So this happened last Friday...
PDX Jazz's 2013 Portland Jazz Festival brought our modest city a collective of Jazz Messenger alumni. With musical direction by Javon Jackson, The Jazz Message: Celebrating Art Blakey performed swinging hard bop classics from the historical repertoire that Art Blakey blessed Jazz fans with since the mid-twentieth century. We gazed, clapped, tapped our toes, and danced in our seats to the chops of Javon Jackson (ts), Eddie Henderson (tr), Bobby Watson (as), George Cables (p), Buster Williams (b), Lewis Nash (d), and long time veteran Curtis Fuller (tb).
These are tunes that allowed me fall in love with Jazz, and these guys f***in nailed it! Their soloing was spot in, timing was impeccable, and the ensemble parts were powerful. Art Blakey, wherever he might be, would be delighted to know that this music lives on. Set list highlights were Fuller's "À la Mode," Benny Golson compositions "Along Came Betty" & "Blues March," Wayne Shorter's "One by One," Bobby Timmons' "Moanin," and an encore performance of Dizzy Gillespie's bebop classic "A Night in Tunisia." Like any great Jazz musician, these guys pulled from the past while still making it their own. This was particularly evident in "Moanin" where we heard licks and phrasing appropriated from the original recording. Still, their decisions during those moments in time were unique to that evening.
Lewis Nash was powerful on the drums and had no problem filling the big shoes of Art Blakey. His backing licks at the end of measures and phrases complemented each soloist with ease, and his solo right before kicking it into "Blues March" left me wanting more. Needless to say, he crushed it on stage. Another soloist highlight for me was Bobby Watson. His range extended to every nook and cranny of that alto sax. He shined on fast tempoed, swinging tunes as well as his soulful playing on a ballad number.
This is the music that made me fall in love with Jazz. The album Moanin' is one of most important pieces of mid-twentieth century music (not just Jazz), it laid that groundwork for hard bop in the 1960s, and is probably one of the most recognized Blue Note releases. The fact that I was able to witness 3/6s, or one half, of the music from Moanin' by musicians who have graduated from Art Blakey's Hard Bop Academy was a special occurrence for me. A memory that won't be forgotten.