[JPL] Halcyon days of jazz return to Tribeca PAC

Jazz Promo Services jazzpromo at earthlink.net
Tue Nov 7 16:15:00 EST 2006


Volume 19 | Issue 24 | Oct. 27 - Nov. 2, 2006 Music
Jack Kleinsinger¹s Highlights in Jazz series
Monthly through May, 2007 at
Tribeca Performing Arts Center
199 Chambers Street
(212-220-1460; tribecapag.org)

Halcyon days of jazz return to Tribeca PAC

Photo by Jim Eigo

Last Thursday night, the Pizzarelli Quartet opened Jack Kleinsinger¹s 34th
annual ³Highlights in Jazz² series at Tribeca PAC.

By Andrey Henkin

Though jazz has changed substantially in the 34 years since Jack Kleinsinger
inaugurated his Highlights in Jazz series in 1972, the opening performance
of the 2006 season reflected none of those developments. In fact, the
evening¹s performance would not have been out of place in 1942. But New
York¹s longest-running subscription service is bold in its anachronism.

The crowd that attends the concerts is graying but loyal. Jokes about ³The
Lone Ranger² provoke belly laughs from the audience, and Kleinsinger and the
performers make numerous, not-so-subtle allusions to the history of the
series. The effect is that of a bubble,

unaffected from jazz¹s diminished record sales and concert attendance. At
four concerts each fall and spring, jazz in its most basic form is presented
to a crowd seeking light entertainment. The programming is interesting in
its way and the musicianship is beyond reproach, but the underlying concept
is that of jazz as popular music, as once played on radios and in dance
halls by good-looking men in suits.

Guitarist/vocalist John Pizzarelli opened the new season, fronting a quartet
of pianist Larry Fuller, brother Martin on bass, and special guest Tony
Tedesco on drums, who was introduced as having played with Milton Berle,
whose ¹50s variety show may be Highlights¹ conceptual parent. Pizzarelli was
making his 11th appearance in the series and his particular brand of
pleasantly swinging trad is a perfect fit. The material, played with compact
aplomb and sung by Pizzarelli in Œaw shucks¹ fashion included songs far more
RKO than MTV such as ³Pick Yourself Up,² ³Jamboree Jones,² ³Everything
Happens To Me,² ³If Dreams Come True,² ³Baby, Baby All The Time,² and ³Oh,
Lady Be Good.² These are classic numbers that brook little in the way of
creative interpretation, particularly in this setting. Solos were energetic
but economical and the rhythm section was metronomic to a fault. Pizzarelli
has carved out a successful niche as a pageholder for the Great American

The second portion of the first half featured the third appearance of the
duo of trombonist Wycliffe Gordon (10th time at Highlights) and
bassist/vocalist Jay Leonhart (tied for first place with 28). Promoting a
new album, Gordon, of Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra fame, and Leonhart
made an unusual pairing a particularly entertaining one. The key to their
success is jocularity, whether on a quirky version of the inevitable ³Alone
Together² or Leonhart¹s farcical paean to international animal smuggling,
³Why Are You Detaining Me.² The esteemed standard ³Lester Leaps In² featured
a nifty segment where Gordon and Leonhart scatted in the style of each
other¹s instruments while Leonhart updated Eddie Harris¹ ³Freedom Jazz
Dance² with some rather odd lyrics. A trombone/bass duo presented as high
art would have failed. Couched in humor, it became a well-executed and
pleasurable novelty.

The final grouping of the evening brought back John Pizzarelli, playing
initiate to the master that is his father Bucky, in a duet of seven-string
guitarists. The contrast to the first two portions was striking. Pizzarelli
the elder is a highly respected jazz player (he is Leonhart¹s competition in
most Highlights appearances) who actually gave Jack Kleinsinger the initial
idea to start the series. He also taught his son the business in a series of
trials by fire as recounted by John during the set. The material continued
the nostalgic tone of the evening ‹ ³Stormy Weather,² ³Jitterbug Waltz,² ³In
a Mellow Tone,² ³Honeysuckle Rose² ‹ but was played with seriousness and
verve. A surreal moment came when Deep Purple¹s ³Smoke on the Water² was
quoted (for whose benefit is the question, given the audience) during
³Honeysuckle Rose.² Oddly enough, Bucky is the more modern of the two in his
playing but it was refreshing to see John, sans ham, really embracing
complex harmonies and meters with dear old dad. The two have been playing
together for 28 years and first appeared at Highlights in the late Œ70s.
Between the two of them, they fully represent the purpose of the series:
serious fun. 

The fall season¹s remaining three performances will follow the same model.
November¹s concert will feature the trios of Mose Allison, Ken Peplowski,
and Marty Grosz and Charles McPherson, Ron Matthews, and Ray Drummond.
December, titled ³Statesmen of Jazz², will present Buddy DeFranco, Howard
Alden, Derek Smith, Randy Sandke, Rufus Reid, and Ed Metz Jr. And the final
concert is a tribute to saxophonist Lou Donaldson with his quartet, the
Cyrus Chestnut Trio, and Eric Alexander, Joe Farnsworth, Mike LeDonne, and
Grant Stewart. One of Highlight¹s recurring themes is a special surprise
guest ‹ but you¹ll have to attend to find out who that might be.

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