I always like to play very contemporary concepts of swing right next to New Orleans music
This afternoon was much better than last night. 5pm on a Sunday is a good time for a concert.
The sound was much better and softer than the night before. We started with King Oliver’s ‘Snake Rag’ and went on to ‘Smokehouse Blues’ as played by Jelly Roll Morton, then right into a very obtuse ‘Cherokee’ with all kinds of polyrhythms and extended harmony. I always like to play very contemporary concepts of swing right next to New Orleans music because it highlights continuum. We bring the ancestors with us. “Cherokee’ was also the song I played with Lew Soloff when he brought me up on stage for my first time in New York City at the Conference for Brass Scholarships in 1979 or 80.
Tonight we were more prepared to deal with the challenges of playing rented horns and the unmarked music. And the much improved and more civil volume allowed us to relax into swinging. Christi was once again a lifesaver, working right up to the first minute of the concert so that the music would be properly laid out. She is universally loved. As usual there were many highlights on the bandstand: the saxes swooping and sweeping on Benny Carter’s arrangement of ‘All of Me’, my messing up Sherman’s great brass plunger mute tutti on ‘Yes sir, That’s my Baby’ (but Carlos redeeming me with a great bass solo), Greg Gisbert’s lyrical solo on Vic’s ‘A Dance at the Mardi Gras Ball’ and Ali Jackson’s overall dedication to the swing.
At the end of the set Carlos spoke some words about Lew and what he meant to the world of music. He introduced the New Orleans function and we played a funeral march and second line like in the Crescent City. ‘Just a Closer Walk with Thee’ with the trumpet section walking slowly and making it moan and creak. The same as we played for CT last week. Damn! Marcus, Kenny and Greg had tears streaming down their face, but I am still in too much shock to cry. When Chris started singing, he brought the Spirit down into the Palacio and I could see people in the audience getting full.
Just a closer walk with Thee,
Grant it, Jesus, is my plea,
Daily walking close to Thee,
Let it be, dear Lord, let it be.
When he reached down and up for that second chorus, we couldn’t help but urge him on higher and lower into it with some “Amens”. Then:
Didn’t he ramble…. he rambled
Rambled all around…. in and out of town
Didn’t he ramble….didn’t he ramble
He rambled till the butcher cut him down
The second line beat got everyone clapping and happy. The Mexican people with their Dia de Los Muertos understand exactly what we are talking about and could teach us more than a thing or two about it.
Suddenly we are finished. The audience has been extremely receptive and generous. We played two encores. The trumpet section played a blues for Lew on which Gizzy switched mouthpieces (because that was Lew’s thing) and Marcus and Kenny let their mutes fall out of their horns (because he could never seem to keep his mutes in). Then I played ‘Embraceable You’ because Lew always asked me to play that song.
After the gig Rob said, “Y’all sent Lew off right.” He said something happened with the console last night and he’d come to the Palacio early this morning to figure it out. He also got to check out Ballet Folklórico de México, which he said was unbelievable. They had performances before and after ours.
The hall is busy so we quickly say goodbyes and I hit the street with Maribel. Walking back to the hotel the streets are full of people of all ages and states of love; from wizened grandparents to enthralled teens. Today is International Woman’s day and ladies are everywhere in their finest, adding the grandeur of ceremony to an already bustling Sunday, the most important family day in Mexico.
Maribel and Eugenio treat us to a reception dinner in the hotel. They salute us with sincere feeling. Maribel even got a little full when thanking everyone for the heart they brought to this residency. Eugenio thanked cats for their quality of playing and for maintaining a standard of excellence in teaching and playing regardless of circumstance. We all recognize that we are honored to have partners on this level of sophistication, engagement and just straight up quality. They took care of us and the music and we are happy and satisfied.
About ten of us, including Christi and Seton Hawkins from our education department, then piled into a van to get some world class tacos at El Vilsito. It has been highly recommended by our band foodie, the esteemed Dan Nimmer and seconded by Seton and Sherman. After waiting for Vic (maintaining the New Orleans tradition of punctuality) we hit the road.
Talk about neighborhood! I thought we were off of Esplanade Avenue in New Orleans the way people were standing around devouring those tacos. It’s a garage by day and a taquería by night. Thankfully, different folks work both shifts. The garage and taco shop are owned by the same family and they know what they are doing! The food is correct and the all important ambience is as down home and relaxed as your favorite couch. Tacos of pork, beef, chicken and all types of vegetables and spices are ordered and delivered immediately. Cerveza and Horchata-an addictive, sweet, cinnamon rice milk- flow with the ease of a glance, and you are trusted to keep your own tally and square-up after you’re done. People feel like they should pay more (not less) just because it’s so unusual to be trusted with paying for something. Tomorrow, two flights to Caracas. I can’t wait.