When an individual has the opportunity to hear one of the greatest jazz pianists of all time perform, accompanied by three no-less notable musical peers, it is truly a magnificent occasion. On a brisk December evening, the excitement in the air was tangible, as an eclectic crowd consisting of multi-generational jazz aficionados and music fans alike converged at the famed and intimate jazz club Yoshi’s in Oakland, California. Minutes before the first set started, I took my seat at table forty-seven which, unbeknownst to me, memorializes Phil Elwood, one of the nation’s leading jazz critics, renowned for his work with the San Francisco Examiner
and the San Francisco Chronicle
The lights dimmed, the rampant talk was reduced to a whisper, and then as Christian McBride, Joe Lovano, Jeff "Tain" Watts, and McCoy Tyner took the stage, the audience' applause foreshadowed what was to be a night of unadulterated jazz at its best. As I had expected, the stage was set for an evening promising sheer pleasure along with no small amount of musical illumination.
McCoy Tyner’s performance was nothing short of phenomenal, his creations distinguished, zealous, and refined. As the evening progressed, each song acquired beauty exceeding the previous selection. Along with the sublime and transcendent moments were intimate, privileged ones, as though the legendary pianist was granting us all access to his innermost self. His piano acted as the medium for his creative voice, expressing meditative, transporting melodic reveries. When Tyner plays, he is in a state of grace, of total surrender to his instrument and muse, and yet undeniably a master of his craft.
Christian McBride exuded undeniable charisma and prowess, enthralling an audience whose silent attention alone spoke volumes. On many of the bassist's solos, it immediately became obvious why he stands out among other players: the tone of his bass is as buoyantly effervescent as it is deep and woody. Moreover, he plays as much in the moment as in the groove, achieving a an extraordinary, life-like presence of sound. The instrument becomes an extension of the artist, or a juncture where the mind, body, and soul meet as one to create melodious liaisons.
Jeff "Tain" Watts is one of the most imitated yet never duplicated drummers of his time. Each of his solos was a commanding demonstration by a percussion master while his supportive accompaniment was a model of perfect time. Like his rhythm section partner, he played as though enveloped in the instant, making it expand and contract to his bidding.
Joe Lovano’s playing shined throughout the evening and repeatedly proved that jazz is alive, well, and swinging! Except for his tone, which is exclusive to him, Lovano sounded as though he was channeling the legendary Charlie Parker.
As I sat and listened, I felt as though I were watching history unfold, and I knew at that instant that I was feeling much the same as those who were fortunate to hear the greats perform. I was hearing a living legend and a company of legends in the making. Throughout the evening there were emotional peaks and valleys explored through the deeply penetrative music, moving the listener from pensive thoughts to exhilarating excitement, ultimately casting a mesmerizing, captivating and lasting spell.
Music is a powerful unifying force. In attendance were parents with their children, married couples, single people, all there to see and hear these compelling storytellers give us a glimpse into their life, their love jazz, and perhaps into our own souls. The trio epitomized what jazz should be: pure, undiluted, vibrant and affecting.
Throughout the evening each song was executed with such intelligence and luminosity that the music will stay etched in my mind forever.