By Norm Harris
The joint was jumping Saturday night as the Newport Jazz Festival took its act on the road, making a stop at the Tilles Center for the Performing Arts at the C.W. Post campus of Long Island University. Next stop — Queensborough Community College.
The highlight of the night was pianist George Wein, one of the greatest promoters of jazz music. Village Voice scribe and Jazz Times columnist Nat Hentoff has described Wein as a pianist who in his earlier years “played with an infectious enthusiasm, particularly when he sang.”
He further described Wein’s world famous Newport Jazz Festival series, which he initiated 50 years ago in July 1954, as having “had an important impact on the careers of many musicians” and that his efforts have “expanded the audience for jazz more then any other promoter in the music’s history.”
Wein, approaching his 79th birthday in October, remained as vibrantly energetic as ever Saturday night, though slowed a bit with a slight limp to his gait. He demonstrated to all present the truth of his colleague’s words as he delivered the first installment of the 50th anniversary edition of the touring Newport Jazz Festival to the Tilles Center.
Not only did he bring the beloved jazz festival to the myriad of fans that filled the theater, but with great emotion in his voice and trademark enthusiasm he reminisced on stage about the dedication and inspiring long-term relationships he had developed with his many talented artist friends that have made the Newport Jazz series so successful.
His remarks were particularly poignant as he spoke of his long professional and personal relationship with the evening’s principle pianist and keyboard legend, Cedar Walton, who was celebrating his 70th birthday.
At the start of the second set, Wein joined his “Newport Jazz Festival All Stars” for a number and demonstrated his accomplished piano chops with flair and pizzazz. Wein was accompanied jazz Walton, tenor saxophonist James Moody and trumpeter Randy Brecker. Grooving and swinging with the elder statesmen of the genre were world renowned young lions Howard Alden on guitar, bassist Peter Washington, drummer Lewis Nash and the iconoclastic multi-reed player James Carter.
In short, these talented artists — between individual brief reminiscing interludes at the microphone — soloed, trioed and collectively raised the roof to the heavens and brought the house down as an ensemble with jazz classics like “Lester’s Leap”(a tribute to the late tenor icon Lester Young), “Gone With The Wind,” “64 Bars On Wilshire,” a great take on “The C Jam Blues” and a Dizzy Gillespie-penned tune called “Wouldn’t You”?
Wein’s Festival Productions Inc. will continue the magical 50th Anniversary tour of the Newport Jazz festival series when an all-star ensemble, including many of the of the same artists that gigged at the Tilles Center, is joined by trumpeter Terence Blanchard, tenor saxophonist Lew Tabackin, clarinetist Ken Peplowski and singer Lea Delaria. This stop in the tour will take place Sunday at 3 p.m. at Queensborough Community College’s Professional Performing Arts Center.
Call 718-631-6262 for ticket information.