Two Tributes in San Francisco: Monk and Blakey shows create excitement and appreciation

Great tribute shows excite audiences

By Ken Vermes
Si Perkoff plays “Brilliant Corners” in a tribute to Thelonius Monk at the SFJAZZ Joe Henderson Lab
The Art Blakey Tribute at Yoshi’t San Francisco
Tribute concerts can be tricky to pull off. But recently two very good ones were presented back to back at the SFJAZZ Joe Henderson Lab, and at Yoshi’s San Francisco. Each show not only demonstrated deep appreciation of the artist being celebrated, but created a power and excitement in the moment.
At SFJAZZ, local musician Si Perkoff put together a Monk tribute, focused on the Monk album “Brilliant Corners.” Hearing these tunes re-created by a band with trombone and tenor sax in the front line creates a unique feel. And Perkoff’s own stylings were very different than Monk’s would have been. That said, this tribute was exciting and very interesting to listen to. A few Monk tunes are played often, but not many of them. Si was recreating the album “Brilliant Corners” that is a part of a series in the Joe Henderson Lab at the new SFJAZZ Center. He played “Panonica,” “Blue Bolivar Blues,” “Monk’s Mood,” “Bemsha Swing,” and an amazing version of the challenging, “Brilliant Corners.”
It is gratifying that the SFJAZZ concerts recognize the critical role our local players play in the San Francisco and greater Bay Area jazz scene. These players are performing day to day in the community and building the audience for improvised music. The festival should consider adding a host that can present the accomplishments and importance of Perkoff, interview him between sets, and even consider awarding such players with some recognition for all they have given us. Not many people know of the thousands of hours Si and others like him have given, often for no or minimal pay, to perform at senior centers, Alzheimer homes and other such institutions. Si also works often with vocalists, not only playing the accompaniment, but encouraging and assisting them in their first steps. On top of this he is a very serious student of Monk’s music and someone who has deep insights into technical details of his compositions and sensibilities. The first show was a sell-out, demonstrating that when local players are featured, SFJAZZ audiences will respond.
In a very different vein was the tribute to Art Blakey at Yoshi’s. Blakey was one of the greatest drummer band leaders in the history of the music, and as such mentored many musicians through his group. He also had a style of playing that was always exciting and forceful. For many years, drummers like Gene Krupa, Buddy Rich, Max Roach, Elvin Jones, Kenny Clarke and Blakey, were not only star players but led fantastic bands that created a special rhythmic excitement. These types of bands, hardly exist in the present, although the large contingent of young and up and coming musicians playing drums is a hopeful sign. In this case a very interesting group of players were assembled under the drumming leadership of Ralph Petersen, who very adequately re-created aspects of Blakey’s sound and propelled a group of players that included Billy Pierce, on tenor, Bryan Lynch on trumpet, Donald Harrison on alto, Reggie Workman on bass, and Donald Brown on piano. The band included a special tribute to the contribution of Wayne Shorter as a member of one of the Blakey groups, by including some of his tunes in the set.
Like the Perkoff tribute show, this one worked because of the strength of the artist being recognized, the excitement that the players were creating, and the fact that they made the music come alive.
Both Yoshi’s and SFJAZZ need to be congratulated on sponsoring events like these. Jazz music is endlessly moving forward, and as such, after one hundred years, has endless possibilities to look back as it looks forward. When tribute shows work, they not only show us what has been done in the past, but remind us of the great power, resourcefulness, and deep beauty of the music of these earlier band leaders and pioneers.
And these shows left the audiences wanting more. The performances were fresh, the arrangements crisp and sounding like they were written in the present. What more can you say about the true genius of such music that so profoundly brings us into the future as much as it celebrates the past?
Ken Vermes writes about music and culture and contributes to the media efforts of musicians and clubs.

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