By Norm Harris
The National Endowment of the Arts Jazz Masters’ “Armstrong and Beyond,” the latest edition of the annual Flushing Town Hall Jazz Masters concert, once again drew a capacity crowd on Friday evening. This year as in the past, Jimmy “Little Bird” Heath — a Queens resident, National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Master, jazz educator and leader of the ubiquitous Queens Jazz Orchestra — led his colleagues in a very active pre-concert question-and-answer period with the audience.
During the half hour Q & A segment preceding the double set, the fans seated at their tables enjoyed in the old jazz club tradition an array of fruits, cheeses and beverages as NEA Jazz Master Dr. Barry Harris and his colleagues spoke passionately and authoritatively about the present day phenomenon of renewed interest and spreading popularity of jazz.
Harris, along with Jimmy Heath and Frank Wess, reflected on its historically creative period in Harlem and how jazz music has over time experienced growing popularity in the near and far corners of other metropolitan and suburban population centers nationwide.
Trumpeter Jeremy Pelt, a young lion, rising star on the jazz scene and the ensemble’s guest artist, enthusiastically answered questions from the audience and paid homage to the many jazz legends and senior statesmen he had the good fortune to perform with as a journeyman, including “all of the other members of the present ensemble.”
In grand style, these talented musicians, with leader and saxophonist Heath ( NEA-JM ’03), Dr. Barry Harris (NEA-JM ’89) on piano, elder statesman Frank Wess (NEA-JM ’07) on flute and tenor saxophone, bassist Paul West, Albert ‘Tootie’ Heath on drums and Jeremy Pelt doing honors on trumpet, entertained and captivated the fans with a two-part set of legendary classics and chestnuts. Virtually every tune played that night was followed by an extended applause from the fans.
Beginning with the energetic “Sonny Walter Rollin’s Blues composition, Tenor Madness,” with Heath and Wess on tenor sax in tandem, young Pelt followed, showcasing his youthful yet sophisticated chops while being featured on “But Beautiful,” and again on muted trumpet in Ben Webster’s emotional tune, “Did You Call Her Today?”
Each member of the ensemble whether soloing or featured, played some of the most historically revered and loved jazz tunes with an unmatched polish, finesse and reverence. They included such classics as the Juan Tizol/Duke Ellington collaboration “Perdido,” fan favorite “Berks Works” by Dizzy Gillespie and with the final gem of the evening, “Just The Right Way” by Sonny Red, warmly embracing each member of the audience as the concert ended to standing ovation.
Look for upcoming Flushing Town Hall performances online at www.flushingtownhall.org.