Saturday, February 25, 2012

Forever Young: Charles McPherson and Roy Haynes at the PDX Jazz Festival

Portland is certainly not the jazz capital of the world. However, it has a thriving scene, and for a city of it's size and location, it has a more than respectable jazz audience. This is most evident during the PDX Jazz Festival, which is annually held in mid-February. Festival director Don Lucoff has brought in a lot of great headliners, like Bill Frisell, Dee Dee Bridgwater, and Branford Marsalis. Furthermore, the partner events which feature a multitude of local talents is almost overwhelming; on any given night, there are Portland jazz musicians playing all over the city. Indeed, I was busy since last weekend playing events which were listed as part of the festival; late night jam sessions at Ivories(the last one is tonight at 11:45), a duo with Belinda Underwood at the Heathmann Hotel, a quartet with saxophonist Devin Phillips at Jimmy Mak's, a trio gig at Ivories featuring upstart tenor saxophonist Nicole Glover, and another trio gig at the Blue Monk featuring bassist Tom Wakeling and drummer Alan Jones. It's been a busy week, and I've been trying to shake some seemingly never ending nasal congestion as well, so I haven't been going to as many of the events as I would have liked. Still, the festival ends Sunday, and there's still a lot happening.

Charles McPherson
I was fortunate to get to play with one of the headliners and also attend a concert featuring another headliner. First, I brought a student ensemble into Jimmy Mak's to play with the legendary alto saxophonist Charles McPherson. (I hadn't played with McPherson since I worked with a 4 alto project featuring Phil Woods, Gary Bartz, Jesse Davis, and McPherson back in 1996.) The ensemble I chose is called The Colligan Men, and features Brandon Braun on drums, Hu Hao on bass, Ben Graves on guitar, Grant Sayler on guitar, Scott Ferguson on trombone, David Kim on piano, Marc Hutchinson on tenor saxophone, and I play trumpet in the group.  I talked to McPherson before the show and he was very friendly. I couldn't help but be impressed with how sharp, healthy and vibrant he seems for a 73 year old. (McPherson has lived in San Diego for many years;maybe it's the nice weather...)The Colligan Men plowed through a few standards, and then McPherson joined us on a striking rendition of "Body and Soul". I'm very proud of our student group, but it's always a lesson when younger players share the bandstand with the older masters. The vibe changed as soon as McPherson played the first few lyrical notes. He really schooled our rhythm section on how to play a ballad. And on our rendition of Charlie Parker's "Billie's Bounce", McPherson basically destroyed the blues with endless bebop lines and fiery execution.

Pianist Randy Porter
The next set featured McPherson as a leader, with a rhythm section of Randy Porter on piano, Tom Wakeling on bass, and Alan Jones on drums. Porter has been playing with McPherson for years, so they had a great connection. They began with a rousing rendition of "Lester Leaps In" where McPherson and crew schooled all of us on playing blazing up tempos. A beautiful version of "Embraceable You" featured McPherson soloing masterfully with an almost Coltrane-like "sheets of sound" approach, which left the audience flabbergasted. McPherson show no sign of slowing down.

The Great Roy Haynes
Last night, I went to the Newmark Theater to see Roy Haynes and the Fountain of Youth Band. Roy Haynes is another senior citizen who has more energy than most of my students! Haynes is celebrated because of his long career and unique, sensitive drumming style, which fits with seemingly any situation; Haynes has played with literally everyone in jazz, and that's EVERYONE from Charlie Parker and Billie Holliday  to Pat Metheny and Chick Corea. Sometimes, Haynes will tour with an all star band, but his regular band features some young players who have been with him for years; alto saxophonist Jaleel Shaw has been with Haynes for 6 years, while pianist Martin Bejerano and bassist John Sullivan have been with Haynes for a few years longer. These are all great players, but even so, the star of this band is clearly Roy Haynes.

The amount of energy Haynes has is almost insane; Haynes strolled out onto the stage with a swagger that you might expect from James Brown in his prime. And it seems as though everything Haynes does has a rhythm to it;even the microphone, which he used to joke with the audience, he beat on his chest and it was almost as compelling as his drum solos."That's my HEART", Haynes quipped. Clearly, Haynes is enjoying his golden years. The concert began with an extremely short version of Monk's "Green Chimneys", but then they launched into a full length version of "Trinkle Tinkle"; they added some special rhythmic jabs which made the solos challenging. Then they played a sweet version of "My Romance". I marveled at how Haynes' drumming might seem unimpressive to those who are impressed by flashy technique and pyrotechnics. Haynes was impressing me with how little he played; everything was driving the music and the feel was the most important thing. Everything he played, particularly during his two lengthy drum solos of the evening, were technically within the abilities of most drummers, even my students. However, it's not what he played on the drums, but HOW and WHEN were what makes Roy Haynes special.

Jaleel Shaw
Altoist Shaw and pianist Bejerano wowed the audience with their skill and energy. Bassist Sullivan had a nice little feature with a solo rendition of Billy Strayhorn's "Isfahan". This was curiously sandwiched in between two occurrences of what I'm guessing might be the band's theme song, Pat Metheny's "James", a piece written for James Taylor. They ended up playing the tune for a third time later in the almost 2 hour set; Haynes seemed happier every time they played the joyful, uplifting melody. I think this is Haynes' secret; his elixir of eternal life is music. Hopefully he'll be around for many years to come.

I was thinking, as I left the concert, that I've found a good response to the question: "What is jazz?"

The answer? "Roy Haynes. Roy Haynes IS JAZZ."
(above is "James" from "Te Vou!")

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