Like, literally. My alarm went off at 5:45 am this morning, so I’m a little foggy on details like time of day and complete sentences. I didn’t even realize there was a 5:45 in the morning…
When I left off yesterday, I was listening to the Count Basie Orchestra sound check. Shortly thereafter I made my way to the Outdoor Stage where I was to introduce the Jivebombers, a local swing/jive/blues band. (Happily, the word “genre” was not in yesterday’s script.) With musicians like Alex Dean and Bob Brough on the roster it’s no surprise the band got things jumping right away; they kept up the energy throughout the set, wrapping up around 8 pm to enthusiastic applause from the audience and those in line for the evening’s headline show.
The Count Basie Orchestra, under the direction of trumpeter Scotty Barnhart, took the stage at 8:30 pm. The band was founded in 1935 by Bill Basie himself, and has now been touring for 80 years. Obviously, personnel has changed (though one trombone player has been in the band for 30 year), but their commitment to great swing has not. They put on a fantastic display last night of many fundamentals of big band playing: how to truly play as an ensemble; how to swing together as a unit; how to fire things up with exciting solos. The range of their dynamic contrast was especially impressive to me. As a band leader, I’m always striving to make the highs and lows sound especially, well, high and low; the Count Basie Orchestra essentially led a clinic on the topic last night from the stage. The audience loved what they heard (including a mini-set featuring vocalist Carmen Bradford), a few brave souls took advantage of the dance floor, and at the end of the night I was left with a great reminder of why this band is still relevant.
From Nathan Phillips Square I hustled over to the Jazz Bistro to catch what I expected was the last set from the Fred Hersch Trio. They started early, though, so I only caught the trio’s last tune - an especially playful version of a Thelonious Monk tune (whose title now escapes me) - and Fred’s solo encore, an original composition (whose title I didn’t hear). I can’t comment on the rest of the show, but even just those two tunes demonstrated the mastery of the musicians on stage. On the trio tune, time was passed back and forth between the three players so frequently that at times I lost track of the beat; but they never did, effortlessly bringing the music back to beat one when required. And the encore was simply beautiful - Fred has a talent of making the piano sound like a full, lush orchestra. I was disappointed to not hear more, but based on the comments I heard as people left, everyone else was plenty satisfied.
This morning started earrrrrly - I was on the Square by 7:15 am for a series of spots for the Weather Network. (I’ve been guaranteed good weather for the remainder of the festival in return. By the way - has anyone seen L.A. Story with Steve Martin?) Kudos to The Boxcar Boys, a very fun and very talented group of local musicians specializing in old-timey jazz (washboard! accordion!), who joined in on the Weather Network fun. One good coffee and a bunch of catch-up work later, I was back on the Square for Jim Galloway’s Wee Big Band under the direction of Martin Loomer. This was a special show, the band’s first since Jim passed in December; though Jim could not be there in person his favourite Festival hat (he wore it every year) was hanging front and centre on a microphone stand. The band played with all of the swinging spirit which earned it such acclaim, and it was a lovely tribute to Jim and a style of music which has played such an important role in the history of jazz.
And now, a little bit of downtime before the evening’s activity kicks off. (Well, not entirely down time, given the hour-long conference call I just completed for my other job and the upcoming site visit in preparation for a festival event tomorrow…) Soul Understated on the Outdoor Stage at 6:30 pm; Al Jarreau on the main stage at 8:30 pm; Drew Jurecka at the Jazz Bistro (he starts at 8 pm); and Mike Stern at the Horseshoe (he starts at 10 pm). This should be a fun night - complete listing are available here. And tomorrow’s going to be packed, starting with Patricia Cano’s 12:30 pm Lunchtime concert on the mainstage - tomorrow’s listing is here.
See you on the Square!