By Don Heckman
When Herbie Hancock, now a UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador and one of the world’s best known jazz artists, decreed that Monday, April 30 would be International Jazz Day, the response was a series of celebratory musical events around the globe. The most visible featured Hancock with a stellar array of artists, starting with a Sunrise Concert at Congo Square in New Orleans, followed by another Hancock led event – a Sunset Concert at the United Nations General Assembly Hall. Featured artists also included Terence Blanchard, Ellis Marsalis, Dr. Michael White and numerous others in New Orleans, and Richard Bona, Ron Carter, Joe Lovano, Zakir Hussain, Christian McBride, Hugh Masekela and many more in the New York program.
High profile, obviously. But no less appealing than the high quality jazz taking place in more local settings. One of the best was the program that bassist and Music Director Pat Senatore assembled at Herb Alper’s Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc. Many of the names were familiar – Don Menza, Steve Hoffsteter, Tom Peterson, Dale Fielder, Carl Saunders, Tom Warrington, Bob Sheppard and Senatore among them – top level entries on the list of world class jazz artists who make Los Angeles their home.
The evening had a distinctly impromptu jam session flavor, with tunes ranging across the familiar standards favored by jazz artists: “I Can’t Get Started With You,” “The Days of Wine and Roses,” “Alone Together,” “You and the Night and the Music,” You Stepped Out of a Dream” and the inevitable “Body and Soul,” with a healthy sampling of blues and a smidgeon of bossa nova.
The Vibrato celebration, like the others taking place in dozens of countries, was a remarkable affirmation of the broad reach that jazz has achieved over the past century, as it has established itself as a vital, unique, authentic and expressive art form. Listening to the diversity of styles offered by saxophonists Menza, Peterson, Fielding and Sheppard, to the equally far ranging creative views of the other players was – it so often is – convincing testimony to the kind of gripping, world class jazz that can be found almost any night, in cities and countries large and small, by the listeners eager enough to look for it.
Equally fascinating – an opening set by a remarkably talented quintet of young players. As well as a climactic encounter between veteran trumpeters Huffsteter and Saunders and emerging new jazz star Dontae Winslow. Tossing riffs back and forth, challenging each other with rapid fire phrases and stratospheric high notes, the spirited exchanges between the three gifted artists offered an in-performance definition of the imagination, spontaneity and sheer musical joy that is the essence of jazz at its best.
And a great way to top off the celebration of International Jazz Day.