Marvelous Marsalis Septet at Kimball’s birthday party

Three years in Emeryville marked by Duke-filled show

CLASS SHOWS. Kimball’s East, celebrating its third birthday, presents the Wynton Marsalis Septet. That’s class.

“We opened with Herbie Hancock in ’89,” said proprietor Kimball Allen. “To have Wynton Marsalis for a third birthday is an especially nice present.”

“We like playing here,” said Marsalis in the crowded dressing room. “We like the room, the audiences – with lots of kids – and the chance to stay in one place for a few days.”
Marsalis said he hopes to spend many hours during his current Bay Area stay working on the score, “In This House, On This Morning,” a lengthy original liturgical work destined for a presentation at New York’s Avery Fisher Hall during the Lincoln Center Festival this spring.

Allen acknowledged that, three years ago, the opening of a jazz supper-club in Emeryville seemed a risky, if not impossible, task. He had agreed to install one of his “Real Food” natural-food groceery operations on the main floor of the Emery Bay commercial site in Emeryville.

That was 1989, and as we talked about the ground level I kept thinking about the big room on the second floor,” Allen said. “Remember the old cartoons, with the light bulb that went on over someone’s head when they had a great idea? Well, I’ve had a number of light bulbs go on in my life. This was a big one. ‘Why not build a jazz club, a jazz supper-club, above the market?’ I thought.”

Kimball’s East had been open less than six months when the earthquake screwed things up. “But we established a clientele,” Allen noted, “and I’ve come to like dealing with music and show people. We survived, had our ups and downs.”
Has it been worth it? “Being alive is worth it, he said. “I’m fascinated with show business.”
Disappointments? “Oh yes, many,” Allen said. “But I learned that there are lots of people, many of them African Americans, who want to get dressed up, go to a club in which they feel comfortable, see their friends, and watch a good show.
“Costs money,” he added, “but in the long run, it’s worth it”

As for Marsalis, Allen said, “I’d like to have 52 weeks a year of him.” Marsalis’ opening set on Thursday was masterful. Leaning on vintage Ellington, the septet played “Take the Blues and Go,” segued into “Out of Nowhere,” did a magnificent job on “Majesty of the Blues,” worked over “Back Home Again in Indiana,” gave Wynton a shot at a glowing “Stardust,” played “And the Band Played On, and On, and On” and then splashed through a Mardi Gras Dixie number.

Marsalis, criticized within the jazz community from all sides (“too modern” … “too traditional” … “aloof … “arrogant”), remains the most significant trumpeter and ensemble leader of our time – regardless of stylistic definitions.
His band currently includes a marvelous pianist named Stephen Scott and a Tricky Sam Nanton-style trombonist named Wycliffe Gordon. Nanton was Duke’s mute-master tram man for 20 years.

The Marsalis “Indiana” performance includes Charlie Parker riffs (Parker called his Indiana improvisations “Donna Lee”) as well as some Fats Navarro references (Navarro called it “Ice Freezes Red”).
Marsalis included a segment from an original ballet score (“We call it ’1-2-3-4,’ “ he explained), and there were times that the ensemble, with alto sax (Wess Anderson) and tenor sax (Todd Williams) blended in with the trombone and trumpet and Reginald Veal’s bass to evoke the tight mellowness of John Kirby’s fine group, circa 1940.

Drummer Herlin Riley reminds me, as he should, what with the Ellington stuff, of the great Sonny Greer – Duke’s choice. As part of his birthday proclamation, Allen said that he definitely will reopen Kimball’s in San Francisco in the near future. First, he said he wants to re-design the whole upstairs room.

By Philip Elwood
Source: The San Francisco Examiner

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