The last night of Jazz in July’s distinguished 34th year features blues, “the essence of all American music” (Artistic Director Bill Charlap), as interpreted by old guard experts. Eighty-four year old Houston Person, who came up through the ranks of bop and swing, but is best known for soul jazz, favors the stage with what appears to be effortless skill. The elegant musician barely moves a muscle but for one time-keeping leg discernibly rustling his perfectly creased pants. We don’t even see him inhale, yet cheeks inflate producing wind enough to sail with artistry. Participation in any number elevates the music.
Left-Houston Person; Right-Eddie Allen
“A Sunday Kind of Love” (Barbara Belle/Anita Leonard/Stan Rhodes/ Louis Prima) emerges whispery and wish-filled. On trumpet, Eddie Allen matches Person’s mellifluous style. Part of the horn player’s recognized talent is drawing a wide variety of controlled sound out of his instrument almost like speech. Rodney Jones’ guitar contributes short, thoughtful cascades. The later solo, “S.K.J.” (Milt Jackson), showcases chops but eludes melody.
Charlap plays hurry-up-and-wait for Sunday, a signature to otherwise adaptive approach. At the top of Act II, he gets so into “Extended Blues” (Count Basie/Oscar Peterson) that performance verges on athletic. Head nods and turns, torso bounces and lists; Charlap bends forward a la Bill Evens and tilts back. Deftly meandering around the tune, he clearly hears things we don’t. Organist Mike LeDonne makes notes quiver and stroll for this number. Keyboardists converse across the stage.
Lafayette Harris takes the piano seat for Buddy Johnson’s “Since I Fell for You,” a slow dance conjuring the man’s hand moving slowly down to his partner’s rear. Quivering piano notes land off the beat yet are instinctively collaborative. The classy musician then takes us “on a musical journey” through jazz roots. His beguiling solo offers tunes by Avery Parrish, W.C. Handy, Duke Ellington, and Scott Joplin seamlessly connected with excerpts from Debussy and Beethoven. The multifaceted Harris plays with clarity and authenticity. A treat.
Person’s own “Why Not?” is helmed by LeDonne. Added to the jazz idiom in the mid fifties perhaps by Fats Waller, organs produce what chroniclers refer to as percussive harmonic underpinning. Horns ride above it here in devil-may-care attitude. LeDonne’s hands cover territory as if trick-riding skateboards.
Lafayette Harris, Peter Washington, Melba Joyce, Houston Person, Rodney Jones, Kenny Washington
Melba Joyce first joins the band for Lionel Hampton’s “Gone Again.” The vocalist sings “lawng” for long, “awn” for on, and almost swallows “wrong.” Ever a lady, she repeats “oh yes,” instead of “oh yeah.” Short phrases lack oomph but arrive with feeling. “Key to The Highway” (Charles “Chas” Segar/ William “Big Bill” Broonzy) is delivered with short, unembellished phrases – some spoken, some sung. “Trust in Me” (Etta James) is lost in translation. We hear no plea, no need in the vocal. Person’s horn at least sounds like “please.”
Pre-finale, 87 year-old Freddy Cole sang a verse with Joyce. Our audience welcomed the eminent jazzman warmly.
An evening of fine musicianship in the classic manner.
Photos by Richard Termine
Opening: Rodney Jones, Eddie Allen, Peter Washington, Houston Person
92Y Jazz in July presents
Blues In The Night
Partly Endowed by a generous gift from Simona and Jerome A. Chazen
Bill Charlip- Artistic Director/Host/Piano
Houston Person- tenor saxophone
Eddie Allen-trumpet, Lafayette Harris-piano, Mike LeDonne-organ, Melba Joyce-vocals, Rodney Jones-guitar, Peter Washington-bass, Kenny Washington-drums
92nd Street at Lexington Avenue
July 26, 2018
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