6 Jazz Virtuosos Share The Stage In 'The Concert Of The Century'
TERRY GROSS, HOST:
This is FRESH AIR. In November of 1980, Dizzy Gillespie played a concert at a 3,000-seat hall in Montreal with a distinguished sextet, including vibist Milt Jackson, pianist Hank Jones and bassist Ray Brown. That concert has just been released on the album "Dizzy Gillespie & Friends - Concert Of The Century (A Tribute To Charlie Parker). Jazz critic Kevin Whitehead says star-studded concerts like this one have their upsides and downsides.
(SOUNDBITE OF DIZZY GILLESPIE, RAY BROWN, MILT JACKSON, HANK JONES, PHILLY JOE JONES, JAMES MOODY PERFORMANCE OF RUTH ETTING SONG, "GET HAPPY")
KEVIN WHITEHEAD, BYLINE: Trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie on "Get Happy." All-star concerts aren't always all that. You may hear the stars to better advantage with their own bands. But the 1980 show modestly titled The Concert of the Century that's also the name of the album was more of a happy reunion. Five of the six players had recorded together as young beboppers in 1946. And Dizzy had worked with them all since. In the '80s. the trumpeter's lip wasn't always in the best shape. But here he's in fiery form. Gillespie always had great rhythmic ideas and a way of saying something even when playing a lot of notes.
(SOUNDBITE OF DIZZY GILLESPIE, RAY BROWN, MILT JACKSON, HANK JONES, PHILLY JOE JONES, JAMES MOODY PERFORMANCE OF DIZZY GILLESPIE SONG, "BLUE 'N' BOOGIE")
WHITEHEAD: A downside of all-star concerts is they are more about the individual musicians than collective interplay. Band cohesion takes a backseat to showcase the solos. An audience generous with supportive applause can isolate those improvisations even further. Here's Milt Jackson on vibes.
(SOUNDBITE OF DIZZY GILLESPIE, RAY BROWN, MILT JACKSON, HANK JONES, PHILLY JOE JONES, JAMES MOODY PERFORMANCE OF VINCENT YOUMANS SONG, "TIME ON MY HANDS")
WHITEHEAD: Hank Jones from Detroit on piano and Philadelphia Joe Jones on drums, making his only recording with Dizzy Gillespie. One upside of such gatherings is an ambitious player can upstage the headliner in a friendly way. James Moody is the scene stealer here. Riffing the blues on flute, he gets the rhythm section's attention and turns these all-stars into a band.
(SOUNDBITE OF DIZZY GILLESPIE, RAY BROWN, MILT JACKSON, HANK JONES, PHILLY JOE JONES, JAMES MOODY PERFORMANCE OF JAMES MOODY SONG, "DARBEN THE REDD FOXX")
WHITEHEAD: James Moody in 1980. Moody was a dynamic live performer back then whose records didn't quite do him justice. He was funny and silly and a serious tenor saxophonist. James Moody had power, imagination and speed and could connect with an audience, kind of like Dizzy Gillespie.
(SOUNDBITE OF DIZZY GILLESPIE, RAY BROWN, MILT JACKSON, HANK JONES, PHILLY JOE JONES, JAMES MOODY PERFORMANCE OF JOHNNY MANDEL AND PAUL FRANCIS WEBSTER SONG, "THE SHADOW OF YOUR SMILE")
WHITEHEAD: It's not all fireworks on this 1980 concert, but there's a lot of that. Some of the tunes go back to the '40s, when the core crew were young pups but these musicians were still in mid-career. Bassist Ray Brown was a mere 54 and old man Dizzy was barely 63. We can forget what long productive careers some jazz musicians have. One reason they can do that is the work of being an improvising virtuoso keeps them mentally and physically sharp. Being out on the road so often doesn't wear them out. It keeps them going.
(SOUNDBITE OF DIZZY GILLESPIE, RAY BROWN, MILT JACKSON, HANK JONES, PHILLY JOE JONES, JAMES MOODY PERFORMANCE OF HOAGY CARMICHAEL AND MITCHELL PARISH SONG, "STARDUST")
GROSS: Kevin Whitehead writes for Point of Departure and TONEAudio and is the author of "Why Jazz?" He reviewed Dizzy Gillespie & Friends - Concert Of The Century (A Tribute To Charlie Parker). Tomorrow, my guest will be Fox News host Megyn Kelly. We'll talk about the two recent stories in which she became the news - her debate question to Donald Trump about his disparaging comments about women, which led to her being targeted by hostile tweets and death threats, and her decision to come forward about how she was sexually harassed by Roger Ailes, which helped lead to his downfall. She's written a new memoir. I hope you'll join us.
Our interviews and reviews are produced and edited by Amy Salit, Phyllis Myers, Ann Marie Baldonado, Sam Briger, Lauren Krenzel, John Sheehan, Heidi Saman, Therese Madden and Mooj Zadie. I'm Terry Gross.
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