Jazz at Lincoln Center Spring Gala 2004

For its third annual spring gala at the Apollo Theater, Jazz at Lincoln Center celebrated with a heady mix of traditional jazz and blues, heightened by the presence of a pair of pop-rock music icons, James Taylor and Bob Dylan. Dylan comfortably crossed over to a receptive and appreciative jazz community; Taylor’s understated, relaxed manner was refreshing and intimate.

Taylor sang a reflectively plaintive and witty “Mean Old Man,” the parable of a grumpy guy who when wooed is transformed into a placidly responsive “golden retriever kind of dog.” The whimsical song is featured on Taylor’s latest CD, “October Road.” But it was “Don’t Let Me Be Lonely Tonight” — a familiar Taylor reverie — that reflected a sensual warmth that was clearly rooted deeply in the depths of the heart.

Dylan brought out his trusty harmonica for some down-and-dirty blues — “It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry” — augmented by the gritty muted growl trumpet of Jazz at Lincoln Center’s artistic director, Wynton Marsalis. Dylan’s bluesy mouth organ underscored the song’s despairing, mournful tone. He also put a funky spin on his trademark classic “Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright.”

The org displayed its true colors when guest Branford Marsalis joined brother Wynton and six star soloists of the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra for Duke Ellington’s “Self-Portrait of the Bean,” dedicated to the memory of reed giant Coleman Hawkins. Branford’s burly tenor solo boasted the richly throaty texture associated with “the Bean” and defined a historic jazz legacy. The brothers joined for a call-and-response on a romping “Hesitation” that was eloquently complemented by Eric Lewis’ dazzling piano solo.

Other performers included veteran jazz singer Al Jarreau and promising 14-year-old thrush Renee Olstead. Jarreau lent his accustomed vocal gymnastics to Dave Brubeck’s “Take Five” and the evening’s seductive banner tune “Teach Me Tonight.” Wes “Warmdaddy” Anderson injected a sailing alto solo on the Brubeck classic. Jarreau’s vocal gimmickry is impressive, but the Sammy Cahn-Gene DePaul title ballad was void of intimacy and seductiveness when the singer injected the text with a maze of tricky sound effects.

Olstead sang the Gershwin lullaby “Summertime” and dusted off the old Claude Thornhill hit “A Sunday Kind of Love.” She displayed confidence and an amazing range for her age, and shows considerable promise. Wynton gave her support with a lushly lyrical romantic solo.

Proceeds from the benefit support the performance and educational events produced annually by JALC.

by Robert L. Daniels
Source: Variety

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