My kind of gig. Refurbished high school auditorium with excellent sound. Local people with an interest in culture. Just folks from the community come to have a good time and swing. A lot of cosigning and true interaction with the band.
As everywhere, people afterwards talk about all the different inventive solos. I meet the couples most responsible for presenting these types of events (always a highlight for me because I know how hard it is to keep artistic things going). A lady brought 60 students with her (I saw the roll sheet).
JK and I have our hands full with this music.
We open the gig in Eugene playing my arrangement of Wayne Shorter's 'Free for All'. Wayne wrote this for Art Blakey, and I always think of Bu (what we all called Art) and the integrity he always exhibited on the bandstand. So many highlights on the gig - Ali firing on all cylinders; Elliot playing so much trombone with such virtuosity and accuracy, I had to lean forward to see if it was a valve trombone (it wasn't); Vince sounding like a human voice on Horace Silver's 'Peace'; Ted Nash's pristine flute on 'Itsy Bitsy Spider'. I don't know what possessed me to sing Joe Turner's blues, but it didn't stop us from playing Duke's 1947 masterpiece 'The Tattooed Bride', and it didn't keep Vic from crooning that sweet ballad at the end and cresting that last high f concert up over the band for 6 or 7 long measures.
Yeah. We still out here swinging. And so is Duke and the blues and all of them. We bring 'em with us.
Finally, a drive that commences later than 4 in the morning. Hallelujah! 7am. The highway comes out of the mountain, and you are close enough to read the rock lines on both sides. Shimmering brooks run through mountain passes and give way to green vistas as we pass through the Shasta Valley. Back up through mountains cloaked in redwoods, Douglas-firs and other trees whose names I don't know. Rare, bare, stony peaks stand starkly against the sky. Down into the flatlands of northern California, we pass all kinds of farms and personal signs - "Julia's Fruit Stand - home of the Great Pumpkin Festival".
On side the road: people smokin’ ribs, wooden frame houses speak silently and eloquently of the everydayness of living. All this produce for sale in a down-home fashion reminds me of the vegetable man who came through the neighborhoods when I was growing up singing, "I got your peas - snap, sugar and black, your cabbage, your mirlitons just off the vine, and your watermelon ruby-red to the rind.”
The gig in Chico is absolutely swinging with a first set that catches fire. Just a lot of inspired solos and diversity in the rhythm section. Well, you have Sherman playing all kinds of blues, then Chris making it plain with the plunger, and the very next tune Ted playing every inch of the alto on 'Epistrophy', followed by Marcus Printup playing with deep soul andlogic, verbally and rhythmically cosigned by Ali at every fresh twist and turn. Victor and Walter lock horns on a galloping 'Stage West' which concludes with Ali taking over after a brief syncopated and soft 5 chorus discussion with me.
As we walk off for intermission Elliot says, "That was probably the best set of solos we've played since I joined the band," and Ted says, "Chris is so patient and unpredictable when he plays." Sherman observes, "Yep." Walter and Ted follow every minute of every solo. They are very enthusiastic listeners - excellent models for students who come to hear us. We speak to some beautiful young musicians after the gig and then J.Kelly and i meet at the hotel to lay out our battle plan for orchestration.
Tomorrow we play Monterey, but the gig is not until 10 or 11pm. Amen, brothers and sisters.
5am: Travelling through Washington going southwest. Farmlands and handmade signs, "fresh blueberries", "sweet corn all you can eat". We want to stop but all is still. Rolling hills in the distance and patches of communities periodically gleam on the horizon under the new, orange sun.
7am: School buses hit the road in Pasco. Many taco trucks painted "La Diferencia" await the day. Kids, in small groups and alone, walk to school with varying degrees of enthusiasm.
We're on highway 84 west, 130 miles east of Portland. The sun and clear, clear sky reveal a gorgeous day. Sand colored hills with intermittent fields of stark-white, three-pronged windmills in various degrees of motion give way to periodic oases of green. A super long train with two engines snakes along above the river bank. I am brought back to Kenner, Louisiana where we grew up down the street from a railroad track on the left and the mighty Mississippi on the right. Miles and miles of open highway and the Columbia River is crystal blue. Hmm…the Mississippi was brown. Here's some Bighorn sheep clustered on a ledge right above the road, looking for something to do. Passing Blaylock Canyon and everything is a living postcard.
Coming into Portland to visit Dr. Monette's shop, we are so tired it's comical, but the drive was inspirational. Frank says, "It was like being in a cathedral at some points. Stained glass and all." Portland reminds me of Leroy Vinnegar and Ben Wolfe. Two bassists of different generations—one love of swinging.
We're at Dave's shop outside the Portland airport. We have a needed a visit with the Doctor. The shop and everyone working there is a model of soul and concern and first class workmanship. We share a noonday meal and discuss various issues of the day, like George Blanda's age when he retired from the NFL and the beat-down my Raiders received on Monday.
Andre Bragg (diehard Cowboys fan from D.C. no less) is not a man given to lots of talk. He says only one thing the entire time. "They needed Blanda on Monday." We look at old photos, and I play the horn I'm fortunate to be taking…and Frank and Dave ruminate on some issues, and Dave shows Frank the components of an earring he's about to make for him, and we give hugs and respect to all these wonderful craftsmen…and we're off.
Two hours to Eugene when we thought it would be twenty minutes…Well there goes any hope of working on my orchestration this afternoon before sound check.
We leave Banff at 3:45am and come back to the U.S. Rolling hills speckled and blanketed in evergreens as we pass through northwestern Idaho into Washington. The northwest is crisp and alive with hospitable people possessing the hard-edged realism of nature. We still remember a great gig in Orcas Islands years ago that had tenor saxophonist Todd Williams wanting to move there. Frank gives a seminar on hawks, eagles and buzzards. "You see, hawks and falcons don't fly over thermals. That's a buzzard." Highway 90 west. We pass a Steinway piano gallery on the left, then immediately right, a fisherman's fly shop. A mile or so down the road, we find what seems to be the world largest junkyard…reminds me of when my daddy and I put up a too high basketball hoop in our yard years ago. We got the pipe from a junkyard and the cement and hoop from Sears. It was 10 feet 4 inches, but we were still proud of it.
Keith, a high school trumpeter, sits in on our sound check. He plays a couple of well constructed solos and brings a great attitude. He's probably going to the University of Washington next year. Marcus and Ryan and I tell him we've been playing together for 16 years. He is 17. Hearing him and feeling his love for our instrument and for jazz music inspires us.
Two hours later, our audience is very lively and interactive. We love it. When people shout and cosign and participate, we are encouraged. That's jazz. It's what our music invites you to do. Carlos is playing all kinds of bass tonight - making up beautiful lines and inventing interesting vamps and counter grooves, listening and interacting with soloists even when they can't hear him, negotiating the time with Ali (all night they look at each other and ‘yay or nay’ decisions to put the beat in a certain place, to play in two or four, to groove or swing, to push or relax the time, to play at a balanced volume), and keeping the energy positive and flowing. Someone knows what 'Crepuscule' means. She wins the prize. (Even though we don't yet know what it is).
After the gig, I luckily catch the New York Philharmonic playing the hell out of Berlioz's ‘Symphonie Fantastique’ on TV. Now it's 5 in the morning and we are driving to Eugene. 7 and 8 hour drives day after day wear you down, but so do a series of 1 hour plane rides. It takes hours to move a big band around, so the plane travel will consume roughly the same time.
Now I like to write about what is inspiring to me, what I like. But let me tell you, this is not a vacation. The road kicks you in your ass. In the 90's we toured constantly with the septet and the orchestra. Some members of cats' families would think we were out 'travelling' and partying—we always encouraged them to come out here. One tour is all it takes. When they would be sleeping all day in public spaces, struggling with the constantly changing conditions while being victimized by the various unexpected mess-ups that cost you the two hours of normalcy you need to achieve any type of equilibrium, we would laugh and say, "Dee road, dee road! Fun!" They understood. The only thing resembling vacation is the gig. "Put together thirty years and we can talk about it." That's what Elvin Jones told me about 15 years ago.
Well…all is dark and quiet. Let me go before I begin to dislike my angle on this seat. We got 6 hours to go…
The feeling of jazz…trumpets, trombones, saxophones scooping, swooping and squeezing notes to life. Piano sparkling, bass homping and drums smacking skin and metal, painting with brushes. The constant stream of ideas and the strain of perpetual negotiation (under the pressure of time) excites the room.
Somebody cain’t help theyself after Sherman tells 'em on “Blues Walk”. To and fro, in and out, back and forth, me and you, us.
Ted Nash playing something so fluttery on “Epistrophy” makes Ryan and me say, "What is that?" After some time off, the sound of the band is always unique and refreshing.
We won't start aggravating each other for at least two weeks.
People in Banff, a resort with a deeply spiritual overtone in a valley 4800 feet up in the Rockies, come to swing…hard. They are cosigning solos and having a generally great time, making it easy for us to communicate. It feels good at any time, but after 40 something hours in a vehicle…better than good.
Is Frank Stewart sleeping? Hell no. He makes the sound check 10 minutes after arriving…then the gig.