Sunday, December 4, 2016

In The Presence Of Greatness!

Look, I love jazz. It is America's gift to the music world. I've loved it since I was a teen and played one of my Grandfather's old LP's that featured Benny Goodman and a singer named Billie Holliday. It was one of those what the fuck is THAT moments in my life. I grabbed out Grampa's other records from the bin and heard Duke Ellington, Gene Krupa (who my Dad couldn't stop telling me went to jail for marijuana possession, not as a warning but kind of as a that guy was hip statement), and the man who hooked me forever, Count Basie.

Over the years, I was the only 18 year old in the Orpheum Theater who was in the balcony to see Benny Goodman and his band in 1970 something. An old guy sitting next to me bedazzled me with stories of how he played with Benny way back in the 1940's and I didnt doubt any of it. To hear Sing Sing Sing live was thrilling.

I was the only 19 year old in the balcony watching Count Basie and his Orchestra , watching Cab Calloway, watching Billy Eckstine. Dizzy Gillespie came to town with the Basie Boys after the Count had died. I saw Dizzy from row 1 deal with a heckler by simply stop playing and saying "yo mama" and then continue playing. Who the fuck heckles Dizzy Gillespie?

I have been in the presence of greatness.

I was in the presence of greatness again on Friday evening. Wynton Marsalis and the Lincoln Center Orchestra came to town and played in front of a fairly packed house, . Now I have seen Wynton many times. First on the 1980's, at an art museum, as a quartet, featuring a blind pianist named Marcus Roberts. I saw Wynton at the aforementioned Orpheum , from Row 1, as a quartet featuring a sax player named Walter Blanding. And then came the Lincoln Center Orchestra sightings. Too much talent to even mention.

Wynton Marsalis and his band is so talented he can make music I hate sound fresh and exciting. Yep, this latest show from Friday night was Christmas music. But goddamnit, it was Christmas music that had my leg bouncing, my toes tapping, and my hands drumming away. It was thrilling.

When singer Catherine Russell would come out to sing those songs in a jazzy swinging 1930's way and step back and let the musicians do their thing, it was thrilling. To see jazz musicians and their faces as things go wrong, or are unexpected is thrilling to me. Cuz after all thats what jazz is. Pure 100% improvisation. When trombonist Chris Crenshaw went a bit long on a solo, to see the trumpeters put the instrument up to play and then put it down with a what the hell he's rolling look was thrilling.

Catherine Russell's interpretation of have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas was thrilling, her singing of Louis Prima's What Would Santa Claus Say was thrilling. But when she launched into a gospel rendition of No Room at The Inn, made famous originally by Mahalia Jackson, I had a come back to Jesus moment. For that few minutes, the atheism left my body and I was ready to praise the Lord! That song, and her and that band's performance, made have been one of the Top 5 Moments I've witnessed at any kind of concert. Praise Jesus!

Yes, I was in the presence of greatness again on Friday evening in Omaha. Wynton Marsalis, you are a national treasure. May good health keep you one for many years to come.

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