On any given night in Gotham, one can see some of the best jazz musicians on the planet, which is why the audiences are so demanding. New York audiences don’t take standing ovations lightly; the artist has to really be kicking butt to get folks out of their seats.
“An Evening with Jimmy Heath and Jon Hendricks” last week proved to be one of those rare occasions at Jazz at Lincoln Center, where sparks were flying until the last note was heard. Jon Hendricks and friends led the flaming charge.
Hendricks cruised on stage wearing a very hip burgundy silk suit and colored shirt with his signature admiral’s hat. The undisputed scat master, singer and lyrical genius was greeted with an immediate standing ovation out of respect for his contribution to the music and his incredible talent.
Not to mention that everyone anticipated a show that would provoke conversation for weeks and years to come, featuring the popular repertoire of Lambert, Hendricks and Ross (the trio set the jazz world on its ear with their speedy syncopated harmony, with most songs written by Hendricks). With their supreme scatting abilities, a rhythm section was practically unwarranted.
Hendricks opened with a Lambert, Hendricks and Ross favorite, “It’s Sand, Man,” and “Everybody’s Boppin’.” He was accompanied by his two daughters, Aria and Michele Hendricks, and Kevin Fitzgerald Burke and an eight-piece band with tenor saxophonist Andy Farber as music director. The group was outrageous on “Everybody’s Boppin’,” swinging hard with a fierce beat that blasted your soul and made your toes tingle.
Hendricks was in great form. His voice was strong and melodic. Never missing a note, he mentioned his recent 90th birthday on Sept. 16. Dianne Reeves asked, “Did you find the Fountain of Youth?”
Hendricks responded laughingly, “I had a seance with Ponce de Leon.”
His two daughters are super performers-and there is no mistake where the talent came from. He noted with a laugh, “We had seven children, so we felt obligated to put them in the act.” Hendricks and daughter Michele stretched out on Horace Silver’s “Come on Home.” It was so good it should be recorded-one of the best live duets of the year.
He highlighted his vocal skills on the well-traveled ballad “September of My Years.” Like Frank Sinatra and the others who performed this tune, he managed to leave his own signature, but what else would a living legend do?
Guest vocalist Sachal Vasandani joined with Hendricks for a duet on “In Walked Bud.” Vasandani didn’t have the chops compared to the other guests. He is a young vocalist on the scene and getting a lot of press, but he has more work to do. You heard the notes but the spark and soul in his voice were lacking. Being under the tutelage of Hendricks will surely advance his skills.
Reeves performed “Social Call”-her scatting skill has always been outstanding. She is the only female vocalist today who comes anywhere near Ella Fitzgerald or Dinah Washington.
The creative Bobby McFerrin and Hendricks teamed up for “Scatting on the Corner.” They alternated vocals on bass and tenor saxophone. Watching them was an amazing voyage in vocalese.
Hendricks is currently working on a new CD, entitled “Sing Another Song of Basie,” as well as a tour.
The finale, “Jumping at Woodside,” included Hendricks and his guests. Wow, they were swinging at a feverish pitch; the JALC roof was smoking, reminding us of why it’s called “the House of Swing.” Stand up and shout, stand up and cheer-the audience did it all.
Jimmy Heath and his Big Band followed, celebrating Heath’s wonderful compositions with the exception of three tunes. Some of his band members included Antonio Hart (Heath’s protege), tenor saxophone Charles Davis, baritone saxophone Gary Smulyan, trumpeter Terrell Stafford, pianist Jab Patton and drummer Lewis Nash.
He opened with “Big P,” a song he dedicated to his older brother Percy Heath, who passed away in 2005. “Una Mas,” a Kenny Durham tune, was kicking with high-pitched trumpets and hip trombones. “Gingerbread Boy,” a favorite among jazz fans, was a real crowd pleaser (recorded by Miles Davis and Dexter Gordon).
“Gemini,” recorded by Cannonball Adderley and others, has Heath on soprano saxophone, with three other saxophonists on flute and the rest of the band romping in waltz mode.
This great evening gave Heath a rare opportunity to show off his skills as a big band leader while introducing the audience to his memorable compositions. Heath brought back that big thrill, and there is nothing like the sound of a great big band, which is why they were given two thunderous standing ovations.
Also last week, the Coca-Cola Generations in Jazz Festival at Dizzy’s was another barn burner. That evening featured two young pianists on the jazz fast track: Jonathan Batiste and Aaron Diehl, with his special guests bassist David Wong, vibraphonist Warren Wolf and drummer Rodney Green.
This is the future of piano in jazz: Diehl, a fine, young pianist who follows Eric Reed, Marcus Roberts and other talented players Wynton Marsalis has been credited with discovering. Baptiste, like Marsalis, comes from a famous New Orleans jazz family.
Diehl, like Duke Ellington and Count Basie, never over-plays and has great spacing. His solo interpretation of “Autumn in New York” was superb. His up-tempo original “Generation Y,” which he named the day of this performance, gave his band members a chance to get loose, starting with Wolf, who plays vigorously but maintains a soft touch.
Batiste came out playing a melodica followed by his band coming through the entrance doors in grand New Orleans fashion playing “A Closer Walk with Thee.” Batiste’s band, a hardcore traditional New Orleans group, gave the audience a high-octane performance with the original “Township,” inspired by Batiste’s South Africa visit. The band hit the emotional music meter, igniting the soul.
Violinist Charles Young, bassist Michael T. and Batiste played a classical, jazzed-up version of “Charters.” Many of the young musicians performing met while attending Juilliard School of Music.
Together, Batiste and Diehl played on two pianos that sounded like one creative force. They were dynamic on “Green Chimney” and they stepped it up a notch on “The Slow Blues.” Their combined musical conversations were intense but never overstated. They interacted like two cool cats just kicking the music of their minds.