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“Speaking of Jazz”

Wynton Marsalis and the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra

The place just screams “potential.” As media accounts have already underlined, Frederick P. Rose Hall, Jazz at Lincoln Center’s new home, is the first-ever concert space designed specifically for jazz. You almost have to pinch yourself while ambling around the spacious lobby, the “arcades” (not simply hallways), the interactive Ertegun Hall of Fame and, of course, the three venues themselves. Opening night was an affair for the jazzerati, the music press and the moneybags. Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Congressman Charles Rangel were on hand. PBS broadcasted live, with Ed Bradley as emcee. NY-1, our indispensable local TV news network, ran an hour-long special about Rose Hall during the leadup to the big day. (It was the height of cornball journalism, but far preferable to silence.) The question on everyone’s mind–will “The House of Swing” focus much-needed attention on jazz?–seemed to be answered in the affirmative, at least for a hot minute.

Inaugural festivities began in the Rose Theater, the largest space, with warm wood surfaces and seats that run 360 degrees around the stage. As Wynton Marsalis and the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra (LCJO) struck up “Call to Prayer,” one thing was immediately apparent: you could hear the rhythm section, clear as daylight. The curse of big halls–tinny drums, muddy piano, nonexistent bass–had been lifted. Reginald Veal, filling in for bassist Carlos Henriquez (who became a father an hour before showtime), sounded portentous double-stops into John Coltrane’s “Resolution,” which was tame, but oh well. Then began the parade of guests, not to mention techs, who scrambled through the endless stage switches as best they could. Tony Bennett sang a grandiloquent “Lost in the Stars.” Clarinetist Dr. Michael White and tubaist Bob Stewart walked on for a spirited but sloppy “Dippermouth Blues.” Joe Lovano brought back modernism with a penetrating take of “Body and Soul,” leaving the LCJO to close the first set with Basie and Mingus–respectively, “Jumpin’ at the Woodside” and “Better Get Hit in Your Soul.”

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