Back on the Road

It’s the 5th of July, America is one year older and the 2013 edition of Jazz Camp West is officially over. On Saturday, June 29, everyone packed their belongings and went to the last round of concerts before the barbecue lunch that was our last camp meal. By sundown, all of the campers had left for home or continued their summer activities elsewhere, and the JCW crew began dismantling the miniature theaters that had been erected a week earlier. By the end of Sunday, June 30, all the drum sets, guitar and bass amplifiers, and PA systems would be returned to their owners, and the pianos—37 in all—would be back in the rental room of Jim Callahan’s Piedmont Piano Company in Oakland, California. But, even though the camping out part of Jazz Camp West is over, the artists that comprise its staff and teaching roster continue their work as performers and educators.

I had the pleasure of performing in several concerts featuring JCW artists in the days immediately following this year’s camp. One was a private affair held in the multi-story cellar of the Palmaz Winery in Napa Valley on Saturday night, using the cellar’s pressing area as a stage. The group, led by pianist Dan Zemelman, featured Allison Miller on drums and Bob Roth on saxophone (who was not part of the 2013 JCW roster). While the Palmaz facility was rather impressive, the acoustics of the cellar added a half-second echo and made playing music that relies on group improvisation somewhat challenging, especially when Allison used sticks on her cymbals that resulted in the sound of ticking echoing from 360 degrees. But the occasion was risen to and, in the final analysis, the concert was a success.

On Monday, July 1, I had the opportunity to play with Miller again, only in the more acoustically friendly showroom of the Piedmont Piano Company with pianist Randy Porter in a group led by vocalist Madeline Eastman. Eastman is also the co-director of Jazz Camp West (along with its founder, Stacey Hoffman) and this was her first concert since the camp started on June 22. Despite the concert’s coinciding with day one of the Bay Area Rapid Transit system’s strike, the sold-out audience was mostly comprised of JCW campers who live in the Bay Area and included a fairly even mix of vocal and instrumental students. While it’s impossible to describe music in words with any accuracy, I will say that Madeline is gifted with a beautiful voice that she uses in a diverse range of music—from hard-hitting blues like John Coltrane’s “Mr. Day” to Brazilian samba-influenced arrangements of songs like Burt Bacharach’s “Close To You” to intimate ballads like Victor Feldman and Tommy Wolff’s “A Face Like Yours,” which she performed as a duo with Porter. But there is a part of Madeline’s singing that transcends her instrument and arrangements and even her professional experience. Her delivery of a song involves the listener to the point that he or she feels like a part of the performance. It’s almost as if she’s says, “This can’t happen without you,” to everyone within earshot. I had already seen her do this on the one song she sang at JCW in 2012 (she prefers to not perform much at the camp), so I was honored to be invited to be a part of her Piedmont Piano concert. Of course, getting to play with Randy Porter and Allison Miller was a thrill, too!

Piedmont’s concert series is famous in the Bay Area and offers local and touring pianists a chance to perform on a Fazioli concert grand. I was fortunate enough to be invited to play again with Dan Zemelman at Piedmont on Tuesday in an ensemble with violinist Mads Tolling, and Trio Maravilloso. The second day of the transit strike was a bit harder on the evening’s attendance than the first, but most of Piedmont’s chairs were filled with attentive ears. Our program was a mix of standards and Tolling originals spread across one long set. High points of the evening included Tolling’s “Danish Dessert” (which draws its title from the apparent inability of Americans to pronounce the names of certain dishes found on Danish menus), two pieces that included JCW vocalists Gabriela Welch (Carol King’s “You Make Me Feel Like A Natural Woman” and Rose Armin-Hoiland on Michel Legrand’s “You Must Believe In Spring”), and Zemelman’s arrangement of Bob Dorough and Terrell Kirk’s “Devil May Care.” But it was Thelonious Monk’s “Blue Monk” that took the most daring turns during its collective and solo improvisations and got the most enthusiastic audience response. Dan Zemelman is one of the Bay Area’s finest jazz pianists and Mads Tolling one of its finest improvising violinists (remembering that the area is the home of the Kronos and Turtle Island String Quartets, the latter of which Tolling recently retired from). So it was, once again, an honor to be playing at Piedmont Piano.

The Jazz Camp West afterglow at Piedmont Piano will continue tonight, July 5, with a concert by vocalist Faye Carol, who was also a JCW artist this year. I had the honor of playing an impromptu version of Dizzy Gillespie’s “Night in Tunisia” with her on the opening night of JCW (which included saxophonist Charles McNeal, pianist Ben Heveroh, and drummer Deszon Claiborne) that displayed her stunning skills in vocalise and improvisation. If BART is back up-and-running, I’ll be heading to Oakland tonight! But I plan to be here in San Francisco for another week. I’ll be playing at the 7 Mile House Sunday on drummer Vince Lateano’s jam session series, although Lateano had to get drummer Ron Marabuto to replace him. (Vince is married to Madeline Eastman and, I believe, they are taking a vacation that night.) As much as I would like to play with Vince, I’m really excited about playing with Ron because the last time we played together was over twenty years ago in New York with baritone saxophonist extraordinaire Pepper Adams. I’ll also be playing with him on July 13 at the Hotel Healdsburg in pianist David Udolf’s trio and again on July 14 in Udolf’s tribute to bassist Chuck Metcalf, featuring saxophonist Steve Heckman and vibraphonist Jim Zimmerman at Chez Hanny.

It will be a heartfelt way to end what has been a 2-1/2 month-long tour of Mexico and the Bay Area. Of course, there will be private sessions and public jam sessions, which I hope to cover next week with videos.

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