Last week was book-ended by exhilarating concerts. On Sunday at Manhattan School of Music, I witnessed the first-ever Charles Mingus High School Jazz Band Competition (Northeast). The first contender, from Gates Chili HS in Rochester, was BIG (with girls too) - as wide as a subway car is long – and FIRED UP, and the intensity continued through five potential champions, playing for keeps. Rochester’s Eastman Youth Jazz Orch won. Mingus Dynasty played at the end. Helen Sung on piano! On Friday, IN MY MIND - a multi-media Thelonious Monk at Town Hall concert - was signed sealed & delivered by Jason Moran & his 8-piece Big Bandwagon. Nasheet Waits on drums! Above the stage, images of the Flower District (the neighborhood for the jazz loft scene circa 1960) were superimposed with words, in a closed-caption sort of way but beautifully designed. It was moving to experience music, visuals and typography together. Were others there? Please comment!
Cachaca on West 8th Street is new. (Much on West 8th Street is new.) It's a deep, inviting, sound-lively room and the John Fedchock's Big Band took it over tonight. The band has been together 20 years with consistent personnel, but I understand it doesn't often play live. Having heard some tracks on BGO, I've been determined to get out and see them. Good idea! Trombonist and composer Fedchock is a veteran of the Woody Herman orchestra. Two of John's arrangements in the middle of the set -- of Eclipse by Freddy Hubbard and Epistrophy by Monk -- seemed to transcend the situation. Eclipse had a phrase that (to me) channeled the Woody Herman's orchestra, which I've never heard but I'm sure I heard it in that phrase. In Epistrophy there was a short stretch (a matter of measures) that sounded JUST LIKE New York gridlock. Stuck but with energy. I couldn't stop to ponder how they did that because I would have missed the next excitement. There was background writing for most of the solos, no one was left to fend for himself for long. Once again (as last week with the Roy Hargrove Big Band), the room moved. That's my report & I'm happy to deliver it. The most recent CD is Up and Running (Reservoir label).
Happy birthday today to Wes Montgomery. Any guitarist worth his or her salt has at least ONE album from Wes Montgomery, the master non-plectrist. No, I didn't invent that word, plectrist. It's actually derived from plectrum, which is what guitar nerds and speakers of dead languages call a pick. [Incidentally, another great guitarist, Billy Bauer, made a record in the 1950s called Plectrist. But I'm getting even more off topic here.]
Wes Montgomery, however, was a non-plectrist. He didn't use an external tool to pick the strings. He used his thumb. That's what makes Wes Montgomery's sound so identifiable - warm, casual, and about as 'natural' as an amplified electric instrument can sound without using algorithms or superhero powers.
Check out this video of Wes playing Thelonious Monk's "Round Midnight." About two minutes in, you'll see the closeup on his hand. Not plectacular, but spectacular. - Josh
PS - Anyone have a favorite Wes Montgomery album, song, or solo?