Generations of jazz will come together for Sunday concert

Young Lions open for Whit Williams Quintet

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September 23, 2004|By Sam Sessa | Sam Sessa,SUN STAFF

Jazz is getting pretty old.

As the mainstream jazz musicians from the mid- and late 1900s age, they look to fresh, young talent to keep the genre alive and well.

Concerts such as the Eubie Blake National Jazz Institute and Cultural Center's "Jazz on a Sunday Afternoon" this Sunday bridge the age gap, providing a middle ground where old musicianship can meet new.

In this concert, the Whit Williams Jazz Quintet represents the warhorses who helped grease the wheels as jazz rolled through the mid-20th century.

With Williams on saxophone, the quintet will headline with two 40-minute sets of jazz standards and some numbers the musicians have never played before.

"That's the part that makes it jazz," Williams said.

Openers the Young Lions Ensemble represent the next generation of jazz musicians in charge of keeping the genre moving. Members range in age from 16 to 19 and have been under the mentorship of saxophonist Craig Alston for the past several years.

The Lions look to veteran musicians such as Alston for guidance, just as Alston looks to jazz pros such as Williams.

Alston, who plays with Fertile Ground, sees Williams as his mentor and hopes to one day pass his torch to the Lions.

"I think it's vital that we have an exchange between older, more experienced musicians and the younger, less experienced musicians," Alston said.

This concert provides the Young Lions with one of the most valued aspects of jazz: live performance. It's a venue for the group to play in front of a large audience -- where the dynamics are drastically different from the sheltered practice rooms the musicians are used to.

While they've been practicing individually and as a group for the show, Alston said no amount of practice can completely prepare a jazz musician for a show.

"There's no such thing as being ready in jazz," he said. "You just do it, or you don't. You're never ever gonna be ready. If you feel like you're there, and you've arrived already, then you need to quit and do something else."

The Lions will play six to eight songs, depending on how long each song runs. Because improvisation is a key element in jazz, there's really no telling how long the song will last until the last note is played.

Both Williams and Alston hope the two groups will get a chance to play together at the show and trade chops.

"Really, the only way they're gonna learn is to play with better musicians," Alston said. "It's vital to the survival of the music."

"Jazz on a Sunday Afternoon" is the first in a series of concerts at the Blake Center sponsored by the Coalition Celebrating African Musics of the Americas. This Sunday, the show will run from 3:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. The Blake Center is at 847 N. Howard St. Tickets are $15 per person, and parking is available at the Maryland General Hospital parking lot across the street from the Blake Center. Call 410-225-3130 or visit

For more club events, see Page 30.

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