is new territory for Take 6 and there were moments when it was apparent that the group was slightly out of its realm. But given the complex and moody nature of the material the group did a surprisingly good job of holding their own. For the last number of the evening the entire cast gathered on stage for a lively version of Miles Davis’s “Seven Steps to Heaven” and, by any measure, ended the show on a high note.
Kudos to Jazz at Lincoln Center for including the veteran drummer, Jimmy Cobb, who participated in the original recording sessions and whose chops are none the worse for wear. And congratulations to the House of Swing for rising to the challenge and turning what could have been a calamity into a memorable homage and an evening of jazz at its finest.
This blog entry posted by Tomas Peña.