August 20, 2012 Article by Dave Read
Wynton Marsalis Quintet and Christian McBride Trio performed one set each in Ozawa Hall at Tanglewood and then assembled for a mashup that looked to be as much fun for the musicians to do as it was exciting for the audience to see and hear. If there were an equal number of musicians and instruments, we would’ve called it a jam session, but with only one bass, one piano, and one drum kit on stage but two musicians for each, their playing was more in concert than what you’d expect to hear during a typical jam session.
Built around Cherokee, it was called by Wynton Marsalis after he recounted an episode from his early days on the road, when the legendary Pearl Bailey surprised him with a gift and told him to do likewise once he’s a headliner. Declaring that the chance to imrovise with other musicians is a jazz musician’s best gift, he invited McBride, pianist Christian Sands, and drummer Ulysses Owens, Jr. to join himself and pianist Dan Nimmer, bassist Carlos Henriquez, saxophonist Walter Blanding and drummer Ali Jackson, Jr. for the rousing finale.
Marsalis said that it requires good manners and being a good listener to be a good musician – so that you know when to play high or low, when to play loud or soft. He didn’t say anything about being a good dancer, but the several transitions between Christian McBride and Carlos Henriquez were so smooth that they coud’ve been choreographed.
essential element of jazz
Tonight’s performance put jazz in perspective in a way that made its European antecedent seem a bit stiff, at the very least. Beyond the equal parts of artistry to be found in the compositional and instrumental components of both European and jazz music, the latter has it all over the former by virtue of its allowance for improvisation, which cedes back to the musician some of the responsibility (credit and/blame) otherwise held by the composer alone.
Wynton Marsalis + Tanglewood
THe 50 year old Marsalis has a long history with Tanglewood; at 17, he was the youngest student admitted to the Tanglewood Music Center, (before enrolling at Julliard), and in 1995 he had the use of the still un-opened Ozawa Hall for the production of Marsalis on Music, an educational series along the lines of Leonard Bernstein’s Young People’s Concerts, which featured Seiji Ozawa, Yo-Yo Ma, and Tanglewood Music Center students.
One of the most exciting concerts we’ve attended was the one in 1999 at the Koussevitsky Music Shed when Wynton Marsalis and the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra shared the stage with Seiji Ozawa and the Boston Symphony Orchestra for a program that alternated between Peer Gynt Suite being played by the BSO and the Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn arrangement being played by the LCJO.
Former young lion Christian McBride
Christian McBride, 40, who also studied at Julliard, talked about arriving where his mother had long-ago told him he would, when he no longer is a “young lion,” and expressed his delight in employing the young Sands and Owens. Sands’ mentors include Billy Taylor and Oscar Peterson, who were represented in the set by Easy Walker and Hallelujah Shout. McBride dedicated his set-closing number, The Most Beautiful Girl in the World, to Phyllis Diller, telling the audience that she’d died that day “with a smile on her face.”
McBride’s set was so thoroughly satisfying that it seemed as if his trio format must be the essential and sufficient blueprint for jazz. We held onto that assessment with confidence during intermission and until about five bars into Marsalis’ set, when we could only laugh at how wrong we were. Easy to get carried away trying to describe the addition of trumpet and sax to piano, bass, and drums in a jazz band, but here goes: from the ability to laugh/cry to the ability to tell funny/heart-breaking stories.