Jazzy jammers pay sweet tribute to Bechet
Jam Session Concert
Sidney Bechet Society
The very utterance of the name Sidney Bechet is greeted with reverence by the legions who consider him The Giant among jazz giants. Whether the New Orleans-born clarinetist and soprano saxophonist was or wasn’t makes no difference, because perception is generally valued more highly than reality.
So, it’s not surprising that there exists a Sidney Bechet Society that holds regularly scheduled concerts to pay homage to their hero. And that’s what this disc is all about: a recording of an SBS concert performed by a group of musicians with an obvious empathy for Bechet and his music.
It’s a splendid mix of musicians, too, ranging from the relatively young clarinetist Evan Christopher to the aging Jack Lesberg, a bassist who played with Bechet in the ’40s. Others include Spanky Davis, a trumpet player with high-energy; can-do-anything trombonist Wycliffe Gordon; classy pianist Mark Shane; and drummer Jackie “Quiet Man” Williams.
As the title implies, the concert was more of a jam than anything else. However, there are jams that lack focus and then there are others that reflect planning. This one falls into the latter category, thanks, at least in part, to the fact there was a musical director, Christopher.
And from the opening number – a swinging “‘Deed I Do” that features Davis’s fiery horn, Christopher and his low-down clarinet that mirrors the influence of both PeeWee Russell and Bechet, and Gordon’s bodacious tram – it’s plain the musicians are men with a mission.
And that which follows cements the notion, whether it’s the smoky “Blues In The Air” and “Blues In Thirds” – check out Gordon’s dynamite solo on the former and Shane’s clean, direct unaccompanied take of the latter – or Ellington’s slick “Do Nothin’ ’til Hear Hear From Me,” which showcases Davis’ work with a plunger mute.
Other highlights include Gordon gallivanting through “St. Louis Blues,” sounding for all the world like Tricky Sam Nanton; Christopher’s gentle reading of “Passport to Paradise”; and a medley of songs associated with Bechet. The grouping finds “Si Tous Vois Ma Mere” in the capable hands of Shane. “Petite Fleur” is all Christopher; it’s Davis’ turn on “Summertime,” and Gordon dyes “Mood Indigo” a deeper shade of blue.
A regal “Royal Garden” puts a wrap on the concert and the tune, like an earlier “Rosetta,” is played with vigor and vibrancy. Plainly, a good time was had by all, not only by those who were watching the proceedings, but by the jazz artists as well.
Tenor saxophonist Scott Hamilton was a young lion 25 years ago when the Down East reedman, along with Warren Vache Jr. and others, was among a bevy of newcomers given much-needed exposure by the late Carl Jefferson, founder of Concord Records. And while some of his contemporaries have drifted away from Concord, Hamilton remains one of the label’s leading lights.
Early on, Hamilton showed how heavily he had been influenced by Ben Webster and Scott still admires the man, but over the years Hamilton has developed a tone and style that are his and his alone.
Hamilton’s latest Concord issue finds him paying homage to a whole raft of jazz greats, playing on his own terms songs with which they have been associated. And in some instances, the songs he chooses come as small surprises, such as the selection of “You Left Me Alone,” a tribute to tenorman Illinois Jacquet, instead of “Flying Home.”
Scott also tips his hat to other tenor greats, like Don Byas with a Latin-laced version of a “Byas A Drink,” and Webster with a rousing “Raincheck,” as well as alto saxist Benny Carter with Benny’s “When The Lights Are Low.”
He doesn’t stop with reedmen, however. Drummer Denzil Best gets his due when Hamilton essays Best’s “Move.” “In Your Own Sweet Way” is Hamilton’s way of saying “thank you” to pianist Dave Brubeck, while “Jitterbug Waltz” dates back to another keyboardist: Fats Waller. And a salute to still another pianist, Hank Jones, takes form in the performance of Jones’s haunting “Angel Eyes.”
And though John Bunch hasn’t reached celebrity status, Hamilton felt compelled to take notice of the pianist with “John’s Bunch.” For it was Bunch who jump-started Scott’s career 32 years ago and who fittingly accompanies Hamilton expertly on this recording along with bassist Dave Green and drummer Dave Brown.
In sum, Hamilton once again remains true to his colors by staying solidly in the midstream of jazz and playing it with passion and polish.
Cam Miller is a free-lance jazz critic in Lake Wildwood. Write him at The Union, 464 Sutton Way, 95945.
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