By Don Heckman
The first cold night of the summer at the Hollywood Bowl made for a chilly celebration last Wednesday of the life and music of Louis Armstrong. Fortunately, with Dr. John, Dee Dee Bridgewater, the Blind Boys From Alabama and an all-star line-up of jazz trumpeters there was plenty of heat on stage, much of it reaching out into a near capacity crowd of enthusiastic listeners.
Focusing on Armstrong, less than a week before what would have been his 103rd birthday was an appropriate choice for the third event in the Bowl’s summer jazz schedule.
As one of the principal headliners, Dr. John was at the center of the rhythm section for virtually the entire program. And there’s no denying the New Orleans essence of both his inimitable singing and the funk-driven rhythms of his piano playing.
He was matched on several tunes, note for note and groove for groove, by the equally incomparable vocalizing of Dee Dee Bridgewater. Bringing her stylish swing and stage-dominating persona to tunes such as “Blues in the Night” and “The Nearness of You,” she provided some of the evening’s most illuminating jazz moments.
And it was equally fitting that many of the highlights of the performance were provided by a stellar group of trumpeters: Terence Blanchard, Nicholas Payton, Arturo Sandoval, Marcus Belgrave and Wendell Brunious.
Each, in his own unique way, illustrated the influence that Armstrong had upon his playing, from the bop roots of Blanchard and Payton, the versatile style of the veteran Belgrave and the New Orleans authenticity of Brunious to the Latin jazz high notes of Sandoval (who, on one number, also found his way to the percussion section).
Intriguing in a very different way, the Blind Boys of Alabama offered their gospel driven harmonies and foot-tapping rhythms to every note they sang.
One might have hoped for a more direct connection with Armstrong – in both song selection and interpretation. But memories of Satchmo are so strong that his presence coursed through the program, enhanced by the affection that was constantly expressed by each of this evening’s gifted artists.
* * * * * * * *
Photos by Faith Frenz.