Last weekend’s gig at Kitano with pianist Mark Soskin’s quartet (Jay Anderson on bass, Matt Wilson on drums) covered a lot of creative ground. The cats played their behinds off, and of course Kitano’s manager Gino, and the whole staff, welcomed us warmly into their jazz living room. Playing here reminds me a little of the jam sessions that took place in my family’s home when I was growing up - the audience is very close, and really engaged. Even if you don’t know many of the people out there, it still feels like a bunch of friends.

This club is a bit unusual in that it is situated on the second floor of an upscale Park Avenue hotel, an open-plan room overlooking the lobby below. The band is always acoustic, which makes for a very intimate and warm experience for the audience.

Mark’s choice of music - from obscure standards to his own harmonically rich originals - was challenging, yet natural and balanced. I love playing with Mark, Jay and Matt. I have played with each of them many times in different settings, but never together as a quartet. It felt comfortable and warm, like slipping back into the bathtub after getting out to answer the phone.
A friend, Shelley, caught a little of the set on video, which can be seen here.
 
 
The past couple days I have been rehearsing/conducting the Scranton University Concert Band and Choir, getting ready for the concert tonight, the premier of two commissioned pieces for these ensembles, which are made up entirely of non-music majors. There’s something about people who come to play because they love to, not because they have to. No school credit, rehearsals at night. Maybe they’re there because they love to experience director Cheryl Boga’s very soulful style, complete with passionate outbursts, humorous analogies, and language you wouldn’t find in a Disney movie. Maybe they're there to take their minds off school work. Or maybe they’re there because they just love to play. That’s certainly the feeling I get hearing them tackle some pretty challenging stuff.

These pieces are my first for either concert band of vocal choir, and I had to learn a lot about writing for the percussion section. I got some nice pointers from Erik Charleston and Ali Jackson (thanks, Cats!). Also, Ivette Dumeng wrote a beautiful, romantic poem (which I adapted to use for the lyrics on the choir piece) that has the singers melting.
Concert is tonight!
For more info.
 
 
Departing Savannah this morning after four densely-filled days, I shared a ride to the airport with a man named Craig, 60ish, with an unplaceable European accent, who described his recital last night at the Festival as taking place in a beautiful art museum. He said the space was packed with listeners, and he was surrounded by sergeants. I asked why armed guards were necessary at a classical recital, and he corrected me: he meant Sargent, the painter.

The Savannah Music Festival is an amazing event, passionately run by Rob Gibson, former executive director of Jazz at Lincoln Center, who manages to find ways to involve his favorite musicians in a variety of settings, year after year. I am fortunate to be on this list, and have played the Festival in the past as conductor and performer with Police drummer Stewart Copeland, with my eclectic group Odeon, as clinician with the Swing Central high school band competition, with the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, and this year as music director and performer with “Downtown Uproar,” a presentation of Duke Ellington early music. On this concert I got to play with some of my favorite musicians on the scene. The lineup included John and Jeff Clayton, Dave Stryker, Wycliffe Gordon, Marcus Printup, Marcus Roberts, Gerald Clayton, Bill Kennedy, Terell Stafford, Rodney Whitaker, Jason, Marsalis, Jack Wilkins, Jim Ketch, Leon Anderson, Paul Mckee, Slide Hampton, Rodney Jordan, Kevin Bales, Bill Petterson, Ron Westray, Obed Calvaire, and Joe Temperly.

Somewhat last-minute I was added to a concert with Chico Pinheiro, the Brazilian guitarist and composer. Robert Sadin was conducting a set of pieces that was a beautiful synthesis of classical and modern Brazilian music. Chico is a great composer and player, and is also a very nice guy! The second set last night was Dianne Reeves. Many vocalists talk about their “instrument,” but Dianne is one of the few who really owns one! She’s got a cute new hairstyle, too...
 
 
I had the great experience of doing a “Sound Dialogue” with Slide Hampton yesterday at the Savannah Music Festival. It was an informal chat in front of a small audience. I was sort of the interviewer and he the interviewee. Slide was charming as ever, and talked about growing up in Indianapolis, moving to New York, and all the great musicians he played with and wrote for.
It’s great to be down here, as always. I am directing “Downtown Uproar,” a program of Duke Ellington music that is being performed tonight at the festival - the closing concert of their Swing Central high school band competition. I am surrounded by great musicians and some of my favorite people. For more information about the concert: http://www.savannahmusicfestival.org/2011/downtown-uproar-duke-ellingtons-small-band-classicsswing-central-finale.php