Jazz musicians deliver with clarity, verve

Annapolis continues to be a regional center for quality performances


March 30, 2007|By MARY JOHNSON | MARY JOHNSON,Special to The Sun

An art perfected by the late Charlie Byrd, who drew legions of fans to the Maryland Inn's King of France Tavern -- jazz continues to flourish in Annapolis.

Attorney Elana Byrd and her husband, bassist Joe Byrd -- Charlie's brother -- are at the forefront of the local jazz scene with their weekly jam sessions at 49 West and in monthly concerts at Loews' Powerhouse.

Its third floor can accommodate 100 patrons in a cozy, cabaret setting. The $20 cover charge and reasonably priced drinks provide an affordable evening. Those in the audience can also order light fare during intermission. Before the 8 p.m. show and during intermission, musicians chat with the audience.

Elana Byrd said Saturday that she had more cancellations that night than attendees, which seemed inexplicable considering the program maintained an extraordinarily high level of musicianship.

Instead of the promised Midiri brothers, band leader/drummer Brooks Tegler substituted John Doughten on clarinet and tenor sax, announcing that Doughten had been featured the night before in the Joe Byrd Quartet show and returned to the Powerhouse from his home in Chadds Ford, Pa.

Pianist Larry Eanet played the keyboard, and Steve Novosel was on bass.

Tegler led the group smoothly, showcasing each musician's strengths and propelling the music with a dreamy ballad pace or unerring jazz rhythm. He never stole the scene but summoned a frenetic beat in breathtaking solos that evoked legendary swing-era drummers such as Gene Krupa.

Tegler started the evening with "The Sweetest Sounds" from Richard Rodgers' 1962 show No Strings -- a tune where Rodgers also supplied the philosophic lyric, "The sweetest sounds I'll ever hear / Are still inside my head/ The kindest words I'll ever know / Are waiting to be said." They seemed whispered when phrased by Eanet.

On standard ballads or swing tunes, Eanet combined superb technique with impeccable phrasing and intense feeling to remind us what piano artistry is about.

"The Sweetest Sounds" grew sweeter when Novosel added his sensitive rhythmic accompaniment. The program was nicely varied between up-tempo swing tunes and standard ballads.

Doughten contributed a mellow and memorable "Alamo" on his clarinet, taking the tune to new territory. Doughten followed with "Three Little Words" before putting switching to his sax in a mellow version of the love song, "The Very Thought of You."

A veritable hit parade of pop classics brilliantly interpreted and extrapolated from simple tunes such as "Melancholy Baby", "I've Got a Crush on You" and "I Surrender, Dear" to Duke Ellington's more complex standard "Take the A Train," which left the station in style and purred down the track with finesse under Eanet, joined later by Novosel, Tegler and Doughten.

At the end of this set, I was feeling patriotic. I relished the American art form and decided that it might fall to those of us who experienced first-hand the golden age of classic jazz to introduce it to younger generations.

It was great to be among this small, elite group who appreciated what they were hearing -- whether it was "Avalon" or "Time on My Hands" or an arrangement spun out of the air in response to requests as with "Sweet Lorraine."

At the end of the evening, Elana Byrd announced that there'd be an urban jazz concert featuring Tony Spencer and the Stef Scaggiari Trio in mid-April at the Powerhouse, and Brooks announced his coming concerts, including one on May 15 featuring his big band in a tribute to Glenn Miller's Army Air Force Band in Severna Park.

To see the Glenn Miller tribute, sign up for Anne Arundel Community Concert Association's 56th season. Information: Gale Gillespie, 410-647-4881.

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