Mighty Night for Jazz With Blue Note at Kennedy Center
They called it “Blue Note at 75 — The Concert.” In truth, it was exactly what record producer Don Was said it was: “What you’ve got here with Blue Note is the history of jazz in America.”
The concert itself was made up of some historic figures from the Blue Note canon. The newer staples and mainstay star artists contained that history, too, as performers, including host Jason Moran, the Kennedy Center Artistic Advisor for Jazz, and a Blue Note Records artist himself.
In the process, they showed off the rich terrain of American jazz: its diverse personae and personalities and styles, its ageless qualities and that part of the music that continues to refresh itself in bubbling, sometimes on-fire like a musical baptismal font and stream of improvisation.
Jazz lovers, fans and friends, knowledgeable cool men and women bathed in the familiar sounds and music, were always jolted by something new. After all, you can’t have jazz without something new. Moran, a standout and individualistic pianist, played in his tennis shoes.
Blue Note, the iconoclastic jazz recording company, was founded by two German immigrants. Maintained by a tireless engineer, it continues to be a producing company and label like no other.
“Everybody knew and recognized Blue Note, by its music, its artists its energy, but also by its album covers. Those photograph, those stylized images, they were jazz,” said Moran, while hosting the concert that put a cap to the Blue Note 75th Anniversary Celebration.
For the folks who played that night and for jazz buffs, it was like being in some kind of boogie-blues-riff-and-rolls and solo heaven.
Moran himself, joined by pianist Robert Glasper, tripped the fantastic light of boogie woogie — “one of the cornerstones of jazz”, Moran said. Like some kind of wizard, he got notes out of the piano that came out like some really cool staccato, rain falling like music.
Youth was served here — Lionel Louke on guitar, Kendrick Scott on drums, the brilliant pianist Fabian Almazan, Derrick Hodge on bass, John Patitucci on bass and Brian Blade on drums.
You want star singers? There were two, opposite stars shining on opposite sides of the jazz firmament. The dazzling Dianne Reeves, who joined blockbuster trumpeter Terence Blanchard on “Dreams” and made “Stormy Weather” very much her own and more like a hurricane followed by hearts breaking and reviving.
Norah Jones —who burst on the national jazz and music scene with a slew of Grammys for her first album like a quiet surprise —came to the concert that way, too. The spotlight found her black-outfit elfin self on the piano, about to launch into the standard “The Nearness of You” with her distinctive smoke-and-butter voice.
If you want veterans, take the presence of pianist McCoy Tyner, soft voiced in his talk, and Bobby Hutcherson on vibes, who seemed to be forever pulling secrets out of the music and his instrument, playing it like a thinker and a shaman. Meanwhile, Tyner played like a train, pulling out the blues of the keys.
The sax virtuoso Wayne Shorter ended it all by reminding us that there is no end to moments or notes, held and thrown away. They are retrieved and come back renewed and charmed. The new survives in the playing as much as the old.
Speaking of somewhat older—there was “Sweet Poppa Lou” Donaldson, at 87, as he noted, the oldest guy on the label and perhaps in the house, but close to the youngest, too. Because he played the sax, with the formidable Dr. Lonnie Smith on the piano, like it was a baby, spanking out notes, teasing, soothing, then playing hard without a sweat, and giving us what it is.
“We play straight ahead jazz and blues,” Donaldson said. “No fusion, no confusion, no P. Diddy, no nothing else.” He and the rest launched into “Alligator Boogaloo.” You looked, listened, heard and felt some kind of slight scuffed magic, which is what jazz is. It’s shaman stuff, story music. The made-up stuff comes straight for you, and you don’t ever want to get out of the way.