I’m convinced that musicians have the best jobs in the world. Though they’re typically reading sheet music and collaborating with others, they don’t have to follow a verbal script that controls their words and facial expressions, thus allowing them to really feel the notes they’re playing. This was certainly present during the “Celebrating Dizzy Gillespie” featuring the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis performance at Knight Theater. This performance is part of a week-long celebration of jazz.
From the moment the fourteen men and one woman took their seats, their expressions and body language set the tone and let us know what we were in for. They strutted confidently to their seats and were all smiles, ready to showcase their skills to the Queen City.
This is the second year the ensemble has performed at the Charlotte Jazz Festival and they were even better than last year. The world-renowned jazz trumpeter, Wynton Marsalis, is the managing and artistic director of the orchestra and people love his presence. However, it is trombonist, Vincent Gardner, who led this amazing group of players Friday night. He holds the title of music director (for the evening) as well as arranger and composer, as many of the others in the ensemble.
The entire evening was dedicated to the late great jazz musician, Dizzy Gillespie. Dizzy helped introduce what is known as “Bebop” jazz to the world. With it’s intricate chords and fast tempo, it was developed in the 1940’s when younger jazz musicians of the era wanted to expand their creativity, further than what the popular Swing music offered. To effectively deliver this style, the band required saxophones, trumpets, the piano, double bass, and drums. This ensemble added the trombone, which added a special element to the sound. The crew used various mutes, that were lined up beside their feet, just within arms reach. You will occasionally hear a ‘wah-wah’ sound, not attainable by just blowing into the instrument. Hearing this can easily transport your thoughts back to the Big Band era and the musical heaven musicians must lived in, in those days.
During the approximately 90 minute show, everyone had their moment to shine. They took turns highlighting their fancy finger-work and the difficult breathing. Dan Nimmer, the lone pianist truly wowed the crowd, tickling the ivories at speeds I’ve never seen before. I wouldn’t have batted an eye had smoke emerged from his fingertips. Even Nimmer’s performance last year was outshined, by him, respectfully.
During one song, trombonists’ Chris Crenshaw and Vincent Gardner had a scatting dual of sorts. They scatted musical gibberish at each other for the better of three or four minutes, causing the crowd to erupt in laughter. My guest whispered, “I wonder if they’re making it up as they go along.” To the untrained ear it would certainly sounded odd, but to many it was amazing.
Throughout most of the performance, you could tell those that were ‘showing off.’ Someone would bop their head a little faster, or wrinkle their forehead like they were impressed with that last riff. A twist of the neck or a squint of the eyes also indicated that someone just added an extra layer of skill to their part. They had their own language up there onstage. But it translated beautifully to a language we all could understand.
For more information visit www.charlottejazzfestival.com.