Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Review of the Juilliard Jazz Ensemble, Curtis Fuller, Guest Trombonist

Event: Juilliard Jazz Ensembles (A&B) Concert, Curtis Fuller, Guest Trombonist

Place: Paul Hall, Juilliard School of Music

Date: November 2, 2010

Free event


OK, let’s get this joke out of the way: Question: What do four trombones sound like at the bottom of the sea? Answer: A good idea.

Before my trombonist friends kill or worse, unfriend me on Facebook, let me state that I love the sound of the trombone. It lends a foundation, a solid support to the brass section in a band. Without it, the trumpets and saxophones sound like divas without bottoms. OK, that doesn’t sound right, but you know what I mean.

So I looked forward to listening to Curtis Fuller and the Juilliard Jazz Ensembles (there's more than one) in another free concert at Paul Hall at the Juilliard School (will wonders never cease? my wallet is applauding!) After the operas and symphonies of the previous week, I was ready for some hot jazz. Heck I was ready to jump onstage if they asked me to jam. Judging from the full crowd in the hall, most people in the audience were itching to jump onstage and jam.

Curtis Fuller is a jazz trombonist who is most famous for having been a member of the Art Blakey Jazz Messengers back in the sixties. He still plays, teaches and conducts workshops today at the ripe old age of 75. This jazz happening was the result of such a workshop. That said, I want to live to be 75 over and still hop about like Curtis!

Two ensembles culled from Juilliard jazz students played one each of two halves of the recital. The pieces they played were composed and arranged by Curtis. Most of the players looked like they were not yet allowed to drink alcohol. There was a girl, too. They all played from memory,unless they were reading from a tele-prompter, like Obama. So young and so massively impressive already. I hope they don’t work on cruiseships and lose all that shine. And they were not playing “Girl from Ipanema”, no sir. They were playing esoteric compositions by Curtis with titles like: The Clan, The Court, Bit of Heaven, and many others. I must confess that the only piece I recognized there was ’Three Blind Mice”, although the nursery song was just an excuse for Curtis to throw out a reharmonized version that would throw you off the loop if you weren’t paying attention. Go listen to this version on Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers records.

Since this is Juilliard, obviously you can’t really consider these “students” in the same way that you would consider your local community college ensemble. I’m sure there are other terrific ensembles in the United States, but these performers were the cream of the crop. You have to be, in the jazz capital of the world. They probably already had gigs. One trumpet, two or three saxes, one trombone, guitar, piano, bass and drums. That’s all. After the show, I saw the girls gathering around the boys. I didn’t know where the girl went. So what else is new?

This was basically a lovefest for the distinguished trombonist, who gave it as good as he got, considering his age. You could see that the boys (and girl) in the bands adored him.

It’s hard to critique a jazz concert like this. In fact, why does one critique a jazz concert? You’re just supposed to let the improvisations wash over you and the audience, enjoy the vibes, liberate your feelings and say “Yeah!” when the spirit moved you (and to show how hip you are.) I enjoyed this concert immensely because I could see the torch of the old guard being passed to the new in the most artistic and joyful circumstances possible.

The encore was a surprise performance of all four trombone players in the Juilliard ensemble, the fifth being Curtis, playing one of his compositions.

What do five trombones sound like at the bottom of the sea?

If that sea was the sea of love for Curtis, and the four trombonists were ace students of the Juilliard school, and the waves came from the palpable excitement and appreciation of the New York jazz aficionados, one word: AWESOME!


Here are 2 videos of the encore ( 4 trombones + Curtis!) and the second ensemble with the girl sax player (I think her name is Jordan Pettay). The average age of the players was probably 20. God, I feel so old, though not older than Curtis lol!

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