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Dizzy Gillespie’s Memorial Fund Concert

Dizzy Gillespie's Memorial Fund Concert

September 15, 2011

Le Poisson Rouge

New York City

Every shade of jazz was showcased at Dizzy Gillespie's Memorial Fund Concert held at Le Poisson Rouge in Greenwich Village, New York from bebop and free jazz to torchlight swing and world music. The master of ceremonies, actor/comedian Bill Cosby and special host, NY1 correspondent Cheryl Wills, kept the artist rotation running smoothly. Their rapport was affectionate as they introduced each individual musician to the stage, some of whom Mr. Cosby had a long-standing connection with including poet Amiri Baraka and saxophonist/flutist/poet Elliott Levin.

Proceeds from the concert and the silent auction will go to the Dizzy Gillespie Memorial Fund at Englewood Hospital in New Jersey which underwrites the medical expenses for jazz musicians who are uninsured. Cosby made a special note to his long-time friend, drummer Sunny Murray who made history performing with such magnetic jazz men as Albert Ayler, Cecil Taylor, and Sonny Sharrock back in the '60s. Murray was unable to attend the concert as he lives in France but was there in spirit.

A drummer in his own right, Cosby made a few jabs at the young lions on the skins including John Lee's eighteen year old drummer Evan Sherman, Levin's baby faced Weasel Walter, and Kim Clarke's bubbly Kenny Martin. Cosby brought out the musicians vulnerabilities whether it was making a fiasco of their hard to pronounce names such as Armenian-American bassist Albey Balgochian and Swiss-born trombonist Denis Beuret or coaxing the shy musicians like saxophonist Ras Moshe out of their shell.

Starting the show off was one of Dizzy's guitarists John Lee and his band, Dressed to impress, they had the chops and finesse to win the crowd over. The highlight of their set was the dueling trumpets of Bruce Harris and Luxembourg's Ernie Hammes. Harris' first attempt at reaching Dizzy's high notes fizzled, but at the end of the set, Cosby promptly goaded Harris to try those notes again with Dizzy's gusto and sure enough he got his trumpet to blaze.

Hammes' presence was just beginning. He returned to the stage twice more to play in pianist Amina Figarova's band. Now, here's a lady who can lead. The dialogues and exchanges between her keys, Hammes' trumpet, Francois Grillot's upright bass, and Bart Platteau's flute were stimulating. Not a foot in the house was sitting still. Their rhythmic action was infectious, and their harmonies were laden with enthusiasm and bold fervor. Their spirited rapport had the crowd wrapped around their fingers.

Although the duo of reedist Marty Ehrlich and bassist Ben Allison was sparse in comparison, their music was irresistibly engaging. They supported each with a keen perception that kept their pieces uplifted and showed the movements of two acoustic instruments can be a veritable crowd pleaser.

The concert swayed into the world music domain with the elegant voicing of Lola Danza who was accompanied by the charming gayageum player Eunsun Jung. This duo bolstered the soothing sounds of the Far East. Unbeknownst to most Americans, the gayageum is a high pitched instrument similar to the zither or the lyre and originated in Korea. Combined with Danza's soprano register, their music acted as an elixir that was a joy to reach an imbibed state of mind.

The concert changed its trajectory once again and entered into the R&B/soul terrain with saxophonist Don Byron's band featuring the gorgeous vocals of Brownsville, Brooklyn's own DK. It's hardly an exaggeration to say her voice resounded with the verve of Patti LaBelle, the deep register of the late Pearl Bailey, and the emotive stylizing of Alicia Keys.

The sphere of freestyle jazz was represented by Levin's band and Don Minasi's group whose improvisations were complex and driven by polyrhythmic activity and individualized musings. Levin was quite proud that his band emerged rather spontaneously but their floor shaking, ad hoc improvisations made it seem like they had been playing together for ages. Though Simona Premazzi's piano was drowned out by the excitement of the horns and Weasel's dynamic drumming, her keys added texture to the fanfare and zest to the boisterous ramblings from the rest of the band.

Also in the room was the experimental form of poetry partnered with freestyle jazz and represented by Amiri Baraka, Zenbeatz, Anne Waldman, Steve Dalachinsky, and Tracie Morris. The art form had a mixed reaction from the audience. Some poets like Zenbeatz's Jane Grenier B. and Tracie Morris had people think about their own actions while the messages of Anne Waldman and Steve Dalachinsky went right over the audience's head.

The strength of the concert was its diversity to represent the multiple cultures of jazz, sometimes even going global in the case of Luxembourg's Ernie Hammes, Switzerland's Denis Beuret, and Italy's Amina Figarova and Simona Premazzi. A few other noteworthy performances included vibraphonist Bryan Carrott who composed catchy full bodied melodies with his mallets reminiscent of the paths discovered by Earl Griffith, upright bassist Francois Grillot who rocked the house, and pianist Antonio Ciacca whose performance made the ivories tingle with delight.

The concert was a salute to jazz musicians who are merging the old generation with the new guard. Contrary to popular belief, both sounded happy to be together just as the younger generation of TV personality Cheryl Wills was happy to be presenting alongside a seasoned TV professional like Bill Cosby. To quote Jackie Gleason, "How sweet it is."

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