The Capital Region jazz scene continued to flourish this year.
The Schenectady Musical Union celebrated Jazz Appreciation Month in April at Proctors’ Robb Alley with bands led by two of the region’s top saxophonists, Keith Pray and Brian Patneaude. Some of the area’s best players performed for a large crowd.
Two nationally known trombonists helped prepare our jazz players of the future. Ray Anderson was a guest artist at the summer jazz camp at Proctors run by Pray.
Pray said “Anderson was a huge inspiration to the students. He hung out with them and answered all the questions they threw at him [a lot! and some tough ones too about life].”
Conrad Herwig, in town for a concert at A Place for Jazz, gave a clinic for music teacher Dave Gleason’s students at Schenectady High School. He conducted them, helped them with phrasing, and soloed with the kids.
And filmmaker Susan Robbins began interviewing area musicians and jazz lovers for an upcoming documentary on our own national treasure, pianist Lee Shaw.
Here, in chronological order, are the top 10 jazz performances of the year as chosen by Gazette reviewers Tim Coakley, Michael Hochanadel and David Singer.
The Dirty Dozen Brass Band at The College of Saint Rose’s Massry Center (Feb. 9). We needed a hot one that cold night, and we got it. These old pros — four of the seven have played together for 36 years — didn’t take long to bring Mardi Gras to town. The grooves were phat and fun, spicy and slick. But the solos hit hard, too; from 70-year-old baritone sax boomer Roger Lewis to 24-year-old drummer Terence Higgins, who’s younger than the band. Albany’s own jazz-hip-hop hybridizers the Chronicles managed the considerable feat of balancing front-line solos with formidable beats from their first-class rhythm section. (Hochanadel)
The Jim Cullum Jazz Band at the Van Dyck in Schenectady (March 22). The band played two sparkling sets of traditional jazz. Cullum on cornet, clarinetist Alan Vache and pianist John Sheridan were in good form as they swung their way through some beautiful early 20th century tunes with assurance and gusto. (Coakley)
Brian Blade Fellowship at Skidmore College’s Zankel Music Center in Saratoga Springs (March 22). Blade and band are as fine a straight-ahead combo as the scene can boast right now: strong players focused in a honed ensemble crispness and a deep investment in Blade’s traditionally melodic but rhythmically hyper-advanced vision. They displayed remarkable ability to hear and respond as Blade accompanied not only the music but also the feelings in it. (Hochanadel)
Arturo Sandoval at Proctors, Schenectady (April 5). If jazz is about adapting, give Arturo Sandoval a medal for flexing further than anybody should have: a substitute drummer, no sound check and consequent technical problems all night. Sandoval played trumpet and piano and sang — soaring on, rather than bowing to, the inspiration of his mentor, Dizzy Gillespie, and playing with exuberant grace and skill. (Hochanadel)
Claudio Roditi with the Empire Jazz Orchestra (April 16) at Schenectady County Community College. Trumpeter Roditi played his own compositions with a bright, lyrical touch, backed by the EJO, the region’s outstanding big band. Roditi joined the band’s trumpet section for a wild, swirling finale on Dizzy Gillespie’s “Manteca.” (Coakley)
Freihofer’s Jazz Festival at Saratoga Performing Arts Center (June 30). This year’s festival was stronger than most, but even a weak Jazz Festival is still a mighty event.
While Tony Bennett was the story for the day, other standouts, taken together, made it an exceptional musical experience. Those included Buddy Guy, Lady Smith Mambazo, Kevin Eubanks, Ingrid Jensen’s Quartet and the Donny McCaslin Group. Add a dozen other equally talented musicians, a great atmosphere and a tribute to Dave Brubeck with the Preservation Hall Jazz Band, and you have one of the musical highlights of the year. (Singer)
Saxophonist Pat LaBarbera as part of Skidmore College’s Summer Jazz Institute (July 4). The institute brings in stellar guest performers each year in addition to two concerts by the faculty, which includes LaBarbera. In fact, the faculty members sometimes outshine the guests. LaBarbera stands out every summer. His solo feature this year was a moving version of a 1947 song titled “Maybe You’ll Be There.” (Coakley)
Catherine Russell at A Place for Jazz, Schenectady (Nov. 1). With sassy class and soaring strength, she swung so hard that her trio didn’t need a drummer. Elegant, bluesy and dedicated to the roots jazz of her parents’ time, she celebrated the varieties of vintage American song with wonderful warm flair. While most of her material was unfamiliar, she performed it with such engaging confidence and musicality that everything hit home. (Hochanadel)
Chris Botti at Proctors, Schenectady (Nov. 16). Botti showed us that good musicians can play — and own — a wide range of music, from Italian opera to Leonard Cohen to Miles Davis to Sting, and more. Celebrating his 10th year of performing with the band — 300 days a year — Botti made music that was subtle and demanding, requiring a savvy ear to appreciate and enjoy. Yet he appealed to a wide range of listeners and delivered something for everyone without compromising his playing. (Singer)
Joshua Redman at The Egg, Albany (Nov 17). Redman has quietly emerged as one of the great sax players today, after grinding out the jazz circuit for the past several years. This show confirmed his superior presence today. Like any great leader, he surrounded himself with top talent, a band full of leaders in their own right. At any given moment, the show belonged to any one of them. Redman showed us that he is quietly approaching that grand status of greatness, if he hasn’t reached it already. (Singer)
— Tim Coakley, Michael Hochanadel and David Singer, music reviewers