05/06/02

Bern Jazz Festival 2002

The 27th International Jazzfestival Bern was dedicated to Norman Granz, who lived the latter portion of his life in Switzerland and died there last Thanksgiving Day. The Saturday, May 4 night of recognition was called Artists' Tribute to Jazz at the Philharmonic. It recalled the JATP format but in a more informal manner that nevertheless maintained the essential spirit of those original jam sessions brought to the concert stage.

When you mention elemental spirit you are talking about Clark Terry. Octogenarian Terry is not in robust health but it is not evident when he is on the bandstand except for the fact that he performs seated these days. Terry handled the emcee duties from a chair at stage center but became airborne when he put either trumpet and flugelhorn to his lips. He told several illuminating stories about Granz and generally kept things moving along in a relaxed manner. I remember the first JATP I attended at Carnegie Hall in May of 1946. For each set the names of the numbers to be played were printed in the program under the names of the musicians who were to play them. Here selections were sometimes more spur of the moment.

A brass fanfare from trombonist Wycliffe Gordon and trumpeters Terry, Terell Stafford and Jon Faddis, capped by the last-named, served as a short, bracing aperitif. Then Ray Brown walked the blues and Terry took off on a tight, muted flight to also be accompanied shortly thereafter by drummer Mickey Roker and pianist Junior Mance. The groove had been established.

Mance was the soloist on the next number, "Autumn Leaves," cleverly using "Suicide is Painless" ("The Theme From M.A.S.H.") to get from one place to another at one point. Brown's magisterial improvisation followed, his very sound commanding.

"Blues Up and Down," introduced in the early '50s by Gene Ammons and Sonny Stitt, was the meat in a saxophone sandwich--more hero if you consider the tempo: Jesse Davis, alto; Frank Wess, Red Holloway and James Moody, tenors. Convivial cutting, up, down, north, south, east, west and, as Bill Robinson used to say, "consecutive."

Moody's "girl's part" on the ensuing "Moody's Mood for Love" was a bit froggy but he finished strongly, rapping on soap operas. Then it was the brass' turn. Mance's improvisation led into the horns' statement of "Just Friends." Terry's fat flugel phrases sang out in solo; Stafford bopped with aplomb; Faddis ranged from hot highs to delicate middle-ground expressions; and Gordon slid easy before spitting out machine gun bullets. Exchanges between Brown and Roker represented "The Ministry of Hip Walks" and "The Tap Dance Kid."

The concert's second half found a new rhythm section in place: Ray Bryant, piano; Bob Cranshaw, bass; and Louis Bellson, drums. The opener was "The Midgets" from Basie's "New Testament" book. Terry and Faddis set a fast pace and Wess and Moody hooked up in a heated flute duel, one thing I'm sure was never heard at a JATP concert.

Bryant dug deeply into the deliberate blues groove of Avery Parrish's "After Hours" (remember his low-end work on the Gillespie-Rollins-Stitt version on Verve?) as a prelude to a ballad medley, which ranged from Moody's tenor on "Secret Love," where he managed to cram bits of "On the Trail" and "Bebop" in his exposition of the melody, to Holloway's piping "Old Folks" on penny whistle!

On "It Don't Mean a Thing" Bellson and Roker staged a drum battle that was a far cry from the Krupa-Rich bang-ups of yore. Subtlety and nuance were the order of the occasion as both men cooked on a low flame.

As the ensemble went out on "Jumpin' at the Woodside," I had to think that had Norman been there he would have enjoyed it along with the rest of us.

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