Wednesday, January 30, 2013

A night with two jazz legends

Right after the master class with Gary Burton, Mrs. S and I slid over the Bottega restaurant for a filling and extremely delicious dinner (her: mussels and shrimp risotto, him: lobster ravioli and rabbit pappardelle, both: tiramisu for dessert). Then it was back over to the Alys Stephens Center for the concert of a lifetime, Chick Corea and Gary Burton, together.

Turns out that the night we saw them was the second last date on their Hot House tour, which has been going on for something like a year and a half. More amazingly, Chick and Gary were celebrating 42 years of playing together. Let me say that again: these two guys have been playing together for 42 years. I've only been alive for 49 years, so, there is basically nothing that I've been doing for 10 or 20 years, much less 42. That told me right away (what I already knew as well), we were in for a special night of music.

None of the pictures of our awesome food came out awesome. This - the stage set-up - is about all we have to offer.
Among the songs they played: Strange Meadow Lark (by their late friend, Dave Brubeck), Eleanor Rigby (some English guy), and my favorite, Waltz for Debby (everything’s better with Bill Evans). Songs I wanted to hear and they did not play: Senor Mouse and Windows (both Corea compositions). The duet portion took up the first hour of the show. Although I have nothing against the guests during the second hour, the Harlem String Quartet (who were very good), I would just as soon have listened to Chick and Gary play together for another hour. (Then maybe they would have gotten to Senor Mouse.)

I could expound longer and longer about Chick’s fantastic playing, Gary’s inimitable solos, the difficulty of playing with sheet music, and the sound of a Steinway concert grand with a Musser vibraphone, but it would be like describing the color red to a blind person. Truly, you just had to be there, and Mrs. S and I were.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Another night with some jazz legends: Two for the price of one

But first: One for free

Many of my readers will be familiar with the episode that led us to book two Chick Corea concerts in a short two days. The first concert, with Gary Burton on vibes was this past weekend. I’ll have much more to say about that, but I want to tell you about the master class with Gary that we attended before the concert.

Legendary vibraphonist, jazz musician, composer, and teacher, Gary Burton.
Now, I don’t play the vibraphone. Not yet. But it is one of those instruments that, just by the very fact that it looks like a piano seems to be something that I ought to be able to play. And I do love the sound. And what could be better than, in the middle of a set, taking a break from the piano and hammering out a few tunes on some vibes? Truth is, however, there is no such thing as a cheap vibraphone, with even the most basic models of any quality at all starting in the $2-3K range.  (Not to mention, I haven’t even gotten a “real” piano yet, though my chance to buy a Steinway ‘M’ at about one-third of retail is still floating out there – but that’s another blog entry.)

The master class, in addition to being free, was open to the general public whether or not they were students, vibraphone players, jazz enthusiasts, or none of the above. I guess they figure, if you’re willing to sit and listen to a guy talk about jazz and playing the vibraphone for an hour, you must have enough interest and they might as well let you in. Mrs. S was off work for the day, and I took off early to allow us to drive to Birmingham to attend the 4PM class.

I’m very glad we did. Mr. Burton talked about improvisation and answered a number of questions. Mrs. S and I sat right down front, right next to our concert seats, and I have to say, although I learned a lot about Gary Burton, the level of discussion regarding improvisation and practicing scales was fairly basic, and I’ve been all up and down (sorry) those subjects thanks to my jazz classes at UAH. It was nice to hear some of the things I had been taught reaffirmed and embellished on by one of the greatest living players of jazz music, but I can’t honestly say I learned anything new in the improvisation department.

Mallets flying, cool vibes soaring, me just eight feet away. Yes!
I suppose the highlight of the class was hearing Mr. Burton play solo on a couple of songs and display his chops while explaining about scales. The photo above is a good example of what he’s capable of: look at how blurred the mallets are while the rest of the photo is in perfect focus! Amazing! Regrettably, Mr. Burton did not sign any autographs at the conclusion of the class (nor did he and Chick after the concert later that night), but the master class was definitely a worthwhile experience.