[JPL] Detroit Jazz Fest closes with a bebop feast

Dr. Jazz drjazz at drjazz.com
Wed Sep 3 23:16:58 EDT 2008

Jazz Fest closes with a bebop feast


Though it wasn’t billed as such, closing night at the Detroit 
International Jazz Festival morphed into a de facto celebration of 
bebop, the modern jazz movement of the ‘40s spearheaded by Charlie 
Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Bud Powell and a few others. Jazz has gone 
through a lot of changes in the last 60 years, but bebop — whose sleek 
lines, complex syncopation and sophisticated harmony expanded the 
options for improvising musicians — remains the music's lingua franca.

But it’s one thing to hear musicians who learned the language in school 
and another to hear first or second generation beboppers who absorbed 
this music when it was new. There’s an authenticity of phrasing, rhythm 
and articulation in the playing of the latter that young musicians find 
impossible to duplicate unless they’ve apprenticed with an elder statesmen.

No one plays more authentic bebop than Barry Harris, the Detroit-born 
pianist who started the trend early Monday evening at the Waterfront 
Stage at Hart Plaza with bassist Rodney Whitaker and drummer Lewis Nash 
in tow. At 78, Harris channels the fundamentals of Parker’s generation 
through his own distinct rhythmic rumble, harmonic imagination and foxy 
wit. On Powell’s deliriously lyrical “I’ll Keep Loving You,” taken at a 
molasses tempo, you could practically hear the pianist thinking out loud 
as he waited until the last possible moment to strike some of his 
chords, often landing on surprising harmonic colors that startled the ear.

A famous teacher, Harris has seeded several generations of students. One 
of the best known, alto saxophonist and former Detroiter Charles 
McPherson, 69, made an unannounced guest appearance with his mentor. The 
quartet set a roaring tempo for the the anthem “Cherokee.” McPherson 
played rhapsodic streams of fresh melody and animated rhythm cut from 
Parker’s language but way beyond cliche. On the walking ballad “Darn 
that Dream,” McPherson’s tone glowed luminously and the rhapsodies 
turned to rapture.

Harris and company were followed on the Waterfront Stage by the Heath 
Brothers Quartet, a showcase for the two surviving members of the first 
family of Philadelphia jazz: tenor and soprano saxophonist and 
underrated composer Jimmy Heath, 81, and drummer Albert (Tootie) Heath, 
73. (The third brother, bassist Percy, died in 2005.) Pianist Jeb Patton 
and bassist David Wong, musicians some 40-50 years younger than the 
co-leaders, completed the band.

Jimmy's clever "Winter Sleeves," a reworking of the basic harmonies to 
"Autumn Leaves," was cleverly built from shifting Latin rhythms, a 
sinewy melody, vamps and breaks. The saxophonist's trademark on-the-beat 
phrasing and meticulous approach to harmony and melody remain intact. 
And his tone on both tenor and soprano is still warm and round, though 
the strength of his articulation and weight of his sound have diminished 
some with age. Still, his intonation remains flawless on both 
instruments. He was at his best Monday on soprano essaying another bebop 
anthem, Thelonious Monk’s “Round Midnight.” Surprising long tones and 
stuttering fragments gave variety to his phrasing. Patton, an assured 
soloist, and Wong were mostly in the right place at the right time 
throughout the set. But the star was Tootie, who spread the rhythm 
around the drum kit with great wit, no-nonsense swing and blue-flame 
intensity. He’s lost nothing from his fastball.

The Dizzy Gillespie All-Star Big Band brought the festival to a 
high-spirited close at the main amphitheatre at Hart Plaza. The band, 
led by trombonist-arranger Slide Hampton, is stocked with a charismatic 
mix of veterans (like tenor saxophonists James Moody and Heath and 
trumpeter Claudio Roditi) and younger guns (like trumpeter Roy Hargrove, 
alto saxophonist Antonio Hart and trombonist Steve Davis). Many of the 
players have direct connections to Gillespie, who died in 1993. But what 
is most important is that the band’s ebullient personality embodies the 
blend of uninhibited joy, serious musicianship and humor that always 
defined Gillespie. The trumpeter not only proved that bebop could be big 
band music but that the heady style could also entertain the masses.

The arrangements by Hampton, Heath, Quincy Jones and others wink at the 
classic combination of muscle and lyricism in the charts Tadd Dameron, 
Gil Fuller wrote for Gillespie's big band in the '40s. Hampton’s 
arrangement of Dameron’s “Hot House” opened the set like a stiff drink — 
Hampton played tricks with the slippery chromatic melody, tossing 
cascading fragments around the ensemble. Execution wasn’t always supple 
or tight, and I wondered whether the poor sound engineering at the stage 
was affecting the musicians' ability to hear each other; certainly the 
periodic amplification, balance problems and feedback took away some of 
the pleasure for listeners.

But the band overcame the issues. It has a lot of weapons: keen 
arrangements, sharp soloists, scat-singing hi jinx, vocalist Roberta 
Gambarini, a brassy bite that means business and a true esprit de corps. 
The remarkable Moody — who first played with Gillespie’s big band in 
1946 and might be the hippest 83-year-old on the planet — approached his 
solos like a tiger stalking his prey. He played ideas more harmonically 
advanced than some of the young turks sitting next to him in the 
saxophone section. He also broke up the house with his trademark vocal 
shtick on “Moody’s Mood For Love.” Jokes aside, when the band tore into 
Fuller’s original 1946 arrangement of “Things to Come,” an ever-fresh 
work of blistering tempo, wild intensity and minor-key expression, you 
might still be convinced that bebop is the music of the future.

Find this article at:

Dr. Jazz
Dr. Jazz Operations
24270 Eastwood
Oak Park, MI  48237
(248) 542-7888
SKYPE:  drjazz99

More information about the jazzproglist mailing list