Grammy-nominated trumpeter Jon Faddis inaugurates a new series of “Talkin’ Jazz” events at the Count Basie tonight then joins the Red Bank Jazz Orchestra this Sunday for a salute to George Gershwin.
By TOM CHESEK
April, in case you didn’t know, is National Jazz Appreciation Month, and here in the borough that birthed the great William Count Basie, a man called “Mooche” is preparing a savvy smorgasbord of treats for classic jazz buffs and curious cats alike.
It’s a pollen-cloud of activity that goes up this evening, April 9, with the first in an annual slate of Talkin’ Jazz presentations.
Hosted by globe-trotting jazz scholar/arranger/bandleader Joe Muccioli at the Count Basie Theatre, the free series kicks off with a presentation by trumpet ace Jon Faddis at 7 p.m. The Grammy nominee makes his first of two appearances this week on the Basie stage, with a discussion of “Legacies and Legends in Jazz: from Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie to Miles Davis and Beyond” that’s capped by a screening of Bird director Clint Eastwood’s 1988 biopic of Parker, with Forest Whitaker in the title role and Faddis featured prominently on the movie’s soundtrack.
Faddis returns to Red Bank on Sunday afternoon, when Muccioli conducts the Red Bank Jazz Orchestra in a “Gershwin Spectacular” that pays homage to the works of George Gershwin from his Tin Pan Alley songbook standards, to the monumental “Rhapsody in Blue,” and a special salute to Porgy & Bess, as re-imagined in 1959 by Miles Davis and Gil Evans. It’s a labor of love about which Mooche says, “Gershwin’s such a crossover name classical, jazz, cabaret, Broadway all kinds of audiences should dig this.”
It’s also a program with a special significance for the conductor, who’s earned an international reputation through his research into (and painstaking transcriptions of) the Davis-Evans collaborations and who recalls the 1959 Porgy & Bess album as “the first jazz record I ever heard. It drew me in and never let go. Like listening to Bach and Beethoven.”
With “monster artist” Faddis channeling the mastery of Miles in his breakthrough Kind of Blue period, the 17-piece RBJO presents Porgy in its entirety as the second half of Sunday’s 4 p.m. program. The matinee begins with vocalist Maggie Worsdale in a set of George and Ira Gershwin favorites (among them I Got Rhythm and The Man I Love), and continues with pianist John Colianni of the Les Paul Quintet performing the composers original 1924 orchestration for his symphonic signature Rhapsody in Blue.
Speaking at his Red Bank home office, the artistic director of the borough-based nonprofit Jazz Arts Project describes the Gershwin show as one that he’s done “a couple of dozen times, all over the world, just never in New Jersey,” and recalls the origins of the project in a surprise phone call from Quincy Jones.
“Quincy was doing a concert with Miles at the 1991 Montreux Festival, and he was trying to convince Miles to revisit some of his classic recordings,” explains Muccioli, in reference to the legendary trumpeter’s career-capping collaboration with the superstar producer. “He said he ‘had to put on a lot of love’ to even get Miles to consider doing any of his old stuff. Miles wasn’t alone in thinking that when you made a recording, that was it that was posterity; the statue was finished; now it’s in a museum.”
The opportunity to put on his Indiana Jones hat and go off in search of the missing solo charts from Porgy was an endeavor that fell squarely within “my bailiwick” for Mooche, who eventually followed the trail to a warehoused treasure trove of long-neglected music charts and other Miles memorabilia from the 1950s.
“You could see that they changed a lot of it in the studio, from what had been written down,” the RBJO conductor observes of the eye-opening find. “And when you examine the old parts, you see that a lot of what we think Miles was improvising, a lot of it was written by Gil.”
“After I put it all together I sent the charts to Miles… by messenger. I really should’ve done it myself,” recalls Muccioli with a look of regret. “The story goes, Miles took one look at the charts, didn’t say a thing, ran over to the piano and played a bit of the music, turned to the guy and said ‘Tell ’em I’ll do it’!”
Admission to tonight’s Talkin’ Jazz presentation and film is free, although tickets (available at the Basie box office) are required. Take it here for tickets for Sundays 4 p.m. concert ($25 to $55).
Talkin’ Jazz continues on Mondays inside the Basie’s street-level Carlton Lounge, with an April 15 appearance by saxman Don Braden, who discusses “Discovering Jazz as a Model for Life.” April 22 brings author Will Friedwald to town for a talk on “Crooners and Canaries: Jazz Singers,” and April 29 finds Chris Calloway Brooks, grandson of the legendary Cab Calloway and upholder of the Hi-Dee-Hi pedigree, in a little presentation entitled “Are You Hep to the Jive?”
Seating for these free events is limited, and advance reservations (as well as additional details on these and other Jazz Arts Project programs) can be found right here.