[JPL] Jazz Night: All Hands on Deck

r durfee rdurfee2003 at yahoo.com
Tue Sep 11 19:27:00 EDT 2007

September 9, 2007
The Island
Jazz Night: All Hands on Deck 

ONE by one, the musicians squeezed into the old
ship-captain’s living room, a galley-sized space
cluttered with nautical and musical items.

As the players unpacked their instruments, the captain
meandered melodically on the piano, playing phrases
that gathered into a medium-tempo blues.

The bass player fell in with a strong, low line. A
trumpet growled, a trombone swooned, and the drummer
entered with a cymbal crash. A saxophone began weaving
melodies with the brass, and as the captain introduced
a rousing riff — Duke Ellington’s “Things Ain’t What
They Used to Be” — the song grew into a gale-force

These are the Tuesday night jazz jam sessions at the
home of Teddy Charles, who sits at the helm either on
piano or on his main instrument, the vibraphone.

Mr. Charles, 79, is one of the most influential
vibraphonists in jazz, having played with the likes of
Charlie Parker, Charles Mingus and Miles Davis. For 20
years, he has lived quietly in Greenport and
Riverhead, running tours on historic sailboats by day
and playing in restaurants at night. For years, he has
also led these weekly musical sessions, luring a
rotating lineup of accomplished musicians hailing from
the East End to New York City.

Mr. Charles keeps tight rein on the rhythm section of
piano, bass and drums, and commands the horns to riff
together behind the solo.

He barks out orders, praise and admonishment, and
keeps the playing tight and presentable, avoiding
extended meanderings. This irks one of the regulars,
Bob Hovey, a trombonist from Southold who has played
extensively in avant-garde jazz circles in Manhattan.
He is constantly urging a free-jazz mutiny, to little
avail. “Come on, man,” Mr. Charles tells him, “people
don’t pay to hear that stuff.”

Mr. Charles grew up in Chicopee Falls, Mass., and
moved to Manhattan in 1946 as a teenager after hearing
the bebop recordings of Parker and Dizzy Gillespie. He
studied composing at the Juilliard School but learned
to swing on 52nd Street. He got his first break with
Coleman Hawkins, filling in on piano for a tardy
Thelonious Monk.

He became known for helping to pioneer the so-called
third-stream approach of progressive tonality and
understated, cool playing. He and some of those
important compositions will be featured next month at
Smalls, a Greenwich Village club.

Mr. Charles moved to Greenport in 1987 and bought the
Mary E, a 1906 two-masted clipper schooner. He sold it
recently and now skippers the Pilgrim, a vintage
skipjack sailboat.

He lives and sleeps in his two-story house with four
slow-moving dogs. The property is littered with ship
rigging and aging boats. Inside, the décor is
Melville-meets-Kerouac: Everything seems to have come
off a ship deck or a bebop bandstand.

Mr. Charles ordered a bottle of wine opened and turned
to the drummer, Kevin Twigg, who plays in Manhattan
with the composer David Amram, and had him play a
Latin beat for the standard “I’ll Remember April.” Mr.
Charles’s bass-playing bosun, Bryan Campbell, of
Queens, played a repeating figure while the horns
experimented with different voicings of the song’s
major-then-minor melody.

Then came the standard “Out of Nowhere,” during which
the trumpeter, Tom Manuel, of Smithtown, interpolated
a counter-line favored by the trumpeter Fats Navarro.

Mr. Charles called for the Mingus composition
“Nostalgia in Time Square.” Mr. Hovey blew several
rousing choruses of gutbucket growls. On “Barbados,” a
Parker blues, Gary Selander, a teacher at Southold
High School, played purposeful saxophone lines with a
tone resembling early John Coltrane.

Occasionally, the musicians fell out of sync, and Mr.
Charles winced as if his ship sails were flapping in
the breeze. When he called for an old tune that
stumped the younger players, he complained about
today’s mechanical, academic approach to jazz. As they
packed up and filed out, Capt. Teddy Charles
admonished them: “Have those tunes ready next week.”

E-mail: theisland at nytimes.com


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

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