'Now's the Time' gives pyrotechnic tribute to American jazz

November 20, 1990|By Ernest F. Imhoff | Ernest F. Imhoff,Evening Sun Staff

THE "NOW'S the Time" Jazz Band, a pun made by Whit Williams when he formed his Baltimore band while thinking of a similarly named Charlie "Yardbird" Parker number, gave a slam-bang terrific show of American jazz Saturday at Frederick Douglas Senior High School.

* The band played solos by smooth veterans like trumpeter Roy "Tangle" McCoy and vibes man Jimmy "Captain" Wells, dramatic young trumpeter Tom Williams and spirited vocalist Sheila Ford.

* It did 24 tunes from Scott Joplin to avant garde with heavy respect paid Parker, Thelonious Monk, Duke Ellington, Coleman Hawkins, Ben Webster, Jimmy Heath, Cecil Bridgewater, Wayne Shorter, Ornette Coleman, Chick Webb and Dizzy Gillespie.

* It had some delicious trio work, like "Blue Monk" from pianist Bob Butta, Gary Richardson on bass and drummer George Gray, all of whom also contributed to larger groups.

* And to glue it together it had Whit Williams, alternating artistically between tenor and soprano sax in his own solos and leading the band in some truly joyful music. If only 60 jazz nuts turned out for the free concert, they applauded like crazy, and Williams said of them in an aside, "This is beautiful."

Amid a modest start with Joplin, Williams took up the soprano sax and played the soulful spiritual "Closer Walk with Thee" joined by McCoy, pianist Leroy Hawthornes and the whole 19-member band. Later Ford sang "A Tisket A Tasket" and "How High the Moon," band members jumping in with their "So do we's" here and there for "Tisket."

The band hit its stride in Williams' warm tenor sax tribute to Coleman Hawkins and Ben Webster, "Body and Soul," and Count Basie's tribute to Ellington, "In a Mellow Tone," with "Tangles" McCoy playing a wild muted trumpet.

A highlight was "A Night in Tunisia." Several soloists played but listeners' heads really began pumping and vocal cords squealing during a rapid, bravura trumpet solo by Tom Williams, the first of several. He is 28, in the military, already a jazz veteran, coincidentally Whit's son and someone to watch. "General" Wells, elevated from "Captain" earlier by narrator Ruby Glover, glided in on vibes in the first of several fine performances.

The pyrotechnics were not over. Other energetic solos were offered by Charles (Chuck) Funn, trombone; Harold Mann, drums; Eric Landers, bass; Bill Reid, baritone sax; Mike Kelly, alto sax, among others. They wrapped it up with Ellington's "Things Ain't What They Used To Be."

The program Saturday covered ragtime, New Orleans, swing, be-bop, avant garde and modern. If it was a familiar one for jazz buffs, they also loved the "Free Form" quartet tribute to Ornette Coleman, increasingly louder and faster but ending with a soft cymbal fade-out. The traditional dominated. As Whit Williams said before the concert, "The last time Thelonious Monk was in Baltimore, he said he hadn't heard anything new since 1939, except the electronic."

"Now's the Time" is composed of doctors, lawyers and the usual other Baltimore suspects who have played with big name bands, Broadway shows and smaller groups. They have a date Jan. 17 at the Trumpets jazz club, 17th and Q streets in Washington. Their easy-going leader is a longtime instrumental music teacher in the Anne Arundel County school system.

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