A night of thrilling jazz at The Granada

Jazz legend Thelonious Monk loved to challenge musicians.

“When they recorded this, it took them 25 takes just not to mess it up,” another jazz great, Wynton Marsalis, told a packed Granada Friday night.

The audience laughed throughout the Santa Barbara concert as the friendly trumpeter blended humor with history in his introductions to incredible classics written by everyone from Sonny Rollins to the awesome Chick Corea. Mr. Marsalis and his 15-piece Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra did a great job with the music, which demonstrated the spontaneity of jazz and the emotion of the moment.

The spontaneity during the UCSB Arts & Lectures program extended to Mr. Marsalis surprising himself when he played unexpected chord progressions during one piece. But smiling, Mr. Marsalis pointed out that young pianist Dan Nimmer heard what Mr. Marsalis was doing and matched the chords.

That’s jazz, the art of musicians who really listen to each other and work like a team to explore new territory. Even if the songs during a tour are the same from city to city, something new can happen at each concert because jazz is all about improvisation.

That’s the thrill of it.

It’s also the art of strong melodies and syncopated, compelling rhythms. In varying its louds and softs, Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra knew when to fly, when to land.

The audience of all ages responded to the musical flights by cheering at times. One young man sitting near this writer leaned forward, smiling and yelling some “all rights!” That’s great because jazz isn’t something you just listen to. It’s something you experience.

No wonder the full house gave the band a standing ovation at the end.

The thrills during the concert included exciting solos by the saxophonists, trombonists and trumpeters — including, of course, Mr. Marsalis, who, as music director, played in the back with the other trumpeters. He introduced the music from his seat on the top riser.

And Mr. Marsalis was smiling after Kenny Rampton’s trumpet solo with a plunger-mute, which gives jazz a really cool effect.

During another special moment, the auditorium fell into stunned silence during drummer Obed Calvaire’s carefully crafted solo, which proved rhythm has its own crescendos. The audience was fascinated and gave Mr. Calvaire enthusiastic applause.

Saxophonist Ted Nash, who also plays flute and clarinet, was equally impressive with his solos.

And Mr. Nimmer’s solos showed his hands dancing happily around the piano. Sheer fun.
Elsewhere in the rhythm section, Carlos Henriquez played the standup bass with finesse.

There was also the powerful music by trombonists Chris Crenshaw, Vincent Gardner and Jeffery Miller, who sounded great during solos.

A jazz concert is a history lesson, and Mr. Marsalis’ introductions to the music made the history fun. In discussing Mr. Monk, Mr. Marsalis explained the rhythmic complexity was enough to make fellow be-bop greats Dizzy GIllespie and Miles Davis mutter under their breath.

But meeting a challenge is rewarding. As played by the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, Mr. Monk’s music stood out for its unconventional rhythms, which made his songs all that more risky and compelling. And jazz is about taking the risk.

The band also played a work by a musician who was in Mr. Davis’ band in the 1960s and was part of the birth of jazz fusion: Mr. Corea. The composer, who died one year ago this month, knew how to make music playful or in the case of “Windows,” soulful, and Mr. Marsalis and his band brought out the heart behind Mr. Corea’s melodies.

The concert featured arrangements by members of Mr. Marsalis’ band. During its tours, the orchestra plays arrangements and compositions by Mr. Marsalis, Henriquez, Mr. Nash, Mr. Crenshaw, and saxophonists Sherman Irby and Victor Goines. The orchestra is also known for its performances around the world of music by Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Fletcher Henderson, Mary Lou Williams, Mr. Gillespie, Benny Goodman and Charles Mingus.

Earlier on Friday, Mr. Marsalis and his band drew the parallels between jazz and life at The Granada in a program viewed by UCSB students on site and local elementary and secondary school students watching a live stream. Listening to jazz is a journey in spontaneity, teamwork and, as stated previously, the emotion of the moment.

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