Before I delve into the richness of live music and audiophile quality recordings from artists who appeared in shows over this past summer season, (stay tuned for my reports from Newport Jazz Festival and festivities at Tanglewood), I have to take a detour to report on a truly special evening of music that occurred on September 12th at the Berklee Performance Center at Berklee College of Music (“Berklee”) (www.berklee.edu) in Boston, MA. The occasion was a benefit concert to establish a new scholarship fund for young artists at Berklee in the name of impresario Fred Taylor.
Taylor is a beloved local hero for his over 50 years of service in bringing music to Boston (and beyond) and his protean dedication to the music and welfare of the artists he has presented over this 50-year span. Taylor has provided the vital forum for the appearance of new music from the likes of Miles Davis, Pat Metheny, Bruce Springsteen, Bob Marley, Dave Brubeck and countless other artists in his days overseeing Paul’s Mall and The Jazz Workshop in Boston between 1965 and 1978, and then in his time at Scullers Jazz Club in Cambridge, MA. for 27 years. Appropriately, at this benefit concert, the music took center stage although the evening was also spangled with videos and testimonials of Taylor’s delectable oral history with his 50 years of bringing joy to countless audiences and the musicians he cares about so deeply.
Musical highlights and sweet, swinging moments were in abundance at this benefit concert for Taylor’s scholarship fund. The evening started sweetly with a lilting rendition of Paul Williams and Ken Ascher’s “The Rainbow Connection,” dancing on the carefree deep plunges from Bo Winiker’s horn; limpid notes from John Patitucci’s bass and twinkling soft runs from Tim Ray on his piano. The sweet caress continued with vocalist Kat Edmonson singing “What Else Can I Do” in her striking shimmering voice, clarion next to Mark Walker’s light cymbal pushes and Ray’s bluesy undulating piano solo.
The evening was delightfully hosted by saxophonist, singer and songwriter Grace Kelly and WBUR’s Robin Young, who both added sprinklings of treasured stories about Taylor’s love for the music and the artists he has nurtured. Kelly took several turns performing with different ensembles. She delivered spontaneous sax combustion to ignite a ferocious blues ramble with legendary harp player, James Montgomery, (both kicking up their heels to James Dale’s pounding electric bass and the pure adrenaline of it all). Kelly then brought her sultry voice (ranging up high to a garland of pretty leaps) to augment her original composition, “Trying To Figure It Out.” Kelly also performed with pianist extraordinaire Monty Alexander in a carefree duet of “Somewhere Over The Rainbow” (which was the first song Kelly played, at age fourteen, at Scullers that caught the ear of Taylor who approached her after the performance to suggest that she appear in his club. That was the start of a rich musical companionship that has lasted years and now sees Kelly roaming the world’s stages with her sparkling sax and kinetic vocal presence).
The latter part of the concert reveled in dynamic performances that were unstoppable in their grooves and joy. Vocalist Catherine Russell lit up the stage with her robust voice (filled with sass and power) on Peggy Lee’s “I Love Being Here With You” with trumpeter Jason Palmer (who was also the musical director for this benefit concert) shaking out bursts of crisp arching notes. Alexander returned to his ever-flowing and creative piano for a rollicking number with Patitucci and drummer Terri Lyne Carrington frolicking in and around Alexander’s two-fisted clusters. Another local hero of the keyboard, Danilo Perez, also joined Patitucci and Carrington for his own spidery creation in which his piano journey felt like a comforting cool breeze on the skin (entwining and inviting) until Carrington pounced with an explosive drum solo that grooved on ferocious beats and splashing cymbal hits.
The dynamic spontaneity of these artists in flight together, (clearly inspired by their admiration for Taylor), reached a zenith when vocalist Kurt Elling drew from the deep wellspring of energy from Perez, Patitucci and Carrington to take magnetic flight on his renditions of Frank Sinatra’s “All The Way” and Nate King Cole’s “Nature Boy”. Elling’s vocal range and the expressive qualities of his creative intonations were stunning to behold (as he constantly moved his hand-held microphone back and forth to alight his organic, deep burnished tones and delectable pitch changes). His dancing, scatting duets with Perez and Patitucci bristled with energy and the joy of the musical moment. This was musical companionship at its height of power and flowing creativity. The performance ended with Taylor on stage dancing along with the raucous capacity crowd– soaking in the history and collective grooves of this shining moment at Berklee.
*To Donate to the Fred Taylor Endowed Scholarship Fund at Berklee, go to: www.berklee.edu/fredtaylor