This past Sunday at the Fox Valley Performing Arts Center, I heard the Newport Jazz All-Stars celebrating the 50th anniversary of the festival that originated in Newport, New Jersey. They collected an all-star cast which included; James Moody on Tenor Saxophone, James Carter on Tenor and Baritone Saxophone, Randy Brecker on Trumpet, Howard Alden on Guitar, Peter Washington on Bass, Cedar Walton on Piano, and Lewis Nash on drums.
Each one of these artists are superstars in their own right, though some have been around longer than others. Carter was the youngest one of them on stage and the most energetic one as well.
There were also the veterans there like Moody and Walton. Walton played in the Art Blakey Jazz Messengers for a very long time in the late 50’s and 60’s. Moody played in Dizzy Gillespie’s big band in the 1940’s and 50’s.
Brecker on the trumpet has been on the scene since the 70’s by recording with Parliament Funkadelic and Steely Dan, then making jazz recordings with Horace Silver and the Mingus Big Band to name a few.
Arlen made the soundtrack for Sweet and Lowdown a very popular Woody Allen film. Nash has recorded with nearly every jazz great today along with Peter Washington.
The concert was in the form of a jam session that one might see at the Coffeehouse on Thursdays. By that I mean they played standards with different personnel trading off. It began with the full group, but they didn’t always play with the full group. There was always one featured musician.
Highlights included Cedar Walton’s version of J.J. Johnson’s Lament. Walton combines a rock-solid technique with an urbane lyrical quality which made his playing so much fun to listen to.
Also, the Walton, Nash, and Washington trio played Little Sunflower, a Freddie Hubbard Classic. It was incredible to hear the trio switch the feel of the music effortlessly. One minute it was just grooving and then the next there was an Afro-Cuban Latin feel, complemented by the fact that their transitions were seamless.
Carter was featured on Duke Ellington’s In A Mellow Tone, but it was anything but mellow. He used many crazy extended techniques on the baritone saxophone. It was really exciting to hear what he was going to do, but he started to fall into a pattern after awhile: he would start his solo playing in the groove then he would start playing really raucously and squeal on the instrument. That was his formula for a jazz solo almost every time, which lost its excitement towards the end of the program.
Brecker, on the other hand, had a fantastic solo on Gillespie’s Groovin’ High along with Moody, who was in the groove the whole night. His sound was like warm butter. He did the Ellington classic Take the A Train in a duet with Washington, which was incredible.
Moody’s sense of phrasing and musicality were right on for the tune. In closing, this concercert was a fun musical adventure with Moody and Walton leading the way. Moody even did some standup comedy which was actually very funny.
Hearing the jazz masters come together for a night in Appleton was special and it gave the community a taste of what the actual Newort Jazz festival is all about: great musicians coming together to have fun and make some, well, great music.