George Benson, and the Louis Armstrong Centennial Celebration Band, Poncho Sanchez Latin Jazz Band at Tanglewood Jazz Festival
September 2, 2001 preformance; article by Dave Conlin Read
The audience responded enthusiastically to the set performed by Nicholas Payton and the Louis Armstrong Centennial Celebration Band leading off the triple-bill that closed the 2001 Tanglewood Jazz Festival. Though plagued by problems with the sound system, the band, featuring a seven-piece horn section, delivered a number of impressive solos on such Armstrong favorites as Potato Head Blues, Saint James Infirmary, and Hello Dolly.
This is not a tribute band in the sense of imitating Armstrong in performance; they are about copying the spirit of Satchmo and making new music from that, which is a lofty and laudable goal, but may be a disappointment for someone looking for an Armstrong fix.
Poncho Sanchez Latin Jazz Band
After one of the longest introductions in Shed history, the Poncho Sanchez Latin Jazz Band delivered a captivating set that combined Cuban, African, and Caribbean rhythms, soulful harmonies and sparkling improvisation. Among the many highlights was Sal Cracchiolo’s trumpet solo on the Thelonious Monk composition In walked Bud.
The Grammy award-winning Sanchez, who got his start with vibraphonist Cal Tjader in 1975, has said that “Our main goal is always to keep Latin jazz alive, growing and moving, while being authentic to the music that we love…And, as I always say in clinics, this music is not just for Latino people. It was born in the United States and it is American music. It is for everybody!’
And thanks to the exhortations of bongo master Jose “Papo” Rodriguez, everybody in the nearly-full Shed showed they “got it” by rising from their seats toward the end of the set and filling the aisles in a most improbable display of dancing.
Capping off the festival was the dual-threat George Benson, who hit the mark with both his steamy lyrics and his searing guitar licks. He gave an inspired and generous performance that stretched way past 11; he paid tribute to the locale, “Wo Tanglewood, I finally made it!!”; and he got the audience to engage him in a scat duel. He also took on a loudmouth in the audience, telling him: “Get your own show – now let me finish this crazy shit here.”
Benson’s performance proved that commercial popularity and artistic integrity are not mutually exclusive terms; although he has been head-lining at big shows around the globe for more than two decades, he played and sang tonight like he had something to prove.