Sunday, May 01, 2005

All that jazz

the beach bum
Inspired by yesterday's trip to the NO Jazz Fest...

I like a wide variety of music. But jazz is particularly special to me. Why? I'm not entirely sure. Perhaps it's fun life experience...

1. In high school I was in a jazz band, playing tenor sax. (Decent tone, fair ear, technique needed work...) Those were some wonderful days...improv in class, dance gigs @ the officers' club, concerts...

2. While in jazz band, I played with some really hot players, a few of whom went on to music careers.

3. My older brother was a marvelously-gifted musician who majored in music @ U. of Miami.

But more than life experience, I think it has to do with the music itself.

The music seems to fit my personality. Ordered chaos. Rebellion within a structure. Solo acts within an ensemble setting. Sometimes loud, sometimes soft. Energizing at times, yet most relaxing at others. Many different possibilities. Kind of wild, now & then, yet always with some landing points where it all fits back together.

I think that's why I love it so. Note, by the way, that I have never cared for free-form, rhythm-less, melody-less jazz. I prefer melodies. Sometimes wild & wooly melodies, but melodies to be sure.

Take yesterday's performance by Astral Project, a beach bum favorite in general and at Jazz Fest. Astral Project is a combo of four absolutely incredible musicians who are all accomplished soloists, yet who blend together to form an almost sublime result. It's not just me, by the way; Astral Project is a Jazz Fest crowd favorite as well.

On guitar is Steve Masakowski. Steve plays guitars he designed with the help of a local lutier there in N.O. Very tasteful. Extremely fast. Looks like he could be a banker or a high school teacher. Plays like no banker or high school teacher--including this one--ever imagined playing. Guitarists of all stripes like listening to Masakowski's work

On upright bass is James Singleton. James does not look like a banker or a high school teacher. He has that look about him that almost screams "jazz musician". He is as fine a bass player as you'll ever hear. He is also a lot of fun to watch. Smiling, leaning over his head, grimacing at wonderful licks by his bandmates or at his own. Frenetic is a good word.

On saxophone is Tony Dagradi. Mostly tenor, sometimes soprano. All played superbly. As a former tenor player myself, I'm in awe of Tony's playing. Amazing, multi-register runs, but never at the expense of the melody. Never fast just for the sake of speed, yet always willing to take a ride that leaves one breathless. Tony is the between-song speaker for the band.

Finally, the drummer. A crowd favorite. Johnny Vidacovich. Slim to the point of being slight. Bald on top, short on sides. Really plays to the crowd well, with humorous facial expressions and high-energy gestures. And as a jazz aficionado friend of mine say yesterday, he's probably one of the greatest drummers in the world today. This was echoed by an 11th grade student of mine--himself a drummer--who was blown away by Johnny's playing. His solos are fine, but just his regular rhythms and fills are awesome to me.

The blended result is a show that starts out high energy (and awesome!) and stays there continuosly until the end. Even their slow songs maintain the intensity. Time seems to fade into irrelevance as they play. I love a lot of jazz groups. But Astral Project is really something very special to behold. Check out samples here at their website. Or buy/download a copy of last year's or this year's Jazz Fest performance here at the Jazz Fest website.

OK, end of written pondering. Go check out some Astral Project. And get ready to have your socks knocked off!
the beach bum

No comments: