Marsalis and his quartet, pianist Joey Calderazzo, bassist Eric Revis, and drummer Jeff "Tain" Watts, opened the concert by playing 5 selections. Unfortunately 3 of them were ballads. They even played 2 of them in a row. Maybe this was because of Symphony Center’s sound because I could barely hear the bass and piano where I was sitting, in the lower balcony, and I couldn’t hear them at all on the uptempo numbers.
After a brief intermission the Alumni All-Stars took the stage. Consisting of Marsalis, alto saxophonist Bobby Watson, trumpeter Terence Blanchard, trombonist Curtis Fuller, pianist Ronnie Matthews, subbing for an ill Cedar Walton, bassist Peter Washington, and drummer Winard Harper, their set began as a passionless jam session with each soloist taking 2 polite choruses until Harper went to work. Known as a practitioner of the hard bop genre that Blakey helped to create, although he has also worked with jazz greats Betty Carter, Pharoah Sanders, and Billy Taylor, his driving ride cymbal, crisp snare drum and unique crash cymbal and hi-hat accents, lit a fire under his bandmates, which became evident on Messenger classics "Moanin" and "Along Came Betty" and earned the group a standing ovation.
Judging from the fact the Symphony Center was filled as well as the audience’s reaction to the music, this tribute got the festival off to a good start. Hopefully if a similar event opens the fest in the future a working group will play the concert instead of an all-star group. And please get the sound right.