[JPL] Keeping It Modern in a Hallowed House of Jazz

r durfee rdurfee2003 at yahoo.com
Mon Oct 16 18:27:07 EDT 2006

October 16, 2006
Music Review | Charles Davis
Keeping It Modern in a Hallowed House of Jazz 
Minton’s Playhouse, one of the holiest jazz landmarks
in New York, reopened in May for the first time since
1974, but the music became noteworthy only a few weeks
ago, when the club started booking better-known
players for Fridays and Saturdays. The saxophonist
Charles Davis was there over the weekend, playing in a
way that few musicians do anymore; he represents
something as genuine and worth celebrating as the club

Minton’s is on West 118th Street in Harlem. The stage
is at the rear wall, under a restored W.P.A.-style
mural painted for the club in 1946 by Charles Graham:
it portrays four musicians, black and white, jamming
in a small bedroom, next to a curvy woman sacked out
on a bed in a red dress, stockings and heels. The club
used to be the dining room of the Cecil Hotel next
door and began featuring music in 1940; it was at
Minton’s that Thelonious Monk, Dizzy Gillespie, Kenny
Clarke, Charlie Parker, Charlie Christian and others
started to formulate the fast, harmonically complex
music called bebop. 

Mr. Davis came along nearly a full generation after
those first bebop jam sessions: his heyday was the
late 1950’s and early 60’s in Chicago and New York,
when he worked with Dinah Washington, Sun Ra and Kenny
Dorham. A little younger than John Coltrane, Mr. Davis
shares with some of his own contemporaries, like
George Coleman, a fascination with sophisticated scale
patterns; in Friday’s late set, with a quartet made up
of the pianist Tardo Hammer, the bassist Lee Hudson
and the drummer Jimmy Wormworth, he ran alternating
half- and whole-step patterns up and down through his
improvisations on tunes like Benny Golson’s “Whisper
Not” and Cole Porter’s “Love for Sale.” 

But that late-50’s technique was only part of the
show. Mr. Davis’s pedigree goes back further, to tenor
players like Ben Webster, who used a broad, generous
sound on ballads; Mr. Davis made all those scale
patterns sound rich and rolling. And he went a little
more modern, too. In a piece of his own called “J. C.”
— for reasons that immediately became apparent — he
started with a free-jazz introduction, about three
minutes long, with the band creating different layers
of melody and rhythm. Then he started the theme,
swinging between two modes reminiscent of John
Coltrane’s “Impressions.” It was a comfortable,
beautiful kind of modernism, and it felt homey at

Minton’s Playhouse is at 208 West 118th Street,
between St. Nicholas Avenue and Adam Clayton Boulevard
in Harlem, (212) 864-8346; uptownatmintons.com. The
pianist Ronnie Mathews and his quartet play on Friday
and Sunday.


Roy Durfee
P.O. Box 40219
Albuquerque, New Mexico 87196-0219
rdurfee2003 at yahoo.com

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