Time tested: vintage jazz revives scene

Dixieland, ragtime, swing acts close season

Review

June 30, 2006|By MARY JOHNSON | MARY JOHNSON,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

The indigenous American art form of vintage jazz was recently celebrated at Loews' Powerhouse in Annapolis.

The event was hosted by Elana Byrd, who with her husband - bassist Joe Byrd - has promoted a resurgence of jazz in Annapolis. Joe Byrd is the brother of the late jazz legend Charlie Byrd, and the Charlie Byrd Trio for years was a main draw of the King of France Tavern at the Maryland Inn.

The June 23--24 weekend closed the Powerhouse jazz season for the summer, with Friday night featuring the newly formed Powerhouse Six led by clarinetist Bob Thulman in a program of Dixieland and ragtime. Saturday the fun continued with Brooks Tegler's six-piece combo saluting "The Swing Years" with hits of the 1940s and '50s.

For the jazz enthusiasts who filled the room, it could hardly have been a more memorable concluding concert to savor during the coming quiet summer.

With cabaret seating for 100, the Powerhouse's third floor is an ideal venue for music aficionados to get close to the musicians. The show's $20 cover charge and reasonably priced drinks make for an affordable evening, and patrons can also order light fare served at intermission.

Tegler's Little Big Band may be small in number, but it's large in sound. Six consummate musicians delivered jazz standards that leader/emcee Tegler described as "all having a `time' theme with the word `time' in the song title." The second half featured a related theme of "when" in song titles.

The program got started stylishly with a mellow treatment of the 1930 standard "Time on My Hands" that featured John Doughten on the clarinet. This was followed by a fine rendition of the Sammy Cahn, Jules Styne classic "Time After Time" with trumpeter Vince McCool adding irresistible riffs to groove to.

McCool, who has taught middle and high school music for the last 16 years, started a jazz program for his students. Both they and we in his audience can learn a great deal about the art of jazz from McCool.

Trombonist John Jensen delivered a memorable version of the Jules Styne tune "Just in Time" from the "Bells are Ringing" that demonstrated Jensen's incredible breath control. He even made the trombone sigh before joining trumpeter McCool in elegant extrapolations of this simple melody.

The understated piano elegance of Jim Lester made the electric keyboard sound like a fine piano, whether filling in with precisely the right phrases or performing solo, moving from single notes to block chords in a manner reminiscent of pianist George Shearing. A retired Annapolis psychologist, Lester is the author of Too Marvelous For Words - the definitive biography of piano legend Art Tatum.

Always in elegant command of the superb musical blending, Brooks Tegler set the beat to propel the music forward with an infallible sense of jazz rhythm. Sometimes the beat became frenetic, especially when bolstered by the artistry of Ralph Gordon on bass. During Tegler's rare solos, he seemed almost able to channel legendary drummers like Gene Krupa, Ray McKinley and Buddy Rich to evoke our primal response.

After intermission, the theme shift from "time" to "when" provided adequate material for Doughten on sax to duel with Jensen's trombone in a unique version of "When I Take My Sugar To Tea" that transitioned from the simple jazz melody to virtuoso Dixieland. Muted or open, whether on raucous sax or refined clarinet, Doughten served up consistently distinguished jazz.

Other second-half tunes included "When I Grow Too Old to Dream," "When Your Lover Has Gone" and "When You're Smiling," with no hint of dozing during "When It's Sleepy Time Down South."

Providing a change of pace was Charlie Parker's raunchy tune beloved by musicians titled "Hucklebuck" - which Tegler explained had earlier been titled "Now's the Time," so it fit the prescribed "time" category.

I don't remember George Gershwin's "Summertime" sounding better than here, where it was all improvisation - deconstructed and reconstructed before going where the glorious melody seemed predestined to go. This kind of extrapolation is the soul of jazz, and here this art form reached a high level.

To end the show, Tegler selected "Bernie's Tune," just because he and his musicians wanted to play it.

At the conclusion of the program, Elana Byrd promised that "jazz would be back bigger than ever at the Powerhouse in September," and in the meantime, she suggests enjoying some of the intimate jazz being offered at 49 West Coffeehouse, Winebar and Gallery on the first and second Wednesdays of each month.

For additional information, e-mail elanabyrd@comcast.net or call 410-266-7338.

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