By Norm Harris
Last Friday was a uniquely fortuitous time for a capacity crowd gathering of serious music appreciation fans and jazz aficionados alike who witnessed an unusual confluence of several of the idiom’s most dynamic, respected and celebrated purveyors of the art form.
To this day, there still is no better place suited for this stellar event to occur than Queen’s own Flushing Town Hall. Such musical events began there almost 25 years ago under the seminal guidance and stewardship of the past Executive and Artistic Director Joanne Jones, and her colleagues in arms, Nobuko ‘Cobi’ Narita, the creator of The Universal Jazz Coalition and the late great jazz producer C.B. Bullard. Fortunately, but to no surprise ,the superb jazz tradition continues with Ellen Kodadek at the helm of FTH’s talented and culturally diverse staff, including the current jazz producer Clyde Bullard, the son of the past master of music production.
Opening the evening while the audience partook of fine wines, exotic cheeses and fruits, NEA Jazz Masters, pianist Barry Harris, saxophonist Jimmy “Little Bird” Heath, and trumpeter Jimmy Owens kicked things off. Their ensemble included David Wong on double bass, trombonist Steve Davis, and Albert “Tootie” Heath on drums. The group jammed through an eclectic two set foray of memorable Broadway and traditional chestnuts from the American Jazz Song Book.
Beginning with “Broadway” the ensemble set the mood for the rest of the evening and continued to deliver the goods with the Duke Ellington composition, “Take The A Train,” followed by a ballad, “There will Never Be Another You.”
Then it was on to an upbeat tune titled “Blues Ville,” which according to Heath, originated in Yazoo City, Miss.
The second set continued to highlight some older and newer compositions while the dynamic and mesmerizing virtuosity of each of the ensembles artists continued to captivate as they took solos, was featured or stretched out with the smooth counterpoint and support of the other artists.
“Prince Albert,” a tune featuring the sophisticated high energy chops of younger Heath sibling Tootie Heath on drums, stirred the crowd on. Owens and Harris took their turns and provided space for Steve Davis’ improvisational expertise on trombone and the deep rhythmic supportive accompaniment of the youngest member of the sextet, a long time Heath associate, Wong.
The entire evening was a joyous, crowd-pleasing walk down music memory lane, winding down with the Jerome Kern tune, “All The Things You Are” and the iconic Jimmy Durante song of long ago, “Make Someone Happy.”
These great NEA Jazz Masters and their colleagues maintained the ubiquitous jazz flame in highest fashion while everyone left the venue happy — very happy.