Started With A Bang, Ended With An EXPLOSION: Tri-C Jazzfest: TCJF Soundworks @ Nighttown

Hello Jazzians!

I have sat here in front of the computer for a good while now trying to figure out the best way to explain what took place last night.  Most definitely, it was one of those “you had to be there” types of events, but I will try my best.

Held at Nighttown, Cleveland’s most elite Jazz supper club, the place was beyond packed.  So much so that it was inevitable to get an elbow or hip in the head [or in my case, hair in your face from the long haired woman in front of me]; you’d have to play assistant waiter and ‘pass it down’; at one point in the middle of their talking 2 of the musicians had to step off the stage so that a late patron could navigate her way thru the microphones and music stands to her seat up front. But the crowd was friendly and lively.  For the first show, my friend and business partner Andrea Green and I were blessed to sit next to Betsy and Jim Sampliner.  They have been regular attendants for 32 of the 33 years that Jazzfest has been in operation – missing only the first one. “When we met, she [Betsy] was not even a Jazz enthusiast!” Jim said.  They took our breath away as they relived the history of the artists of Jazzfest, especially a rare opportunity they had to sit the the undisputed Queen of Jazz, Ella Fitzgerald.

The room while totally full was very friendly.  Everyone knew everyone, or instantly accepted everyone.  I have noticed that about Jazz.  It’s very elitist – but in a good way.  This family of music admirers truly appreciate all of the intricacies that music affords, and the pure joy that it can bring.  99% of it’s format is simply an artist and their art. No flashing lights [unless you are Trombone Shorty which so fits him!], no video girls or hip hop guys. No disappearing acts and bells and whistles.  Just real musicianship, and real vocals. You MUST be at the top of your form to earn a spot. But once earned, you are well appreciated and supported.  I Like That!

The TCJF Soundwords concert is, as explained by Terry Pontremoli and Willard Jenkins, the culmination of the whole Jazzfest.  The band members are their resident ensemble which this year was comprised of some of the best musicians ever presented, as all agreed.

Shown from left to right: John Clayman – Baritone Sax/Flute; Chris Anderson – Trumpet/Music Director; Sean Jones – Trumpet; Howie Smith – Soprano/Alto Sax

Glen Holmes – Bass Chip Stevens – Piano

Chris Baker – Drums

As I said, this was one that you had to attend.  Because there was more than just an amazing concert.  If you observed, there were so many interesting factors that made the whole event even more special, like the change in the chroma of the sound of the trumpet when Sean Jones played with a martini glass as opposed to a brass mute.  It was a brighter but more reverberated sound.  Then of course, the man that I totally fell in love with, Chip Stevens, who is a total mad scientist on the piano, who never, ever looks at the piano, not even in the most intense of solos, and often plays with his hands crossed over each other or plays the lower octave keys reserved for the left hand with his right.  The Bass player, Glen Holmes, who is vocal with the notes that he plays on the bass, ala’ George Benson style.  Chris Anderson served as Musical Director, however John Clayman was also instrumental in helping the band navigate thru their material.  So many nuances on the stage, and off.  The crowd was super enthusiastic, clapping and whistling, cheering and asking for more.

I stayed for both shows, and it was a musical feast.  Everyone was treated to a night of incredible music, all composed by the resident band members.  3 of the highlight pieces for me were “Searching” by Chris Anderson, “Off The Mark” by Howie Smith, and “Sadness & Soul” by Chip Stevens.  They all show a very interesting ear when it comes to composition, in that there were serious progressions from easy listening slow to progressive straight ahead, varying time signatures, all often within the same song.

Sometimes in a band, you will have that stand out musician that just takes the night.  Now I expressed super love for pianist Chip Stevens, but that is more attributed to my love for piano jazz.  This night was super Jazziliciously incredible, because each musician, when given solo room, was over the top exceptional.  Regardless of your choice of love for instrument representation, you were given some of the most exemplary available.  It was my extra super treat thanks to the piano, and the flute, played by John.

Surrounded by great friends and people, including 2 gentlemen that were walking history buffs of the Cleveland  jazz scene, indulging in hands down the BEST Lobster Mac & Cheese in the Tri-State area, and being blown away by the array of talent and sound coming from a stage 6 feet away, this night could not have been any better.

Tri-C went above and beyond this year bringing in incredible talent.  We celebrate every artist, from the upcoming youth in the Shaw High School Marching Band, Paul Sanders Ensemble, Salty Dog Brass Band, Esperanza Spalding, Walter Beasley, Peter White, Brian Simpson, Maysa, Norman Brown, Gerald Albright, Ki Allen, Kellylee Evans, Aretha Franklin, Ben Williams, Marcus Strickland, The Tri-C High School All Stars, Dominick Farinacci, Jerome Jennings, Steve Enos, Bob Hurst, Ernie Krivda, Matt Wilsons’ Arts & Crafts, Jack DeJohnette, David Sanborn, Joey DeFrancesco, Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue, Diana Krall, Oikos Ensemble, TCJF Soundworks, and every accompanying musician not named here [but are listen in their event blogs].

We Thank You, for your discipline to your craft and your hard work.  For bringing us quality music night after night, making us laugh, cry, and providing great medicine for the soul.

And I thank you Tri-C.  As a music lover, you have tirelessly provided quality music to us in the Jazzfests for over 33 years, and as your blogger this year I was treated to some of the best of todays’ representations in Jazz, Blues, Soul, and just feel good music.

STAY TUNED everyone – Coming up, some interviews with some of the artists, directors, programmers, volunteers, stage hands, and of course, video clips.  This is not an easy feat to pull together a large festival like this one.  Let me show you how this comes together!

In Rhythm and Blue


Official Blogger,

2012 Tri-C Jazzfest

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