Here it is again

Here it is again

by Arnold Jay Smith

copyright © 2004 Arnold Jay Smith

Both the temperature and the music were cool at the 2004 Litchfield Jazz Festival. It was the first year in recent memory that it didn't rain, officials were proud to announce. The proceedings are held in the Goshen Fairgrounds not too far from that Norman Rockwell-esque town that lends its name to the festival for three days in early August. Stately homes give way to roadside farm stands with signs that shout "local corn and vegetables" as you glide along the way. The music shares tents and fairgrounds with innovative arts, crafts, clothes and terrific food.

According to the always busy, but nonetheless ebullient LJF executive director Vita Muir West, the attendance in the main tent arena was down slightly, probably due to the weather. The lawn attendees seemed well-prepared; it was shorts in the afternoon, but khakis and jackets — with hoods, if you had 'em — as the sun went down.

(A romantic word, if I may, about those sunsets. There is nothing more exhilarating from this well-traveled reporter's viewpoint — pun intended — than watching the sun go down on your left while listening to great jazz on your right. Whether it's the midnight sun in Finland, which never actually sets, to watching it dissolve into the clouds of the Litchfield Hills. And like jazz itself, it's never the same twice.)

Ms. West and her family and crew treated us with their usual charm and grace. Maestro Skitch Henderson, a nearby neighbor, dropped in unannounced and posed for a few impromptu photo-ops. Dressed not in his usual New York Pops tux, he was as inconspicuous as were Bobby Watson, Victor Lewis, Ray Barretto, Stephanie Nakasian, Freddy Cole, Frank Wess, Eric Reed, Brad Meldau, Bill Mays and repeat fave John Pizzarelli. They all came early and hung out late. The word continues to be that it's all about the ambience and the audience, the bucolic surroundings and the loud cheers.

Herewith, some highlights:

As always, the music seemed secondary to the transcendent warmth between artist and fans. Watson reformed Horizon for this his premiere Litchfield date. Besides Lewis at the drums, he was joined by Terrell Stafford on trumpet, Curtis Lundy, bass, and Edward Simon, piano. They offered an off-rhythm "Lemoncello", "Dark Days", a lament, and "Appointment in Milano", which was introduced by Lundy's "In A Persian Market" refrain.

Barretto's sextet featured a front line of trumpet, Joe Magnarelli, featured on "Mag's Capers", alto sax Myron Walden, who arranged a moving "Sometimes I Feel Like A Motherless Child", later joined by Ray's son Chris also on alto, who studied here at the festival's music school under the direction of Don Braden. Chris bebopped his way through "What Is The Thing Called Love" with a "Hot House" underlay. Watch for this kid; good chops. Right now he's leaning in another musical direction.

Why does Freddy Cole, with those wonderfully smokey pipes, think that he has to do the "I'm Not My Brother" shtick? And what's worse, the emcee, JJA's Tom Reney, introduced Cole as singing "from his latest album 'I'm Not My Brother, I'm Me.'" Wasn't that his first, a decade or so ago? That said, Freddy's set was still in respectfully good taste.

The touring Basie Centennial Celebration band played familiar tunes with charts by Wess, Frank Foster and Ernie Wilkins, as well as a mix of septet, quartet and trio selections. The set was longer than most, but it flew by with the flag wavers "Shiny Stockings", "Jumpin' At The Woodside", "Swingin' The Blues" and "Lester Leaps In" spelled by "Li'l Darlin'" and "The Midgets". The band left a very happy, cheering audience.

(Another break for that audience: they come to Litchfield as though to a football game, loaded for bear with coolers, barbeques, tables with and without tablecloths, lawn chairs, portable chairs, food and grog of every stripe, glass plates and glasses, and of course binoculars from opera- to stadium-size.)

Meldau demanded and got silence for his solo set explaining politely that it disturbed his concentration. He even asked the paparazzi to stop clicking. (Keith Jarrett would have walked off the stage!) Of the 10-tune set, Meldau did two McCartney's, "Think Of One", which made you think of anyone but Monk, two standards, a dirge-like "On The Street Where You Live" and a bolero on "I Concentrate On You". The rest were originals. He received two standing ovations, one mid-set.

Hail the returning hero! Pizzarelli redux, and he came to play. He brought with him the entire band from his crossover hit CD "Bossa Nova": Paulinho Braga, Cesar Camergo Mariano, Daniel Jobim and Romero Labamba joined Jessica Molasky (Mrs. JP), and the JP Trio, Ray Kennedy and Martin Pizzarelli. The Pizzarelli humor was intact as he introduced Mariano as someone who became famous via a GM commercial in his native Brazil. "Who knew," Pizzarelli quipped, "you could do a commercial and people would know who you are." Once again in the spirit of full disclosure he could not sing his commercial as one of the major sponsors at Litchfield is Mohegan Sun.

That wonderfully sharp audience got it, laughed, cheered and went home feeling so very hip, teeth a-chattering, carrying their blankets, which by this time they were wrapped in and not sitting upon.

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