`Dr. Jazz' delivers an evening of legendary artists at Rams Head

Musicians come together for a holiday performance in Annapolis

December 30, 2005|By MARY JOHNSON | MARY JOHNSON,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Concert entrepreneur John Tegler knows how to put a show together - either vintage jazz or big band. He just calls on a musicians' who's-who among his friends.

Last Friday night, however, was a new experience for Tegler, known as "Dr. Jazz" on WEAA-FM in Baltimore. He told a capacity audience at the Rams Head's On Stage room that he had always wanted to offer an evening of jazz legends. Then he stepped off the stage and let "Christmas Jazz in Annapolis" begin.

Tegler delivered for the 250 spectators with headliners Junior Mance (Julian Clifford Mance Jr.) on piano and Jimmy Heath on tenor saxophone. Both performers share a luminous jazz history that includes stints with Dizzy Gillespie.

Over his 50-year career, Mance has worked with jazz greats such as Charlie Parker, Coleman Hawkins, Lester Young, Cannonball Adderley and Eddie "Lockjaw" Davis. Mance has toured the world as a member of Lionel Hampton & the Golden Men of Jazz, and for the past decade toured Japan with 10 pianists in the annual "100 Golden Fingers."

Over the past half-century, Heath has worked with Parker, Thelonious Monk, John Coltrane, Nelson Boyd and Wynton Marsalis.

Backing up this duo were Vince McCool on trumpet, James King on bass and Brooks Tegler on percussion. The younger trio seemed at home in the Mance-Heath musical stratosphere.

This group transformed virtuoso playing into easy listening, making less familiar selections accessible and fresh. Playing sustained melodies without seeming to pause for breath, Heath wrapped the warmth emanating from his mellow tenor sax around each number. The Heath-Mance combo produced a great sound, with pianist Mance covering the keyboard in incredibly fast tempo.

Percussionist Tegler set the quintet's pace, adding his own distinction. On the slower ballads, his brushes whispered out the beat. On up-tempo tunes, his drums propelled the music with a frenetic primal rhythm.

McCool's trumpet added its own great sound, with the trumpeter soon establishing real camaraderie with the two jazz legends. King provided some memorable moments, strumming the bass and using a bow.

Jazz art reached a pinnacle with the classic "Body and Soul." Mance not only caressed the keys but also seemed to interpret the lyrics through his fingers. The interesting progressions of Heath's sax seemed just right for the song. McCool's muted trumpet added a subtle elegance.

From their smooth version of "Emily" to the infectious Caribbean sound of "Funji Mama" through the warmth of "The Christmas Song," these musicians cast a special glow.

The impeccably played music added sparkle to the festive holiday weekend. Tegler called the show a success and hoped to organize more of the same.

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